Notes for Religious Studies 369:
Introduction to Judaism
Basic Concepts from
Judaism in America
Waves of Jewish Immigration
- 1654-1800: Sepharadic Jews: Traditional, but very assimilated to American norms.
- 1824-94: German Jews: Spurred by failure of liberalism in Germany (1848 uprisings) and quest for economic opportunities.
- 1880-1920: Immense wave of Eastern European Jews escaping Russian persecution. Strong ethnic Jewish identity.
- 1920-50: More traditional Jews escaping fascist anti-semitism and Holocaust; refugees.
Developments in American Reform
- Religious leadership of German immigrants reflected radical wing of European Reform movement.
- Isaac Meir Wise (1819-1900): Founded main institutions:
Significance of 1883 "trefa banquet."
Pittsburgh Platform (1885)
- Union of American Hebrew Congregations
- Hebrew Union College
- Central Conference of American Rabbis
Reflecting radical Reform views:
- Rejection of binding force of all religious law, including the Torah.
- Denied Jewish peoplehood and nationalism.
- Rejection of non-religious formulations of Judaism
Columbus Platform (1937)
Reflects extreme about-face on several issues:
- Strong support for Jewish nationalism and Zionist movement.
- More positive attitude towards religious law and observance.
- More positive attitude towards cultural, non-religious expressions of Judaism.
- Emphasis on observance outside the synagogue, especially in the home and school.
- Advocates use of Hebrew (alongside vernacular).
The tendencies found in the Columbus Platform were given stronger expression in later platforms.
Establishment of Jewish Theological Seminary of America:
For the preservation in America of the knowledge and practice of historical Judaism as ordained in the law of Moses expounded by the prophets and sages in Israel in Biblical and Talmudic writings.
1898-- Break with conservative (Eastern European) Orthodoxy.
1902-- Successful establishment of JTS in New York, financed by established Reform Jews.
Leadership of Solomon Schechter. Faculty included some of the leading Jewish scholars of the world.
Institutional Evolution of Conservative Movement:
- Emphasis on religion as a function of peoplehood.
- Belief in organic evolution of law and belief.
- Identification with American liberal values.
- Emphasis on ethical dimensions of halakhah.
- Embraces all aspects of Jewish culture and civilization (including literature and art).
- Consistent support for Jewish nationalist movement, statehood.
- Halakhic pluralism: Committee on Law and Standards gives sanction to minority positions.
Autonomy of individual synagogues.
Affiliated organizations and institutions:
Rabbinical association: Rabbinic Assembly
Synagogue federation--national: United Synagogues of America
Synagogue federation--international: World Union of Synagogues
Youth movement: United Synagogue Youth
Women's organization: Women's League
Men's organization: Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs
Solomon Schechter Day Schools
1950- present: Weakening of observance level of movement membership; widespread liberalization of halakhic standards: dietary laws, sabbath observance, etc.
More lenient rulings become widespread.
- "Family seating" in synagogue.
- Retroactive annulment of marriages--1968
- Counting of women in prayer quorum (minyan) and granting them Aliyyot to read Torah--1973.
- Ordination of women as rabbis--1977-79.
- Ordination of woman as cantors--1986.
- Debate over status of gays and lesbians.