The Jewish Forum

There is a new article in Modern Judaism “When Orthodoxy was not as chic as it is today”: The Jewish Forum and American Modern Orthodoxy By Ira Robinson and Maxine Jacobson. It nicely shows the different sub-communities of modern Orthodoxy and the change in issues over the decades. It is actually a nice summery article for those who need an introduction to 20th century issues in modern Orthodoxy. The article is not ideological, rather social history. Maxine Jacobson has a wonderful unpublished PhD on Rabbi Leo Jung, which should be published.

The article is behind a subscription wall.

The article shows how modern Orthodoxy had to prove it can accept science, democracy, women’s education, and labor rights. It also nicely documents the very slow separation of the Conservative and modern Orthodox movements. An Orthodox journal could still debate the use of the mechitza into the early 1960’s. The article highlights one aspect of the division that others neglect, that is the emphasis on day schools over public schools for modern Orthodoxy. The reason for the commandments are hygienic and having medical insight. One gets a nice summary of how important Mordechai Kaplan was in the formation of Orthodoxy’s reaction. Rabbi Leo Jung, Kaplan replacement, at the Jewish Center formed his identity in reaction.

The article shows where the change in language occurred between Torah-tradition to modern Orthodoxy with the shift from the generation of Jung to that of Tradition magazine – Lamm and Rackman. The article also provides a backdrop of why figures like Lamm were so adamant against producing popular literature in the 70’s and 80’s, allowing Artscroll to take the market. They felt that they were dealing with philosophy and therefore above the prior generation. Unfortunately the article is marred by a few anachronism of using 2011 Orthodox language when explaining older positions.

The article discusses the anonymous Dayyan alYehud who in 1962 wanted to remove the Conservative movement from Orthodoxy, and criticizes Lieberman and Finkelstein. Yet fails to discuss that in 1952 the same Dayyan alYehud gloated and exalted over Abraham Joshua Heschel as the new and true voice of modern Orthodoxy, combining piety with worldliness. The same anonymous author elsewhere praised Rav Tzair and his method. Lieberman had little respect for Heschel or Rav Tzair, so there is a greater back-story- probably more of an in-house debate.

The Jewish Forum was an American Orthodox monthly published from 1918 to 1962. It reflected issues and developments affecting Orthodox Judaism in America, from the twenties to the sixties. In these decades,
Orthodoxy went from being a threatened entity on the American scene to a well-recognized, respected force in Judaism and The Jewish Forum played a role in this transformation.

The concept of Modern Orthodoxy was not well defined at The Jewish Forum’s inception. Indeed, the very term ‘‘Modern Orthodoxy’’ for the journal’s philosophy only appears for the first time, in August 1937, in an article entitled ‘‘Neo and Modern Orthodox Judaism,’’ written by Phineas Israeli, a 1902 graduate of The Jewish Theological Seminary. Modern Orthodoxy, according to Israeli, is solely an American phenomenon. The first two aspects of Modern Orthodoxy were established by Moses Mendelssohn and Samson Raphael Hirsch, and consist of a combination of loyalty to Jewish tradition and love for general culture and rationalism. It is the innovations in practice and more up to date interpretations of Jewish doctrine, appealing to the rising generation, that Israeli felt were distinctive to American Modern Orthodoxy. In the absence of ‘‘Modern Orthodoxy,’’ writers in The Jewish Forum used various terms to denote the Judaism they supported, including ‘‘Traditional Judaism,’’ ‘‘Torah-true Judaism’’, ‘‘Authentic Judaism,’’ and ‘‘Jewish Jews.’’

One difficulty in defining The Jewish Forum’s ideal Orthodoxy was the presence of the Conservative movement. Competition was clearly evident between Conservative Judaism and Orthodoxy in the early part of the twentieth century precisely because Conservative Judaism was widely perceived to be similar to Orthodoxy. The journal’s relationship with Conservative Judaism further demonstrated Modern Orthodoxy’s lack of clear boundaries.Dr Meyer Waxman wrote in 1924 that there was a tendency for Conservative Judaism to identify with traditional Judaism and he discussed the widespread view that the Conservative synagogue did ‘‘border very closely upon the Orthodox.’’ Rabbi Leo Jung also referred to Conservatism as, ‘‘the other kind of Orthodoxy.’’

The relationship between Conservative and Orthodox in The Jewish Forum was thus quite complex. There were articles in The Jewish Forum written by Conservative authors and there were a few Conservative rabbis, over the years, who served on its board.

When Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan presented his program for the reconstruction of Judaism, accompanied by his condemnation of Orthodox Judaism, as out of date, in The Menorah Journal of August 1920, The Jewish Forum was one of the first Orthodox media to face his challenge and to enter the debate about what Orthodoxy stood for. Rabbi Leo Jung thus issued his rebuttal to Kaplan in The Jewish Forum of April 1921. In light of Kaplan’s challenge, Orthodox rabbis were obliged to take stock and consider methods and approaches that would become characteristic of Modern Orthodoxy. Kaplan’s program was their call to action. As Rabbi Jung stated:

The only answer to Kaplanism is: the immediate convention of a living Orthodox body to work out a systematic educational scheme for the re-assertion of Orthodoxy, absolutely faithful in principle, absolutely fresh in method.

The contemporary relevance of the Bible was demonstrated in the journal in terms of its congruence with the principles of contemporary medicine. Judaic Laws were shown to be healthy and humane in accord with the wisdom of the Torah. Mosaic law and modern medical science were represented as blending harmoniously and being identical in basic concepts and tenets. Thus, Jacob B. Glenn, a medical doctor and contributing editor to The Jewish Forum presented a series of articles, in 1958, called ‘‘Modern Medicine in the Light of Mosaic Law’’ dealing with the relevance of the Bible with respect to contemporary medicine. Many examples were given: shell fish and pork, prohibited to Jews, caused disease; cleanliness of the body, dealt with in minute details in Jewish law, such as the laws of Niddah [marital purity laws] and washing hands before touching food, kept the body healthy and prevented infectious diseases. The author wrote that modern medicine has shown that hereditary diseases resulted from inbreeding or incestuous marriages, which were prohibited in Jewish Law. Dr Glenn further wrote that medicine demonstrates that the laws of Sabbath are conducive to a healthier existence both mentally and physically. Dietary laws were also explained as a protection against unhealthy food.

Education for women was a cause The Jewish Forum promoted as early as the twenties. In 1930 it published an article, ‘‘The Place of Woman in Jewish Education’’ in which its author, Freda Fine wrote:

Gone is the day when the male child was the center of the Jewish household: when he alone was to carry on the tradition of the Talmud. Today the young Jewess shares the classroom with her brother.
We therefore stress the education of the daughters, so that they, as well as the sons, may be leaders in Jewish education movements.

In the forties and fifties the Orthodox and Conservative movements became better defined and gradually became more separate entities. In 1961, a guest editor, calling himself, ‘‘Dayyan Al-Yehud,’’ pointed out that the Orthodox movement had moved in a different direction than the Conservative movement:

There is a definite trend in American Jewish life, . . . toward a recognition of Halakhic authority as enunciated by the heads of Yeshibhoth . . .We regret, however, to state without fear of contradiction, that such is not the case in the rank and file of Conservative Judaism in America.

He accused the Conservatives of lack of consistent loyalty to Torah-tradition:
Witness . . . tampering with the inviolability of the sanctity and purity of family life, and the basic changes in the ketubah document, sponsored by the Rabbinical Assembly of America under the guidance of its prime mover and careerist, Saul Lieberman, professor of Talmud.

Whereas previously The Jewish Forum had been somewhat ambiguous in its relationship to Conservative scholars and the rabbinic authorities of the Jewish Theological Seminary, in the fifties ‘‘Dayyan Al-Yehud’’ openly questioned the decisions of Louis Finkelstein and Saul Lieberman.

The Jewish Forum, in the late fifties, published an article by a Conservative rabbi claiming that in modern times a mechitza was not valid; ‘‘but in the good and great America of ours, the mixed pew system seems to be just a natural thing . . .’’ While this was not the general stance of the journal, it certainly demonstrated the presence of Conservative writers in the journal, as well as a degree of editorial freedom in The Jewish Forum. However, it also marked the growing division of Orthodox and Conservative Judaism. Robert Gordis, a leading Conservative rabbi and scholar, had been on the board of The Jewish Forum since the forties, his first appearance in The Jewish Forum having been in 1925. However, in the early sixties the journal was criticized by some of its readers for having a Conservative rabbi like Gordis on the editorial board. Gordis resigned in 1962 because he was unhappy with editor Charles Raddock’s response to this criticism.

By the 1950s, a new English-speaking Orthodox leadership had come to the fore, prominent among whom were Rabbis Norman Lamm, Emmanuel Rackman, Solomon Scharfman and Joseph Soloveitchik. Increasingly, there were people who did not really identify with The Jewish Forum. The 1958 founding of a new Modern Orthodox journal, Tradition, reflected a significant development in American Modern Orthodoxy.
The demise of The Jewish Forum and the concomitant rise of Tradition seems to be indicative of a generational gap in Orthodoxy circa 1960, and highlights a tension that existed between different generations of American Orthodox rabbis.

By the fifties and sixties, Rabbi Soloveitchik and many younger Modern Orthodox rabbis emphasized research and scholarship and promoted the ideal of the ‘‘scholar rabbi’’ who was trained to interpret the texts, thus leading to a more vigorous Judaism based on more detailed study of Jewish texts and the Jewish past. It had set out to be a journal containing ‘‘reliable studies prepared for popular digestion,’’ but Orthodox readers were no longer as interested in its version of ‘‘popular’’ presentation.

One response to “The Jewish Forum

  1. On the flip side Kaplan had an important influence on at a cadre of JTS rabbis who were not followers of Heschel or Finkelstein. So he not only was the impetus for Orthodoxy to pull away from the fuzzy middle that had been holding, but for a chunk of Conservatism to do the same when those rabbis took pulpits.

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