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Jew vs. Jew: Portrait of A Sharply Divided Community

Allan C. Brownfeld
Fall 2000

Jew vs. Jew: The Struggle For The Soul of American Jewry by Samuel C. Freedman,  
Simon and Schuster, 397 Pages, $26.00.  

The American Jewish community is increasingly divided and fractious. The conflict pits fundamentalist against secularist, denomination against denomination, even liberal against conservative within each branch of Judaism. Far from unifying American Jews, Israel now divides them on both political and religious grounds. Jews no longer face a single enemy around which to coalesce and many seem unprepared for the challenge posed by the free and open American society. This has led, among other things, to an intermarriage rate which tops 50 percent.  

There are some who are optimistic about the future. Barry Shrage, the president of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, for example, declares that, "All of a sudden there's a huge hunger for Jewish learning...But it's also clear that the Jewish community is hungry for a vision that will make sense in their lives. What we lack are the leaders who can articulate that vision and create a real community of learners. As the baby boomers have aged, they've had a great interest in spirituality. Now that can go two ways. One way is the `studying Cabala with Madonna' way, which will be gone in a matter of years. Or we can really work to create a community of serious learners." He believes that every intermarriage is a great opportunity, "What has to be said to the non-Jewish spouse' is, `We have a gorgeous tradition. Come' learn with us.'"  

Civil War  

Others are more skeptical. Among them is Samuel C. Freedman, a former reporter for The New York Times and now a professor of journalism at Columbia University. His book, Jew v. Jew, introduces readers to a variety of places and individuals which illustrate the virtual civil war now under way among American Jews.  

He describes the final summers at a Labor Zionist camp in the Catskills whose brand of Jewishness is becoming obsolete. He tells the story of Orthodox and Reform Jews in a Cleveland suburb who are fighting about the construction of several synagogues and, on a deeper level, about whether unity or pluralism ought to be the goal of Jewish life. He portrays a Colorado couple who could have illustrated the success of Jewish outreach but, instead, became victims of the continuing debate over "Who is a Jew?" He writes of a Florida Jew so violently opposed to the Oslo peace accords that he planted a bomb in a synagogue where Shimon Peres was speaking. He describes a Los Angeles congregation that spent three years debating whether or not to honor the Biblical matriarchs in its liturgy.  

The author notes that, "From the suburban streets of Great Neck to the foot of the Western Wall, I have witnessed the struggle for the soul of American Jewry. It is a struggle being waged on issues ranging from conversion standards to the peace process, from land use to the role of women in worship. It is a struggle that has torn asunder families, communities and congregations. And beneath each specific confrontation lie the same fundamental questions. What is the definition of Jewish identity? Who decides what is authentic and legitimate Judaism? And what is the Jewish compact with America."  

Theological Approval  

When an ultra-Orthodox Jewish student, Yigal Amir, assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995, amid a climate of theological approval developed partly by American rabbis, Freedman writes, "the peace process so divided American Jews that they could not agree on whether a rally in Madison Square Garden should commemorate Rabin for his negotiated settlement with the Palestinians or demonstrate Jewish cohesion despite the controversial Oslo accords. In March 1997, an association of ultra-Orthodox rabbis, the Agudath Harabonim, declared that the Reform and Conservative movements, which collectively represent about two-thirds of American Jews were `not Judaism at all.' Less than three months later, the first of the haredi attacks on egalitarian and mostly American worshippers at the Western Wall occurred. The religious parties holding the swing votes in Prime Minister Netanyahu's governing coalition introduced legislation to formalize the Orthodox monopoly on conversion, marriage and burial—which is to say the entire question of `Who is a Jew?"...America's six million Jews are pulling toward the extremes. For one of the few times in Jewish history, the forces of assimilation and segregation, secularism and fundamentalism, are simultaneously ascending."  

The divisions among American Jews are, Freedman argues, becoming increasingly stark, "On one flank, rampant interfaith marriage and declining religious observance leave a plurality of American Jews with that husk of identity that Herbert Gans has called `symbolic ethnicity'...On the other side, an assertive, charismatic and increasingly purist Orthodoxy boasts the highest birth rate within Judaism and a sense of triumphalism to match. So while fewer than half of American Jews belong to a synagogue or temple in any branch and only one in six even lights Sabbath candles, according to the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey, the number of religious day schools operated or inspired by the Orthodox simultaneously booms."  

Among the many issues dividing American Jews is that of Israel and their relationship to that country. "Far from unifying American Jews," Freedman writes, "Israel now divides them on both political and religious grounds. Israel's own schism over the peace process is mirrored in this country, provoking anguished debate, philanthropic competition, and violent acts of terror. Simultaneously, the issue of who is a Jew has become more contentious than ever, as both Benjamin Netanyahu and his successor Ehud Barak have relied on Orthodox parties for the pivotal votes in their Knesset majorities. By accepting continued Orthodox dominion over Jewish status in exchange for support on political issues, both Labor and Likud governments have estranged and antagonized the non-Orthodox Jews who comprise about 90 percent of American Jews."  

Fear of Anti-Semitism  

In the past, a factor tending toward Jewish unity was fear of anti-Semitism. This fear, however, can no longer be sustained in the United States, although there are those Jewish groups which, for reasons of their own, continue to promote it. "Neither America nor the larger world presents Jews with a single foe against whom to coalesce," states Freedman. "America has genuinely accepted Jews—not simply tolerated them...but literally loved them to such a degree that the intermarriage rate for American Jewry now stands at 52 percent...Nothing in the diasporic past of ghettos and oppression, and nothing in the Israeli presence of forming a majority culture, has prepared Jews for the phenomenon of being embraced by a diverse society. Least of all did they expect that the modern American model of cultural pluralism, a product of liberal thinking, could embolden not only the less observant Jews to join the mainstream but the fervently Orthodox to resist it."  

Freedman makes it clear that, "America was always different. It had no state religion, no medieval past. It had a constitutional commitment to equality, at least for white men, and a practical need for minds and bodies to build the nation. Free to practice their religion from the birth of the Republic, Jews achieved full political rights throughout America within decades." Marshall Sklare, the noted sociologist of American Jewry, declared that, "For the first time, the fact of Jewishness became irrelevant in the public sphere." The rabbi of a Reform temple in Charleston, South Carolina declared that, "This country is our Palestine."  

In the years following World War II, fewer than 100,000 Orthodox Jews entered the U.S., from Eastern Europe. Their effects were profound. "Only the religious believers had a clear and unshakable answer the question of why be a Jew," Arthur Hertzberg has written, and these particular believers "asserted the most uncompromising, separatist version of the Jewish religion...For the first time in modern American history, the secular, humanistic impulse of American Jewry...faced the challenge of a vibrant, charismatic, and almost completely antithetical belief system with institutions and folkways of its own. The Yiddishists and most other American Jews surely thought they had left all that behind in Europe decades earlier."  

Sharp Divisions  

This book describes the sharp divisions within the American Jewish community through careful reporting, using a series of stories as examples.  

In one chapter, we are introduced to Bill and Ann Pluss. Anne, brought up as a Methodist, willingly converted to Judaism nearly 20 years ago when Bill, who viewed himself as a cultural Jew, refused any other option. Even so, they became victims of the debate over who is a Jew. They participated in a progressive but ultimately doomed conversion experiment in which a mix of Reform, Conservative and Orthodox rabbis oversaw education and counseling, though the Orthodox supervised the ceremonies. The project, which served as a model for Israel's 1998 Neeman Commission and for the conversion institute it spawned, ended in acrimony, leaving Anne in limbo, as the Orthodox retroactively renounced the legitimacy of the project. As a consequence, Anne is not considered Jewish by all branches.  

Those Orthodox rabbis who participated in this enterprise were called to New York by the American Council of Young Israel and were asked: Why had they surrendered Orthodox standards? Why had they collaborated on theology with Conservative and Reform clergy. Harold Jacobs, president of the American Council of Young Israel, declared: "We have no choice but to draw the line, clearly, as to who is a Jew and who is not, as to what limits and basic standards of elementary Jewish identity and personal conduct we must insist upon. It is time that Orthodoxy put the rest of the American Jewish community on notice: no longer will `Jewish unity' be bought at the expense of Jewish identity."  

Many observers viewed Denver, in retrospect, as a great missed opportunity. "It is a sad commentary on Jewish religious life today that those who favor unity are on the defensive and must keep their efforts secret," Rabbi Irving Greenberg wrote in an essay entitled "Tragedy In Denver." Steven Foster, a Reform rabbi in Denver, said: "Now we live in an assimilated world, and the only way we are going to guarantee people marrying Jews is to go back to a ghetto mentality or go back to the ghetto."  

Polls Mask Reality  

In the case of Israel and the Middle East peace process, Freedman shows, the divisions among American Jews are profound, "To say that American Jews differ on the issue—recent polls find about two-thirds favoring the land-for-peace formula—is to see only the surface of a widening chasm. The poll numbers in many ways mask the reality. Aside from an energetic and visible leadership, the Jews who support the Oslo agreements are largely those disengaged from Israel in all but sentimental ways. The opposition, resting disproportionately in the Orthodox population, is the segment of American Jewry most involved with Israel, most committed to it in concrete actions. This passionate minority has dominated the peace issue, influencing events from the halls of Congress to the settlement of the West Bank, arguing on grounds of both security and Torah that Israel must never surrender the lands won in 1967. And while the right wing of American Jewry has expressed itself primarily through political activity, its fringe elements have repeatedly turned to inflammatory rhetoric and violent acts both in the U.S. and Israel. Yigal Amir's trail to the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, it might be said, was one partly blazed by American Jews."  

Some of the violence which has taken place in Israel has, in fact, been perpetrated by Orthodox American Jewish emigres. In 1980, a terrorist band known as the Jewish Underground, including an American emigre named Ezra Rapaport, tried to assassinate three Arab mayors of West Bank towns with car bombs. Two years later, another American, Alan Goodman, opened fire on Muslim worshippers at the Dome of the Rock, killing one Palestinian and provoking rioting. "The lineage of American extremists," writes Freedman, "led directly to Kiryat Arba's doctor, a former New Yorker named Baruch Goldstein. Goldstein studied with Meir Kahane. He closely followed Alan Goodman's attack at the Dome of the Rock. And on February 25, 1994 he enacted a more successful version of it, shooting to death 29 Muslim worshippers at a mosque in Hebron...An American Hasidic rabbi in the West Bank city of Nablus, Yitzhak Ginsburg, oversaw the publication of a memorial book glorifying Goldstein as the Saint, may God avenge his blood.' One of those who read it was Yigal Amir."  

Encouraged Extremism  

In Orthodox Jewish circles in the U.S., Freedman points out, there were a number of prominent individuals who encouraged such extremism: "A figure widely respected in Orthodox circles, the Talmud scholar Herschel Schachter of Yeshiva University, asserted that Rabin hated God and Torah. Another yeshiva professor, the rabbi and medical ethicist Moshe Tendler, delivered the eulogy of Meir Kahane's funeral. On the same morning in early 1994, extremists placed bombs inside the Manhattan offices of two liberal groups, the New Israel Fund and Americans for Peace Now. And when the Conference of Presidents and several other pillars of the American Jewish establishment scheduled a memorial service for Rabin at Madison Square Garden in December 1995, they were pressured by Oslo foes to ban any reference to the `peace process' in the event's program or speeches. Even at that, both the Zionist Organization of America and Agudath Israel of America boycotted the event."  

This extremist milieu is described by Freedman in a chapter about Harry Shapiro, a socially awkward loner who grew up in a Conservative Jewish family in Jacksonville, Florida, but ultimately became ultra-Orthodox and found an ideological home in right-wing Jewish politics. So intense were his feelings that he staged a phony bombing of a Jacksonville synagogue where Shimon Peres was to speak about the Oslo accords.  

The forces which led to Shapiro's violent act are to be found throughout Jewish Institutions across the U.S. Shapiro, as a young man, attended Hebrew high school classes and United Synagogue Youth meetings at the Jacksonville Jewish Center. Rabbi Dov Kentof "turned a USY campout into a simulated mission with the Israeli army," writes Freedman, "ending with anthems around the bonfire. Week after week in the classroom he narrated the Jewish epic of persecution and the resistance, from Masada and Bar Kochba through the Warsaw ghetto uprising and the Final Solution, covering one wall with photographs of Jewish corpses.' Shapiro recalled years later that, "These were totally new reasons to be Jewish...This was more about feelings and emotions—being proud you're Jewish, not letting a Holocaust happen again. It affected my soul. It made me feel being Jewish is worth fighting for. It's worth dying for."  

Tour of Israel  

In March 1982 Shapiro's parents joined a two-week tour of Israel led by David Gaffney, rabbi of the Jacksonville Jewish Center. On the group's first full day in Israel, after the scheduled stops at the Carmel Winery and Weizmann Institute, Rabbi Gaffney persuaded the driver to head further south along the Mediterranean coast, through Gaza, into Sinai, and finally to the Jewish town of Yamit, epicenter of resistance to the peace treaty with Egypt.  

The Camp David accords of 1979 had stipulated that Israel would withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula it had captured in 1967 as a condition for Egyptian President Anwar Sadat signing a separate peace, one that left intact Israel's hold on the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan. The Israeli civilian presence in Sinai consisted only of a dozen settlements and two towns, Ophira and Yamit, a community of 2,500 founded in 1975. Ophira's residents willingly evacuated in exchange for financial compensation. Yamit, however, according to Freedman, "became the Masada of the right-wing settlers' movement. Both Gush Emunim, the Bloc of the Faithful, and Meir Kahane's Kach Party considered Israeli control of Sinai nothing less than divinely ordained. They also considered the precedent being set in the land-for-peace deal...As many of Yamit`s residents ultimately gave up and departed, they were replaced in almost equal numbers by Gush Emunim loyalists, many of them transplanted Americans. A radical handful...went on to fire-bomb government offices, beat up negotiators, and seize a bomb shelter, which they occupied, threatening suicide."  

The Shapiros were emotionally moved by their visit. Freedman reports that, "They told their children about Yamit. They showed their snapshots. None of the Shapiro siblings had ever heard their parents so impassioned about Israel...As for Harry, he dwelled on a photograph of the war memorial, proof of all he had learned in Rabbi Kentof's class about the price of Jewish survival... Harry seized upon Yamit like a Bible story, a Talmudic parable."  

War Was God's Will  

In 1984, Harry Shapiro traveled to Israel. Whenever he visited Jerusalem, he sought out the Gush Emunim faithful. From them he learned that Israel's victory in the 1967 war was God's will, the Torah's words, that Jews were to abide in all of Eretz Israel. When he returned to the U.S. and entered Yeshiva University, Harry Shapiro embraced the philosophy of Meir Kahane. After Kahane's assassination, Shapiro said, "He was killed for espousing what the Torah says. And the beginning of his death was his censure by the left-wing Jewish parliament. Jews targeted him politically, monetarily, emotionally. I blamed left-wing Jews for making him a pariah, an outcast, a target."  

Shapiro faithfully read The Jewish Press, an Orthodox paper published in Brooklyn. In an open letter to rabbis, Avraham Hecht, who led 2,000 congregants in Brooklyn as rabbi of Shaare Zion synagogue and 540 colleagues as president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America, declared that, "The Torah permits the most extreme action against those who harm our fellow Jews.' He said that surrendering any of Eretz Israel violated halakah, and anyone who did so could be killed as a rodef, "one who pursues a Jew trying to kill him." Asked by New York Magazine to clarify what sounded like a religious death threat, Hecht explained: "All I said was that according to Jewish law, any one person—you can apply it to whoever you want—any one person who willfully, consciously, intentionally hands over human bodies or human property or the human wealth of the Jewish people to an alien people is guilty of the sin for which the penalty is death. And according to Maimonides—you can quote me—it says very clearly, if a man kills him, he has done a good deed."  

It was in this atmosphere that Harry Shapiro went about his life. "Rabbi Hecht`s theology," writes Freedman, "completed a circle for Harry. Years ago, Gush Emunim had taught that God granted Eretz Israel to the Jews; then Meir Kahane demonstrated how one could hate Jewish leaders in the name of loving the Jewish people; and now Harry understood the penalty for disobeying divine commandment. `The Torah is our deed to the land,' Harry put it. `Who is man to give it back?'...Never able to join the battle against Arabs in Eretz Israel, Harry decided to carry it against a Jew on American ground."  

Admitted Guilt  

Harry Shapiro admitted his guilt. "I placed gunpowder in a pipe," he told the court. "I placed it in a house of worship. I threatened the life of a human being with it. I called 911 and issued a threat to keep Mr. Peres from speaking." Mr. Shapiro now occupies a cell in a medium-security prison in Jessup, Georgia. He appreciates the printouts his brother sends him from a web site honoring Meir Kahane.  

Orthodox Judaism in America, Freedman points out, has taken a dramatic turn to the right in recent years. Early in the 20th century, the Orthodox gave every indication of withering to a vestige. As late as 1955, sociologist Marshall Sklare dismissed the Orthodox experience in the U.S. as "a case study of institutional decay." In Freedman's view, "The Orthodox renaissance, then, stands as the most striking and unexpected phenomenon in modern American Jewish history. With less than 10 percent of the Jewish population, the Orthodox disproportionately affect the larger community...Orthodox hands...hold the levers of halakhic power on conversion standards and women's participation in worship. Orthodox educators often staff the day schools and Hebrew schools of the Conservative and Reform movements, which cannot produce enough skilled teachers of their own..."  

The Orthodox renaissance is really two competing renaissances, Freedman notes, one begun by the Modern Orthodox movement in the early 1900s, the other by the ultra Orthodox at the end of World War II. "In the struggle for supremacy," he declares, "American Orthodoxy has swung decisively to the right on theological, cultural and political issues. This process of `haredization,' to use sociologist Chaim Waxman`s phrase, has contributed greatly to the acrimony among American Jews."  

Intra-Orthodox Struggle  

The intra-Orthodox struggle originated in 19th century Europe as Jews were finally being emancipated. In Germany, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-88) led a so-called neo-Orthodox movement with its ideal of Torah im derekh erets—literally, "Torah and the way of the land," the coexistence of religious and secular studies. "I bless the emancipation," Hirsch once declared, and he himself wrote in German, was influenced by Schiller, and for a time as a young rabbi went beardless. But the spectre of modernity threatened other Orthodox Jews, such as the Hasidim and the Talmud scholars of the Lithuanian yeshivot. Their motto came from Rabbi Moses Sofer (1762-1839), who proclaimed, "He chodosh osur min ha torah," the new is prohibited by Torah. Liberation into secular society, these Orthodox believed, would endanger Jews and Judaism more than persecution as a religious minority ever had. And America, because it offered the greatest acceptance, posed the greatest danger. As the haredi rabbis instructed their faithful to spurn America, the Modern Orthodox movement took its agenda across the ocean during the great wave of Jewish immigration.  

With the post-World War II emigration of Orthodox Jews from Europe, the ranks of the haredim grew. The Agudath Israel became emboldened at its 1945 convention and formally excommunicated the Conservative leader Mordecai Kaplan and burned a copy of the Sabbath Prayer Book he had edited. In 1956 ten prominent religious scholars issued an issur, a prohibition against Orthodox participation in any joint rabbinical organizations, a direct blow against such umbrella organizations as the New York Board of Rabbis and the Synagogue Council of America. In 1979, a vigilante group calling itself TORAH—Tough Orthodox Rabbis And Hasidim—spray painted swastikas and anti-Semitic slurs on the only Conservative synagogue left in the haredi stronghold of Borough Park in Brooklyn. In 1984, the Agudath Harabonim ran advertisements just before the High Holy Days urging Jews "not to pray in a Reform or Conservative Temple...whose clergy have long rebelled against numerous sacred laws of the Torah and mislead thousands of innocent souls."  

In 1994, the Synagogue Council of America disbanded. "It had taken only forty years," writes Freedman, "but the issur had triumphed in its goal of depriving Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist rabbis of any national organization where they would be recognized by the Orthodox clergy as equals. One Orthodox leader recited the Sheheheyanu, a prayer for any new event or experience, in thanksgiving."  

"Yale Five"  

Another chapter in this volume concerns the "Yale Five," the group of ultra-Orthodox Yale students who sued the university, arguing that the requirement that first year students must live in co-ed dormitories violated their "religious freedom and constitutional rights." Yale submitted a motion for dismissal on the grounds that the lawsuit was an "imaginative but wholly wrongheaded attempt to challenge...a private college's prerogative to maintain...a rule important to its educational philosophy."  

Freedman puts the case in this perspective: "...all but unnoticed the case had acquired a different, more disturbing meaning within American Jewry. It called into question, into doubt, the essence of the Jewish compact with America...By one measure, nothing bespoke Orthodox security in America as a nation more than the Yale Five's willingness to fight their battle in federal court; by another, nothing bespoke Orthodox antipathy for America as a culture more than their insistence on participating in a great university only on the selective separatist terms they alone would dictate. The hidden issue in the Yale Five case, to be found nowhere in all the legal documents, was who established the definition of Jewish, and more specifically, Orthodox authenticity."  

Orthodox Jews at Yale were critical of the Yale Five's lawsuit. Evan Farber, for example, had attended day school and as an upperclassman he led the Young Israel chapter on campus and gave tours of Yale to prospective Jewish students. He maintained that, "Confronting and solving an issue is a strengthening process. But I know the arrangement I had freshman year wouldn't have been acceptable to those who sued. I assume they'd also be unhappy about taking an art history class with paintings of nudes. And probably they'd also have a problem walking across campus on a hot spring day when people are sunbathing. Part of the difference is a strictness in interpreting halakha, and part of it is the willingness to compromise. The question is whether Jewish values and activities should be fused to those of the secular world or set apart from it. Modern Orthodox feel we should take the best of it. Haredim think we should not."  

Complaint Dismissed  

The U.S. District court at Hartford dismissed the Yale Five's complaint on March 29, 1999. Judge Alfredo Covell refuted the central point that Yale was a "state actor," an institution thus subject to the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom and federal laws on fair housing. The judge wrote "The plaintiffs could have opted to attend a different college or university if they were not satisfied with Yale's housing policy."  

The main initiator of the Yale Five suit, Rabbi Daniel Greer of New Haven, may, according to Samuel Freedman, have "already won." During his childhood, and for much of Jewish history in America, the observant had been on the defensive, reeling from a wave of assimilation, clutching the old ways in shtibel and cheder. Jewish immigrants, very much unlike Irish Catholics, for instance, had deliberately chosen to send their children to public school rather than building a parochial system as their bulwark. Now, due in part to the Yale Five case and the rightward movement within Orthodoxy that underlay it, the positions were reversed. `We're the wave of the future,' Rabbi Greer put it...No longer was the question within Jewry, `Why aren't you being modern?' It was, `Why aren't you being frum?"'  

Beyond all of this, Freedman shows, the "crisis" model of Jewish communal organization—preparing to fight anti-Semitism, to remember the Holocaust, to defend Israel—was "deeply flawed... The crisis model did not foresee the days when crises lost their hold. It did not ask what else made a community of American Jews. What happened when the attachment to Israel dissipated? What happened when the generation that had lived through the Holocaust died off? What happened when the Reform and Conservative branches irreconcilably parted from Orthodoxy in their treatment of converts and women? What happened when America was America, equally tolerant of any mode of Jewish behavior from assimilation to separation?"  

Two Competing Visions  

In place of a single American Jewish community, "bound however tenuously by tragedy," what has emerged, Freedman believes, are "two competing visions of community. One extolled Jewish peoplehood in all its variety; the other extolled religious tradition in all its certitude. One went by the slogan `pluralism,' and the other by `unity.' To its advocates `pluralism' meant diversity and tolerance; to its critics, it meant relativism and disorder. To its advocates `unity' meant unanimity under the banner of Torah; to its critics, it meant fundamentalism calling the shots."  

In the struggle for the soul of American Jewry, Freedman argues, "the Orthodox model has triumphed. To say this is not to say the Orthodox themselves have prevailed, or that only the Orthodox denomination will survive on these shores. But the portion of American Jewry that will flourish in the future—and is flourishing already against a backdrop of ever more complete assimilation—is the portion that has accepted the central premise of Orthodoxy that religion defines Jewish identity...Throughout the late `90s, both Reform and Conservative movements embraced traditionalism in a series of major actions. The Conservative branch mounted a program for laity to read a chapter of the Bible every day in an obvious parallel to the Orthodox system...the movement also barred intermarried people as Hebrew School teachers in its synagogues and banned children who are not halakhically Jewish from its Ramah summer camps. The Central Conference of American Rabbis, the association of Reform clergy, adopted a platform that reversed the branch's historical contempt for ritual and religious law...Religious day schools, meanwhile, are booming. Where 323 schools served 63,500 students in 1965, 670 schools served 185,000 students in 1988. In less than the last decade, enrollment in non-Orthodox schools rose by one quarter to 37,000. As a raw number it is modest. As an indication that certain Reform and Conservative Jews have accepted an Orthodox article of faith, it is profound. Very deliberately, American Jews long eschewed parochial schools in the belief that they would `take children out of the general American environment and train them to lead segregated lives,' as a 1956 report puts it."  

Orthodox Model  

While it may be true that the Orthodox model which Professor Freedman claims as having "triumphed" is valid for the small number of American Jews who accept its premise of living separate lives and alienation from the larger society—and for those within the conservative and Reform establishment who are moving in that direction—the fact remains that the overwhelming majority of American Jews reject such an approach. For them it is American democracy and pluralism which has triumphed. They view themselves as American by nationality and citizenship and Jews by religion. If their religious institutions, in recent years, have promoted ethnicity, solidarity with Israel and Holocaust remembrance rather than spirituality, their alienation may largely be a response to such trends. And while the Orthodox refer to intermarriage as a "silent Holocaust," a new survey by the American Jewish Committee indicates that a majority of American Jews said they did not oppose interfaith marriage and half believed that it is "racist" to oppose such marriages.  

Sadly, Professor Freedman finds a growing fear of the freedom and tolerance of the American society. There is, he finds, "a perverse longing among American Jews for anti-Semitism—not a truly dangerous amount of it, just enough to bind the fragmenting community together. A little bit of anti-Semitism functions like the little bit of chicken pox or flu you get from a vaccine, never really endangering your health, but stimulating your immune system to fight off a full-blown case. During periods of truly virulent anti-Semitism, Jews have wished for nothing more than the tolerance modern America overwhelmingly has provided. Now in modern America, where Jews enjoy social mobility and professional standing without parallel in 2000 years of the Diaspora, they claim to see enemies all around...The vital responsibility to remember the Holocaust... to retell its story as we have retold the story of the Exodus for millennia, has become less and less an exercise in collective memory and more and more the basis of an identity built on victimization."  

Narrowness and Intolerance  

Professor Freedman laments the narrowness of the Orthodox and their frequent expressions of intolerance, "American decency, rather than American bias, challenges American Jews...Orthodox foes of intermarriage dishonor the dead six million...when they called it the "Silent Holocaust.' To insist upon viewing America as a treacherous place...to ignore and even fear... acceptance that...millions of American Jews experience on a daily basis, is more than to wilfully misread reality. It is, by extension, to confess that without some common enemy we are hopelessly divided, incapable of defining ourselves.'  

What, then, might the American Jewish community look like in the future? It is Freedman's view that, "...divides between the existing branches of Judaism on both theological and social issues are growing so fast, so irreconcilable that in time those branches, like Christianity after Martin Luther, will be divergent faiths sharing a common deity and a common ancestry."  

What he sees is an ultra-Orthodox group, a group he calls "Reformative," by which he means an increasingly traditional Reform Judaism coalescing with Conservative Judaism, and those he calls "Just Jews," among whom will be Reform Jews who abandon their affiliation as Reform Judaism moves in an increasingly traditional direction.  

What is missing from his analysis is the possibility of a renewal for the religion which the original Reformers sought to create—a universal, prophetic Judaism shorn of nationality and ethnicity, at home in the American society. Perhaps it is that model, abandoned by those who have been eager to move Reform Judaism in a different direction, which deserves serious consideration as a positive approach to the future.  

Process of Americanization  

The author concludes: "The Jewish immigrants and their descendants who hurled themselves into Americanization were as courageous as any pioneers. In exchange for the full meaning of citizenship, a participation in the national enterprise that goes far beyond mere legal status, they infused America with the greatest treasures Jewishness has to offer—its caustic humor, its vivid vernacular, its political engagement, its passion for education and the arts. America without Jews is unimaginable and the brave assimilationists made that possible, even if the price was much of their distinctiveness as Jews...So one part of American Jewry has flourished outside the old walls of identity and gazes back only in nostalgia, if at all. Another part tries to rebuild them, or at least rescue what was valuable within them, even at the cost of a certain estrangement from America. It is tragic, yes, that American Jews have battled so bitterly, so viciously, over the very meaning of being Jewish. It is more tragic, perhaps, that the only ones fighting are the only ones left who care."  

This book is a provocative picture of today's American Jewish community and should be read by all who seek to understand the sharp divisions and over-heated rhetoric we so often witness. If ever there was a group divided, American Jews are surely such a community—if, indeed, we may any longer use the word "community" to describe such a fractious population.

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