Rosh Hashanah greeting postcard depicting a Reform and an Orthodox Jew shaking hands. The Yiddish verse reads: “‘German’ [Reform Jew] or Hasid, rich or poor, / Be brotherly and shake hands! / May you be inscribed for the new year— / Whoever or whatever you are!” Published by Verlag Jehudia, Warsaw. (YIVO)

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Present-day Orthodox Judaism has a distinct and readily identifiable profile. It finds its expression in robust institutionalized forms such as nationwide organizations of synagogues, communities, and rabbis; schools and yeshivas; newspapers and other media; and even political parties in Israel and Hasidic townships in the United States that are self-designated as Orthodox. Orthodoxy in all its variety is characterized by a firm ideological stance, defining itself in relation to rival trends within Judaism. It implies more than an adherence to traditional forms of religious observance; rather, it is an ideology committed to the preservation of tradition. It is this conservative posture that lies at the very core of the self-definition of the modern-day Orthodox. As such, it is a relatively new phenomenon, a consequence of the challenges posed to tradition by modern ideologies. With the authority of tradition no longer taken as self-evident, it has had to be consciously defended and justified, augmented and amplified. Orthodoxy thus emerged in response to ideologies that challenged tradition and presented themselves as legitimate alternatives. It did not arise in the absence of ideological confrontation even where there was noticeable erosion of tradition associated with modernization.

This has been the received wisdom concerning Sephardic and Oriental Jewries, but it could very well apply to the history of East European Ashkenazic Jewry as well, especially to the Jews of the Russian Empire during much of the modern period. The transition from traditional Jewish society to post-traditional Orthodoxy is relatively easy to discern in Central Europe, where the precipitous shedding of tradition exposed a residual enclave of traditionalism within a short time. Where the process was more gradual and drawn out and the vast majority remained embedded in a sheltered tradition menaced only from afar, it is more difficult to detect those who came to be imbued with the sensibility of existential threat that characterized the self-understanding of Orthodoxy in the West.

The initial clash with the Jewish variant of the Enlightenment, the Haskalah in the 1780s, was triggered by a number of issues, the most important being the German Bible translation and Bi’ur commentary by Moses Mendelssohn, Netivot ha-shalom (1780–1783); the educational program of Naftali Herts Wessely’s Divre shalom ve-emet (1781–1782); Mendelssohn’s call to abolish coercion in matters of religion in his Jerusalem (1783); and the controversy over time restraints for Jewish burial (1786 on). Rabbis Yeḥezkel Landau of Prague, David Tevele ben Natan (d. 1792) of Lissa (Silesia), Pinḥas Horowitz (1730–1805) of Frankfurt, and Refa’el Kohen (Raphael Cohen; 1722–1803) of Hamburg harshly denounced these endeavors by lay intellectuals who were perceived as assigning priority to values derived from sources outside the accepted canons of tradition.

Yet within two decades not only was peace made with the moderate Haskalah of Mendelssohn and Wessely, but the earliest manifestations of Orthodoxy in Central Europe actually incorporated much of their program. The intervention of the state, often of the enlightened absolutist state, was crucial in mitigating the conflict. Since the state demanded that Jews establish secular schools, that religious courts and the exercise of excommunication be abolished, and that burials be delayed until 48 hours after death, the traditional establishment could do little but comply. Likewise, the increasing demands made by the market for a degree of acculturation were met with understanding. A generation later, faced with ideologies far more threatening to tradition than the moderate Haskalah, Shemu’el Landau (d. 1834) of Prague, a representative figure of his generation of rabbis, endorsed Mendelssohn’s Bible and accepted secular education and the linguistic shift away from Yiddish to German. And in the very midst of denouncing the Hamburg religious reforms in 1819, Shemu’el Berenstein, the rabbi of Amsterdam, could pause and wax sentimental about that “glorious” pair, Mendelssohn and Wessely.

Even the first attempts at aesthetic religious reforms introduced by Israel Jacobson and the Westphalian Consistory between 1808 and 1815 initially did not generate more than isolated objections. Only the reforms of the Berlin and Hamburg temples prompted a full-scale concerted backlash that can be seen as inaugurating the history of Orthodoxy. Besides playing an organ on the Sabbath, the Hamburg services instituted a new prayer book that eliminated key elements from the traditional text relating to the messianic restoration of the Land of Israel and introduced prayers in German. Although halakhic defenses of the Berlin reforms had been published (Or nogah by Eli‘ezer Liebermann, and Nogah ha-tsedek, both in Dessau in 1818), which included responsa by Aharon Chorin of Arad and Mosheh Kunitz of Buda, the innovations of the two temples went beyond the aesthetic reforms of the Westphalian consistory and were perceived as crossing the line, violating both dogma and halakhah. In order to convince the Hamburg Senate to shut down the new services, the local rabbinical court solicited opinions of leading rabbis and published Eleh divre ha-berit (1819) separately in Hebrew and German.

This was a landmark publication in the history of Orthodoxy. Of some 20 responses, the three letters penned by Mosheh Sofer stood out. Later earning acclaim as Ḥatam Sofer, the rabbi of Pressburg denounced the reforms on halakhic grounds as a matter of course. However, sensing that the Hamburg Senate was not the appropriate address for making fine legal points, he concentrated instead on presenting a principled case for the integrity and the inviolability of age-old tradition. Here and elsewhere he made it clear that those who had the temerity to pose their insignificant views in opposition to the weight of accumulated wisdom were to be ejected summarily from the collectivity, placed beyond the pale, and denounced as sectarians. Tradition, even in its minutest and seemingly most trivial forms, had to be preserved in toto. He also came to the conclusion that one must not engage in halakhic give-and-take with those like Chorin and Liebermann who exploited the framework in bad faith. He himself came to realize that in order to defend tradition against the growing assault, the strict halakhic framework was in many cases inadequate and had to be shored up, at times by playing fast and loose with the accepted legal rules of the game. “He-ḥadash asur min ha-Torah” (lit., the new is forbidden by the Torah), came to be his famous catchphrase, encapsulating his stringent approach wherever he felt tradition was endangered. He disapproved of the flexibility that had characterized the previous generation of halakhic authorities, principally its greatest representative figure, Yeḥezkel Landau.

In his last will and testament, Ḥatam Sofer would urge his children to separate themselves from innovators and roundly condemned Mendelssohn’s Bible translation, an unusual position among the rabbis of his time. While his authority extended beyond the borders of his homeland, it was in Hungary that his influence was decisive, giving shape to the peculiar militancy and unyielding stringent traditionalism that became the hallmark of Hungarian Orthodoxy. His charismatic presence and prolific writings inspired generations of devoted disciples who went on to replicate his yeshiva and emulate his authoritarian style in the rabbinate. Unique to Hungarian Orthodoxy, both institutions, the yeshiva and the communal rabbinate, emerged out of the confrontation with Reform fortified at a time when the former disappeared in German and Bohemian lands and the latter declined in prestige with the ascent of the Hasidic rebbe in Poland and the head of yeshiva in Lithuania.

In German territories, a different brand of Orthodoxy began to take shape. In the wake of the controversy over the Hamburg reforms, Yitsḥak Bernays (1792–1849) was appointed the spiritual leader of the community as a compromise candidate. Bernays, and his colleague Ya‘akov Ettlinger (1798–1871) who came to serve in the nearby community of Altona, stood at the vanguard of a new type of university-trained Orthodox rabbi who preached and wrote in the modern idiom. The outstanding figure of German modern or neo-Orthodoxy was Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808–1888), whose Neunzehn Briefe über Judenthum (1836) and Choreb, oder Versuche über Jissroels Pflichten in der Zerstreuung (1837), penned when he was in his twenties, formulated a self-confident ideology that came to be known as Torah im derekh erets, advocating an organic synthesis between modern culture and tradition. In effect, Hirsch integrated fully into his worldview the program of the moderate Haskalah and even the aesthetic reforms of the Westphalian consistory. While his severe dogmatic stance was unique, he by no means stood alone on the left wing of the Orthodox spectrum. A cadre of young modern Orthodox rabbis had emerged by the 1840s and was ready to take up the cudgels in the second round of confrontation with Reform.

Eleh divre ha-berit marked the emergence of an Orthodox public sphere in embryo. It was the first tentative attempt to give public expression to a conservative rabbinical republic of letters that encompassed, as the subtitle of the work indicated, “Germany, Poland, France and Italy, as well as Bohemia, Moravia, and Hungary.” Albeit short-lived, it established a precedent for the next generation. A series of confrontations in the 1840s elicited similar collective responses, the most famous being two public statements issued in 1845 condemning the Reform rabbinic conferences in Braunschweig and elsewhere. Torat ha-kena’ot, initiated by the Amsterdam banker Tsevi Hirsh Lehren (1784–1853), was similar in form to Eleh divre ha-berit, while Shelome emune Yisra’el, a brief bilingual manifesto in German and Hebrew, signed by 77, and in a later version by 116 rabbis, was formulated in Altona under the auspices of Ettlinger. He also initiated the weekly Der treue Zionswächter (1845–1854) and the rabbinic periodical, the Hebrew Shomer Tsiyon ha-ne’eman (1846–1856), in an attempt to maintain a more permanent Orthodox public presence. Both publications served as models for the dozens of Orthodox newspapers and learned journals that emerged in Germany and elsewhere from the middle of the nineteenth century onward.

By mid-century, the Orthodox in Germany had been reduced to a small, embattled minority. To stiffen their resolve in the face of uneven odds, a recurrent trope in Orthodox polemics was the comforting thought that in the broader perspective that included the mass of East European Jewry, adherents of tradition still constituted an overwhelming majority. It is, therefore, ironic to note the geographical extent of the emergent Orthodox public sphere. While the subtitle of Eleh divre ha-berit boasted the participation of the leading rabbis of Poland, in fact the five who did appear in the collection served in communities (Posen, Lissa, Breslau, Tiktin, and Rawicz) mainly located in the eastern marches of Prussia, in Silesia and Posen. A generation later, the 116 rabbis who eventually signed Shelome emune Yisra’el numbered rabbis from Germany, Holland, France, Switzerland, and the Habsburg Empire, but not from Galicia, and not even from Posen. Similarly, the two published parts of Torat ha-kena’ot did not bother to include the old-fashioned, out-of-touch responses of rabbis from Brody, Minsk, and Kalisz. Even as the range of Orthodoxy extended eastward during the following decades, it continued to exclude, with isolated exceptions, Congress Poland and the Pale of Settlement.

On the other hand, in the mid-nineteenth century the Bohemian lands and Hungary beckoned to the neo-Orthodox, promising ideal conditions where their brand of Orthodoxy could very well flourish. The Jews of these lands were in advanced stages of acculturation, yet compared to the state of affairs in Germany, tradition was still largely intact. Thus around this time two outstanding figures who came to dominate German modern Orthodoxy, Hirsch and his younger counterpart Esriel Hildesheimer, both took up influential rabbinic posts in the Habsburg Empire.

Hirsch was appointed chief rabbi of Moravia (1847–1851), arguably the most powerful rabbinic post at the time, at the top of a strict hierarchy that had no analogies elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe. During the revolution of 1848, he became perhaps the most influential political figure representing Jewish interests in the empire. However, his stay was short. Initially viewed as an ideal compromise candidate, his lenient halakhic rulings, ambitious administrative reforms, and dogmatic neo-Orthodoxy ended up pleasing neither the old-fashioned conservatives nor the reformers. He gave it all up to become the rabbi of the private Israelitische Religionsgesellschaft (IRG) of the small Orthodox minority in Frankfurt.

As Hirsch was leaving the Habsburg Empire, the young Esriel Hildesheimer arrived to take up the rabbinate of the old prestigious community of Eisenstadt. A wealthy father-in-law enabled him to establish what became the first modern yeshiva, combining a traditional curriculum with a classics-oriented academic secondary school (gymnasium). It stood in contrast to the vocational Realschule that Hirsch had set up in Frankfurt, which was neither a yeshiva nor a gymnasium. In time, Hildesheimer’s yeshiva became the largest in Hungary second only to Pressburg and attracting the sons of some of the outstanding rabbis in the land.

Since the 1840s, almost every major Hungarian community had been rent apart as rival camps clashed over competing visions of what schools, rabbis, and synagogues should be. The conflict grew and drew into its ever-expanding vortex larger and larger sections of Hungarian Jewry; few managed to avoid embroilment in the struggle. After a decade of enforced calm during the Austrian occupation that followed the failed Hungarian revolution of 1848–1849, the clash erupted once again with unprecedented ferocity in the 1860s. This time, however, the Orthodox waged battle not only against external foes, but even more fiercely against the enemy within.

By the 1860s, Orthodoxy in Hungary had become deeply divided in its response to the challenges posed by the transformations that had affected Jewish society during the previous decade. The state had instituted compulsory secular education on a wide scale; Yiddish was fast being replaced by German; Hungarian nationalism was increasingly insistent that Jews identify themselves as Magyars; and religious services incorporating many of the Westphalian aesthetic reforms had become the norm for the larger communities, even those leaning toward Orthodoxy. Three basic Orthodox postures emerged. Hildesheimer and a considerable neo-Orthodox camp were not overly troubled by these developments. What can be seen as a mainstream center was unhappy with this new state of affairs, but was at a loss at how to react. Since halakhah proved inadequate to provide firm guidelines on acculturation and national identification, mainstream Orthodoxy responded evasively with lukewarm compromises. It was in reaction to this vacillation that a third response emerged in the early 1860s, a determined ultra-Orthodoxy fiercely condemning even the faintest concessions to acculturation and Hungarian nationalism. Two chief ideologues of ultra-Orthodoxy, Hillel Lichtenstein and his son-in-law Akiva Yosef Schlesinger, urged the truly faithful to resist even the mildest form of acculturation. They viewed this staunch stance as encapsulated in the traditional admonition to remain loyal to one’s Jewish name, language, and dress. These three elements in Hebrew—shem, lashon, and malbush—formed the acronym shalem, signifying the complete, perfect, authentic Jew who embodied the absolute antithesis of the ideals propounded by their archenemies, the demonized Moses Mendelssohn and his spiritual offspring, the neo-Orthodox.

A series of collective petitions and manifestos issued between 1864 and 1865 by Hungarian rabbis revealed that Orthodoxy had undergone a rapid differentiation into three recognizable factions in a very short time. Those in sympathy with some form of modern compromise signed Hildesheimer’s petition, which sought to demarcate clearly, once and for all, the neo-Orthodox camp from the historical positivist school of Zacharias Frankel and Heinrich Graetz (eventually known in the United States as Conservative Judaism). Soon after, a petition against the establishment of a state-sponsored rabbinical seminary, even an Orthodox one, pitted the mainstream against Hildesheimer and his supporters. The third collective statement was the ultra-Orthodox pesak din (rabbinic decision) of Michalowce in autumn 1865, which harshly condemned any change in the synagogue service, even such as had been introduced in a number of Orthodox-oriented communities, including Pressburg. The mainstream was scandalized by the lack of halakhic rigor that characterized what claimed to be a pesak din, and condemned what it viewed as baseless exaggerations. In numbers, the three parties were about evenly divided. The regional variations of Hungarian Orthodoxy were also laid bare: the signatories of the pesak din were drawn exclusively from the northeast and east, a territory that was in effect an extension of Polish Jewry into Hungary, heavily settled by Hasidim. Nevertheless, even in these regions, most rabbis refused to sign the manifesto, and the Hasidic leadership, led by Tsevi Hirsh Friedmann of Liszka, was decidedly cool to the emerging Orthodox organization, Shomrey ha-Das.

Montage of portraits of delegates to the Jewish Congress, Pest, Hungary, 1868–1869. (Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives / Photograph courtesy of Beth Hatefutsoth, Photo Archive, Tel Aviv)

In the wake of Jewish emancipation at the end of 1867, the now semi-independent state of Hungary sought to organize its Jewish communities under one centralized umbrella organization along the lines of the French consistory. A Jewish Congress of representatives of the country’s communities was summoned to convene in the winter of 1868 and 1869. At the initiative of laymen, Shomrey ha-Das was established to represent the increasingly embattled Orthodox. Numerous branches were set up throughout Hungary; a Hungarian-language newspaper, Magyar Zsidó, began to appear, vying with the Neolog organs in its Magyar patriotism; a rabbinical conference was held in Buda on the eve of the Congress; and a fierce election campaign was waged throughout the land. The composition of the Congress revealed that the Orthodox had garnered only about 40 percent of the 220 representatives. While the elections probably did not accurately reflect the actual numbers of the two camps, it did represent their relative strength. This came as sharp blow to the Orthodox, who had viewed themselves just a generation earlier as comprising the overwhelming majority of Hungarian Jewry. From the very start, it became clear that most of the Neolog faction were in no mood for concessions. Eventually, representatives of the mainstream and ultra-Orthodox party led by Yirmiyahu Löw, the rabbi of Újhely, stormed out, abandoning the Congress. A moderate faction led by Hildesheimer and the lay leaders of the Shomrey ha-Das society stayed until the end, but left embittered.

The statutes passed by the Congress created a highly centralized, hierarchical organ. Every Jew had to affiliate with a Jewish community, and each locale was to have only one community. The Orthodox began an astute campaign against the Congress statutes and its sponsor, the minister of cults and religion, Baron József Eötvös, claiming that the freedom of religious conscience was being violated. They won the sympathy of the liberal press, mobilized Jewish public opinion throughout Europe, and entered into an alliance with the left-wing opposition, voting for its candidates en bloc in the parliamentary elections. When even the leading liberals of the ruling party were won over, the government conceded that a disaffected religious minority could secede from the mother community and establish its own communal organization. In 1871, the Orthodox were permitted to set up their own nationwide, centralized organization. The long-festering schism in Hungarian Jewry had now acquired firm institutional grounding.

It soon became clear that many traditionally observant Jews were unwilling to disrupt the unity of their communities. The “Status Quo” became a third option for those who refused to join either the Orthodox or the Neolog nationwide networks. They soon came to feel the wrath of such authorities as Maharam (Mosheh) Schick, who denounced the Status Quo as worse than the Neologs, and declared that halakhah obligated an observant Jew to secede and join the formal Orthodox communal organization based upon the Shulḥan ‘arukh.

The attempt to make organizational affiliation the sole touchstone of Orthodoxy soon spread beyond the borders of Hungary. In 1872, when the Viennese community decided to introduce reforms eliminating prayers for a messianic restoration of the Holy Land, Rabbi Shelomoh (Zalman) Spitzer (1826–1893), the son-in-law of Ḥatam Sofer, sought to replicate the Hungarian model of secession. Rehearsing the liberal arguments against religious coercion, Spitzer issued a protest petition signed by 400 rabbis from all over Europe, stating that it was forbidden for an observant Jew to give financial support in the form of religious taxes to a community that violated basic dogmas of Judaism and not based upon the Shulḥan‘arukh. It is noteworthy that this was also the first time that a sizable contingent from Austrian Galicia as well as from Poland and Russia participated in the growing Orthodox public sphere.

Spitzer failed to receive the government’s approval in Vienna; a few years later, however, Samson Raphael Hirsch successfully lobbied for legislation in the new German Empire that would permit Orthodox secession from a community. Hirsch, whose advice and publicist writings had played a key role in the Hungarian campaign, now demanded that the Orthodox minority—by this time reduced to less than one-fifth of German Jewry—should be allowed to secede and form their own autonomous communities. But as in Hungary, a sizable group of Orthodox did not choose to do so, preferring instead to wrest concessions from the majority to establish independent Orthodox institutions within the framework of the mother community. Interestingly, while Hirsch denounced this Gemeindeorthodoxie (Communal Orthodoxy) in Germany as violating halakhah for not seceding, he did not agree with Maharam Schick that the observant Status Quo communities in Hungary also transgressed by not affiliating with the nationwide Orthodox organization. While organizational affiliation as the sole touchstone of Orthodoxy was becoming increasingly accepted, apparently it remained open to interpretation. It also introduced a certain flexibility into seemingly rigid categories. For instance, Marcus Hirsch, who was the foremost advocate of Hungarian Status Quo when he was rabbi of Óbuda in the 1870s, ended up as the very Orthodox rabbi of Hamburg at the turn of the twentieth century.

Although ostensibly Hungary and Germany represented different varieties of Orthodoxy, the affiliates of the two countries interacted quiet closely until World War I. Hungary provided a comforting hinterland for the German Orthodox, increasingly supplying incumbents for almost all of the major German Orthodox rabbinates. Germany, in turn, became a convenient arena for Hungarian neo-Orthodox rabbis. By this time, German as the common language of the Orthodox in both countries served to create a shared public sphere, expressed most noticeably in the weekly Orthodox press.

Soon on the heels of Hungary and Germany, Galicia became the arena of conflict. Once again, it was a proposal by the liberal camp, this time the Shomer Yisra’el society in 1878, to establish a centralized communal organization and a rabbinical seminary under state auspices that prompted an Orthodox reaction. The recent Hungarian and German developments were firmly in the sights of both sides. While earlier there had been a few rabbis of a more militant temperament, including Shelomoh Kluger of Brody, Ḥayim Halberstam, the Hasidic rebbe of Sandz, and Tsevi Hirsh Chajes of Żółkiew, the post-1848 period had been remarkable mainly for its relative quiet and search for compromise. The relative numeric strength of the traditional camp also encouraged a certain complacency. The proposals of the Shomer Yisra’el society, however, energized the generally passive Galician rabbinate to undertake forceful countermeasures, to found an organization to fight on behalf of the traditional sector. As in Hungary, it was laymen who initiated the Makhzikey ha-Das society. The most important Hasidic rebbe in Galicia, Yehoshu‘a Rokeaḥ of Belz, and Shim‘on Sofer, rabbi of Kraków and son of Ḥatam Sofer, served as heads of the society. The society failed to attain the state’s consent to secede from the community and establish a separate nationwide Orthodox communal organization, and remained a voluntary association with proportionally considerably fewer members than in neighboring Hungary. Its 40,000-strong membership, while impressive, constituted only a fraction of Galician Jewry that continued to remain on the sidelines. Nevertheless, Makhzikey ha-Das foiled attempts to create a centralized nationwide organization and did accomplish something remarkable that would have been unthinkable in either Hungary or Germany: it emerged as a political force. In fact, the 1879 elections to the Austrian parliament represented the first time that Jews in the modern period entered into the political arena as a collectivity, fielding their own candidate and voting for him in concert. The victorious Shim‘on Sofer joined the ranks of a handful of rabbis—Isaak Noah Mannheimer, Samson Raphael Hirsch, Dov Berush Meisels; all in 1848—who had served as parliamentarians. By entering into politics, Orthodoxy took the first steps toward the creation of a separate, all-encompassing milieu.

Nothing demonstrates the feebleness of Orthodox sensibility in Russia as much as the dismissive responsa on Makhzikey ha-Das penned in the early 1880s by Naftali Tsevi Yehudah Berlin (Netsiv), the head of the famous yeshiva of Volozhin (Responsa Meshiv Davar 1:44). Netsiv did not view the decline of traditional religion in the modern period as significantly different from similar developments in the past; he held that unity must be maintained especially in the face of external pressures, and that conflict can only lead to gratuitous hatred. Although confrontation with secular Zionism began to raise Orthodox consciousness during the last two decades of the nineteenth century, for the most part Russian rabbis saw no need for specifically Orthodox organization and institutions. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Ya‘akov Lifshits (1838–1921), a genuine Orthodox publicist, historian, and activist, sought to establish Makhzikey ha-Das in Russia. He cited the German precedent in which the identity of everyone, Orthodox and Reform, was clearly established and religious affiliation defined one’s very essence. One can only wonder why he prefaced his 1903 eponymous work with dozens of lukewarm and at times contrary rabbinic endorsements. While aware of religious decline and a Jewish press that often mocked tradition, most of the rabbis interpreted the goals of the proposed society as a sort of outreach program geared toward strengthening observance and study. Many warned against adopting a militant adversarial stance, specifically pointing to the negative consequences of the discord created by Makhzikey ha-Das in Galicia. Lifshits himself was compelled to concede that German tactics were inappropriate in Russia where secession did not make any sense, nor could it even be contemplated.

It was the confrontation with cultural Zionism that led a disillusioned group of religious Zionists in the Mizraḥi movement to undertake an alliance with German neo-Orthodoxy. The goal of creating a nationwide Orthodox umbrella organization in Germany that would unite the secessionist and communal Orthodoxy, pursued with vigor by the lay leader Jacob Rosenheim of Frankfurt, met with partial success in 1907. Two years later, Salomon Breuer, Hirsch’s Hungarian son-in-law and successor as rabbi of the secessionist Frankfurt community, successfully brought together Lithuanian Misnagdim led by Ḥayim Ozer Grodzenski of Vilna, and Polish Hasidim led by Mordekhai Alter, the rebbe of Gur, at a meeting in Bad Homburg, in order to establish a worldwide Orthodox organization along the lines of the Zionist movement. This meeting also marked a reorientation of German Orthodoxy away from Hungary toward Eastern Europe, influenced no doubt by the general romance of the East that took hold of German Jewry even before World War I.

The founding conference of Agudas Yisroel, held in Katowice in 1912, brought together 300 delegates in a small town where the German, Austrian, and Russian empires met. While Rosenheim viewed the purpose of Aguda as unifying Orthodox Jewry in an international world organization, Breuer pressed unsuccessfully to declare that its aims were to oppose Zionism in general, and religious Zionism of Mizraḥi in particular. Later, Breuer clashed again with Rosenheim over the so-called “Hungarian demand” to exclude anyone from holding office in Aguda who had the opportunity to join an independent Orthodox community and did not do so, namely the Hungarian Status Quo, the German communal Orthodox, and Mizraḥi. The 1923 conference of Aguda, held in Vienna after the war, rejected the “Hungarian demand” and even refused to employ the by-now sanctified term Orthodox when laying down the criteria for membership or office. (The Eastern delegates had explained that Orthodoxy meant something quiet different in the Russian context.) Consequently, Aguda met with opposition in Hungary even from the mainstream Orthodox, not to mention ultra-Orthodox figures such as the rebbe of Munkatsh (Munkács) who wittily deciphered the name of Bar Kamtsa, who had brought on the destruction of the Second Temple, as an acronym for the followers of “Communism, Mizraḥi, Zionism, and Aguda.”

The (Congress) Polish branch of Agudas Yisroel was founded under the name Orthodox League in 1916, and became active in newly independent Poland. Much of its support came from the ranks of Gerer Hasidim. Very soon, the Polish branch became the largest and most influential division of Agudas Yisroel. In contrast to the situation in the Habsburg lands, the main concern of its leaders was the threat posed by Zionism and socialism to traditional belief and practice, and their primary goal was to gain a significant place in the political leadership of the Jewish community. Aguda, however, was not the only voice of Orthodoxy in Polish lands; it had little support among Lubavitch Hasidim, and the Belz Hasidim reorganized Makhzikey ha-Das as a rival to the Aguda in the 1930s.

Nevertheless, with the establishment of a worldwide organization and the entrance of Aguda into parliamentary politics in the interwar period, Orthodoxy finally attained a measure of institutionalization in Poland and the Baltic States. While its profile was not as sharply defined as Orthodoxy in Hungary and Germany, neither ideologically nor institutionally, it did embrace much broader spheres of activity, forming a genuine self-contained social milieu.

Suggested Reading

Israel Bartal, “Zikhron Ya‘akov le-R. Ya‘akov Lifshits: Historyografyah ortodoksit,” Milet 2 (1984): 409–414; Mordechai Breuer, Modernity within Tradition: The Social History of Orthodox Jewry in Imperial Germany (New York, 1992); David Ellenson, After Emancipation: Jewish Religious Responses to Modernity (Cincinnati, 2004); Immanuel Etkes, Rabbi Israel Salanter and the Mussar Movement (Philadelphia, 1993); Adam S. Ferziger, Exclusion and Hierarchy: Orthodoxy, Nonobservance, and the Emergence of Modern Jewish Identity (Philadelphia, 2005); Haim Gertner, “Rabanut ve-dayanut be-Galitsyah ba-maḥatsit ha-ri’shonah shel ha-me’ah ha-19: Tipologyah shel hanhagah mesoratit be-mashber” (Ph.D. diss., Hebrew University, 2004); Jacob Katz, “Orthodoxy in Historical Perspective,” Studies in Contemporary Jewry 2 (1986): 3–17; Jacob Katz, Divine Law in Human Hands: Case Studies in Halakhic Flexibility (Jerusalem, 1998); Jacob Katz, A House Divided: Orthodoxy and Schism in Nineteenth-Century Central European Jewry, trans. Ziporah Brody (Hanover, N.H., 1998); Maurice Kriegel, “Orthodoxie (Ultra-),” in Les juifs et le XXe siècle: Dictionnaire critique, ed. Elie Barnavi and Saul Friedländer, pp. 153–165 (Paris, 2000); Robert Liberles, Religious Conflict in Social Context: The Resurgence of Orthodox Judaism in Frankfurt am Main, 1838–1877 (Westport, Conn., 1985); Ehud Luz, Parallels Meet: Religion and Nationalism in the Early Zionist Movement, 1882–1904, trans. Lenn J. Schramm (Philadelphia, 1989); Rachel Manekin, “Tsemiḥatah ve-gibushah shel ha-ortodoksyah ha-yehudit be-Galitsyah: Ḥevrat ‘Maḥazike ha-dat,’ 1867–1883” (Ph.D. diss., The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 2000); Yosef Salmon, Religion and Zionism: First Encounters (Jerusalem, 2002); Yosef Salmon, Aviezer Ravitzky, and Adam S. Ferziger, eds., Ortodoksyah yehudit: Hebetim ḥadashim (Jerusalem, 2006); Moshe Samet, “The Beginnings of Orthodoxy,” Modern Judaism 8.3 (1988): 249–269; Moshe Samet, He-Ḥadash asur min ha-Torah: Perakim be-toldot ha-ortodoksyah (Jerusalem, 2005); Michael K. Silber, “The Emergence of Ultra-Orthodoxy: The Invention of a Tradition,” in The Uses of Tradition: Jewish Continuity in the Modern Era, ed. Jack Wertheimer, pp. 23–84 (New York, 1992); Mordechai Zalkin, “‘Ortodokse ha-‘ir?’: Le-She’elat kiyumah shel ortodoksyah be-Lita be-me’ah ha-tesha‘ ‘esreh,” in Ortodoksyah yehudit: Hebetim ḥadashim, ed. Yosef Salmon, Aviezer Ravitzky, and Adam S. Ferziger, pp. 427–446 (Jerusalem, 2006).