Orthodox Jews in America

Orthodox Jews in America

Jeffrey S. Gurock
Distribution: World
Publication date: 3/2/2009
ISBN: 978-0-253-00292-1
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Finalist, 2009 National Jewish Book Awards, American Jewish Studies
Jeffrey S. Gurock recounts the history of Orthodox Jews in America, from the time of the early arrivals in the 17th century to the present, and examines how Orthodox Jewish men and women coped with the personal, familial, and communal challenges of religious freedom, economic opportunity, and social integration. His absorbing narrative portrays the varied lifestyles of Orthodox Jews and exposes the historical tensions that have pitted the pious against the majority of their co-religionists who have disregarded Orthodox teachings and practice. Exploring Orthodox reactions to alternative Jewish religious movements that have flourished in a pluralistic America, Gurock illuminates contemporary controversies about the compatibility of modern culture with a truly pious life, providing a nuanced view of the most intriguing present-day intra-Orthodox struggle—the relationship of feminism to traditional faith. The book exposes the hypocrisy of Jews who, while outwardly devout in their careful observance of religious ritual, have behaved as moral miscreants. Anyone seeking to understand the American Jewish experience will find Orthodox Jews in America to be essential reading.

Author Bio

Jeffrey S. Gurock is Libby M. Klaperman Professor of Jewish History at Yeshiva University. He is former Associate Editor of American Jewish History and former chair, Academic Council, American Jewish Historical Society. His books include Judaism's Encounter with American Sports (IUP, 2005). He lives in Riverdale, New York.


"Although there are many good books on the history of Jews in America and a smaller subset that focuses on aspects of Orthodox Judaism in contemporary times, no one, until now, has written an overview of how Orthodoxy in America has evolved over the centuries from the first arrivals in the 17th century to the present. This broad overview by Gurock (Libby M. Klaperman Professor of Jewish History, Yeshiva Univ.; Judaism’s Encounter with American Sports) is distinctive in examining how Orthodox Jews have coped with the personal, familial, and communal challenges of religious freedom, economic opportunity, and social integration, as well as uncovering historical reactionary tensions to alternative Jewish movements in multicultural and pluralistic America. Gurock raises penetrating questions about the compatibility of modern culture with pious practices and sensitively explores the relationship of feminism to traditional Orthodox Judaism. There are several excellent reference sources on Orthodox Jews in America, e.g., Rabbi Moshe D. Sherman’s outstanding Orthodox Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook, to which this is an accessible and illuminating companion; recommended not only for serious readers on the topic but for general readers as well." —Library Journal

"Gurock systematically describes how the devout built the communal infrastructure and developed a cadre of skilled functionaries to meet the requirements of ritual observance..." —Jewish Book World

"Jeffrey Gurock is positioned more propitiously than any other historian to take on an overall social history of American Jewish Orthodoxy." —Karla Goldman, author of Beyond the Synagogue Gallery

"A great storyteller, Professor Gurock masterfully weaves together personal narrative, sermons, and social observations to create gripping narratives of Orthodox Jewry in America. . . . [Orthodox Jews in America] brings together several decades of Gurock's incisive research and thinking on American Orthodoxy while offering a still deeper and more nuanced analysis of its overall development." —Shuly Rubin Schwartz, author of The Rabbi's Wife

"Gurock's new book is full of interesting details and analysis about how Orthodox Judaism has evolved in America, and how Orthodox Jews have made managed the challenges of American life. This is a well-written social history, illustrated with intriguing photographs." —The Jewish Week , December 4, 2009

"Gurock is the unrivaled expert on Orthodox Jews and Judaism in the United States, something he proves ably with this book." —Lila Corwin Berman, Temple University,
American Historical Review , February 2010

"This volume, superbly written and referenced and the product of dense scholarly research, is well worth the read." —
American Jewish Archives Journal , Volume LXI, no. 2, 2009

"[T]his is a very good historical and social introduction to the history of Orthodox Judaism and it will certainly find an important place in any collection that deals with American Jewry. The author has a pleasant writing style and provides rich documentation in the notes." —
Religious Studies Review , Vol. 37, No. 1, March 2011

"Gurock's work is a densely packed, deeply researched, and rich amalgam of history, speculation, and mediation between contending poisitions that is written . . . from within the tradition of Jewish worship he seeks to analyze." —
Journal of American Ethnic History

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Table of Contents


Prologue: Within the Wide Tent of a Bronx Orthodox Congregation, Circa 1960
1. All Alone and Out of Control
2. American Challenges and Jewish Challengers
3. Religious Dilemmas of a Treif Land
4. Strategies of New York's Orthodox Activists
5. Crisis and Compromise
6. Brooklyn's Committed Communities
7. A More Faithful Following
8. Comfortable and Courted
9. Orthodox vs. Orthodox
10. Open and Closed to Feminism
Epilogue: The Tentative Orthodox of the Twenty-First Century

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