American Jews, Essay Example
The Jewish religion includes a history plagued with turmoil, devastation, upliftment, segregation, and unification. Through the long past of the Jewish culture, recent times has caused the religion to separate into different sects that have torn away from the central ideal of Judaism. In America, there is a distinct difference in the American Orthodox Jews that most people could stereotype from movies such as Yentl, Annie Hall, and others compared to the modern American Jews. American Jews do not always follow the same customs and traditions as the orthodox Jews. It is no wonder that most of the stories read in class are from a female protagonist. What has changed in recent years is that American Jews have begun to unify in order to stand behind their continued effort to get with modern times of more women participating out of feelings of responsibilities, tradition, and solidarity. With the modern changes within the religion, the differences in practice, push for more women in leadership roles, and changes in worship have left many Jewish groups at odds with other.
Women have longed had roles on inequality within the religion, but as time has progressed women have had more participation, leadership roles, and the times have adjusted to the increase number of females in each of the sects. It has over time caused strife with Jewish sects that practice the religion differently. However, through the many crisis that the Jewish community has faced, the issues with female involvement have spanned centuries with the 1960s being the feminist awakening in the Jewish religion. This essay is devised to explain the differences of American Jews, and the commonality of all Jews, by also providing why American Jews have begun to unify.
The problems that have persisted throughout the Jewish community is the difference of modern American Jews in opposition to orthodox and reformed Jews. The dividing of the Jewish religion was seen during the mid-19th century with the Jewish immigration from Germany to the United States, during the “German Wave” and the “Eastern Europe Wave.” (Class lecture, 6 November, 2013) The immigration out of Eastern Europe accounted for over five million American Jews in the 1940s. After their immigration, they unified with the American political regime against Hitler. (Class lecture, 6 November 2013) Many critics felt that Jews that immigrated to the United States were abandoning their fellow kinsman in Europe. American Jews have essentially lost touch with their heritage by majorly embracing their American culture. Reformist, Isaac Harby, one of the main leaders of leading the movement for reformation in American Jews. Harby, “genuinely aspired “to devise ways and means . . . of revising and altering such parts of [Judaism’s] prevailing system of worship, as are inconsistent with the present enlightened state of society, and [are] not in accordance with the Five Books of Moses and the Prophets.” (Document 1) The tensions between the different sects were seen between the Sephardim who were saw as superior, Ashkenazim that did not recognize Sephardim, and other issues. (Class Lecture, 6 November 2013)
There have been three major movements within 5 million population of Jews in the United States that include, Reform, Orthodox, and Conservative. The Conservative and the Orthodox movements are generally viewed as traditional movements, and Reform Jews are seen as the more liberal or modern Americans now. The traditional Orthodox Jews are mostly stereotyped as characters like Woody Allen described in Annie Hall, with a black hat and long curls on the side. (Annie Hall) There are certainly smaller sects within these three movements that include the Chasidim that dress distinctively and live separately from other Jewish groups that all believe the laws of the Torah. Those that have been diligent followers of the faith, have begun to subside, as they have modernize to American culture. Levine (2004) writes on the life as a Hasidic Jew. Many Hasidic Jews do not keep up with the standard and have become less faithful to the Jewish laws. Most are often the lone Hasidim family in the area where no one else practices the religion. (Levine, 2005, 31) Most sects that came to America have begun to lose their faith, or more importantly do not regularly practice. Although Hasidim follows the Kabbalah, the movement has spurned mockery with celebrity’s endorsements such as Madonna, Demi Moore, and Ashton Kutcher jumping on the bandwagon and verily misinterpreting the religion.(Goldwag, 2005) In contrast, the differences in American Jews correlate to Reform Jews that do not believe that God wrote the Torah, but instead written by separate sources, they do not observe the commandments, pick and choose which laws to follow, but do hold the ethics and values of Judaism. Conservative Jews maintains that they know the truth within the Jewish scriptures, which they accept the binding nature of halakhah but believes they can interpret the laws to adapt to their lifestyles. (Class Lecture, 16 October 2013) This stance in American Jewish sects has been one of the causes for division.
It has been evident that the differences in the Jewish groups have forced leaders of faith to speak out on the causes of the division. Agudath Ha-Rabonim one of the prominent leaders of the Orthodox Jewish movement, had declared that, “the Conservative and Reform movements are “outside of Torah and outside of Judaism” (JewFaq).While this statement has mostly being misinterpreted it has caused a major wedge between the Jewish movements. (JewFaq) Many groups did in fact such as the Rabbinical Council of America did make a counterstatement that refuted the declaration of the Agudath. In regards however, conservative Jews believes the Jewish laws can change, and have modernize them to fit their movement. Reform Jews on the other hand do not believe in the biding nature of the Torah. The lack of unity within the Jewish community can be tied not only to inner struggles with American loyalty and Jewish culture but also the lack of tradition that many have broken away from. The beginning of the women’s involvement within the religion has led to a split in modern and orthodox Jews. Before women were not mentioned in Torah, they were invisible, didn’t incorporate into public prayer, and did not read from Torah scrolls. (Class lecture, 9 October 2013) Traditional Jewish roles enforced gender inequality. It was only in the second wave feminism in addition to the status of women changing in the 60s where the views of women changing. (Class lecture, 16 October 2013) The changes in the woman’s role where through several groups and organizations where, Jewish women play essential roles in the development of American feminism in the 60s and 70s. (Class lecture, 23 October 2013)
Jewish tradition are rarely passed on to their children as in the story, “Who Knows Kaddish”, the author tells the story of the family’s having complications at the funeral home for their mother. Although the mother is Jewish, she did not want a Rabbi officiating her funeral because she did not want to subject her friends to the Yiddish. (Kirshenbaum, 172) The family alone did not know her Jewish name and the son was not aware if he had a Jewish name. The son was told that they were Jewish however, they did not actually practice, and they usually celebrated secular holidays such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, and other holidays.The mother, female matriarch of the house was Jewish, but her kids and husband didn’t practice, showing how women have become more involved in the religion. Unlike in Mirvis story, “A Poland, A Lithuania, A Galicia”, the son went off to Israel for yeshiva, he transformed from Bryan that wanted to play basketball all the time to being wanted to be called Baruch and study his Talmud. (Mirvis, 491) The parents were wanting Bryan to go to Columbia and join the secular and cringed at the thought that he wanted to use his Jewish name. American Jews were torn generationally as individuals separated from the Conservative Judaism to more secular.In some instances, the parents are the ones that have broken off from traditions, where the younger generation have rejoined with their commitment to their religion. By going to Israel, Brian essentially reconnected to the traditional faith, unlike his parents in America. A precursor to what has driven so many of the different sects together.
The difference between traditional Jews and more Conservative Jews are plenty. Traditional Jewish sects follow the laws and commandments fully, while rejecting modern texts. More importantly the Jewish believe in Rambam’s thirteen principles of faith, following the 613 commandments written in the Torah, and following the Halakhah. Traditional Jews have differed on many things with modern Jews. Traditional Judaism believes that a person is a Jew if his/her mother is a Jew. On the other hand, modern Jews believe that people can be Jews if it passes through their mother or their father. In the matter of conversion, traditional Jews don’t always recognize those that convert if they don’t accept the yoke of Torah, conservative Jews requires immersion in a mikvah and circumcision, which would always be required of Reform Judaism. (Class Lecture, 9 October 2013) However, even with the many differences that Reform, Orthodox (traditional), and Conservative Jews have that separate them in America, they are all still connected.
The divisions within the Jewish religion have spurned the Reform, Orthodox, and Conservative movements, but within Israel there has only been one movement, although several classify themselves as traditional, secular, and religious Jews, Jews in Israel are not divided like in America. The Jewish community is beginning to unify as they have been affected by the problems that have been going down in Israel. The problems mention that have serve to separate the Jewish religion as a whole, also can work to unite them. The familial solidarity that keeps the Jewish faith still viable in Jewish families, also works into accordance with the function of Jewish community as a whole. The problems that plagued the Jewish community is that it is difficult for women to be included in most activities. Jews have to voluntary joined different synagogues, institutions.Jews in America have started to pull together after many women have fought to be included. Although American Jews have been divided on a number of things, they all still follow the laws of Torah, even if they interpret it differently. More importantly they follow Jewish principles that share the same values and ethics of the Jewish faith. Jews carries a sense of solidarity that allows them to emphasize with other Jews no matter where or what type of movement they are a part of. As evident in Kirshenbaum’s “Who Knows Kaddish”, the main character stumble upon the last Jewish grave in the cemetery in Germany and as badly as she feels she needs to recite the Kaddish for them she doesn’t know how. (Kirshenbaum 181)
American Jews have unlike Jewish groups in the past that. Ethnic divisions among Jews have been fluid over the centuries, as Jews moved and integrated with local cultures around the world. (Class Lecture, 6 November 2013) The responsibilities the modern American Jews feel that united them is fighting for the survival of their faith. The Jews have long fought in division for the traditional way, and a more modern way of including the female voice. This type of duty is outlined by Jewish critics that believe that the Jewish must stand together to protect the Jewish religion. The feelings evoked are shared by millions of Jews within the United States that have learned from past events after the immigration from Europe. (Elazar) Laws in the religion have changed to include more women involvement and leadership. In 1971 Ezrat Nashim created, “Jewish Women Call for Change” so that women be granted membership in synagogues, counted in minyan, allowed full participation in services, initiate a divorce, permitted to attend Rabbinical and Cantorial schools and function, and seen as equally yoked with men. (Class lecture, October 21)
American Jews feel as strongly about preserving their faith as other religions that fight to preserve their faiths. American Jews have strongly unified because of women have become the counter stone of the religion, in the Reform and Conservative sects, more women were involved in synagogue honors, had identical Bar Mitzvah, and developed parallel ceremonies for girls. As stated in the Torah, that Jews are a nation, and that a majority of all Jews feel a connection to each other that is developed as a kinship even countries apart. As Jews have tried to drift away into separate movements that have sparked different sects that interpret the laws and commandments in their own way. As appreciated in the selected readings, while some characters felt a certain disconnection with their religion, something kept drawing them closer to their religion out of a feeling of kinship with other Jewish people. In Bryan’s change when he went to Israel, the title characterof “Who Knows Kaddish” less subtle bond with the Jews within the cemetery. Jews have always seemed to feel connected even if knowledge is scarce of the religion.
In conclusion, the Jewish race is fused with several sects and groups that differentiate between orthodox, conservative, and reformist Jews in America. Through the separation it has left many looking in different directions of what they believe the Torah and the laws of the Jewish faith.The issues of women involvement, interpretation, and others, has split the groups. The differences can be subtle in their views of the Torah, however, in times that jeopardize the state of their Jewish brothers and sisters in the religion, they have begun to unify in order to protect and sustain their religion. The reasons for this new unification include; out of the responsibility to include the women in the religion. The second reason is because of duty to preserve the Jewish faith, as such with Christians and their perseverance to keep their faith on the forefront of their daily lives, so is the reason that Jews have decided to step up. The third reason is that American Jews feel solidarity with other Jew no matter the gender, as more females are included in just about every aspect they will continue to make strives to sustain the Jewish religion and people.
Annie Hall. Video Clip.
Class Lectures. October to November 2013.
Document 1. “The Reformation of Jews.”
Elazar, Daniel J. Assimilation and Authenticity: The Problem of the American Jewish Community. Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. N.d. http://www.jcpa.org/dje/books/cp2-ch1.htm Accessed on 16 Oct. 2013.
Goldwag, Arthur. Kabbalah FAQS. BeliefNet. http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/2005/06/Kabbalah-Faqs.aspx Accessed 05 Nov. 2013.
Judaism 101. JewFaq. N.d. http://www.jewfaq.org/whoisjew.htm Accessed 16 Oct. 2013.
Kirshenbaum, Binnie. Who Knows Kaddish? Lost Tribe: Jewish Fiction from the Edge. New York: Harper Collins, 2003.
Levine, Stephanie Wellen. Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers: An Intimate Journey Among Hasidic Girls. New York: NYU Press. 2004.
Mirvis, Tova. “A Poland, A Lithuania, A Galicia. Lost Tribe: Jewish Fiction from the Edge. New York: Harper Collins.
Time is precious
don’t waste it!