Postwar Judaism

In the decades following World War II, American JudaismJudaism is the worldview, the way of life, and the religious practice of the Jewish people, living in covenant with God and in response to Torah, the laws and ethics which guide the pattern of Jewish life. Jews today interpret their three thousand year ol... was affected by three major trends. The first was the move of the second- and third-generation American Jews to the American suburbs, and the subsequent reimagining of Judaism in a mid-century suburban lifestyle. The second was the perceived decline of anti-SemitismAnti-Semitism means literally “opposed to Semites” although it has always referred specifically to Jews. Modern anti-Semitism arose in Europe toward the end of the 19th century, coalescing social, racial, and religious theories that denigrated the Jew... in America and the denominational assimilationAssimilation refers to the process of “making similar,” a process by which people lose their national, cultural, or even religious identity through absorption in the wider society. In the history of American immigration, it has usually meant the absor... of Jewish synagoguesSynagogue, shul in Yiddish, is the most widely used term for a Jewish house of worship. Meaning a “place of gathering,” it is the central institution of Jewish communal life. The structure and role of synagogues has changed through the centuries, but ..., related trends which helped to establish Judaism as one of America’s three principal faiths (alongside ProtestantismProtestant is a term used for the range of reform movements that broke with the Roman Catholic Church during the period called the Reformation. There are many branches of Protestantism, including the Lutherans, Anabaptists, Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists... and Catholicism). Third, the events of the HolocaustHolocaust (from Greek, entire burnt offering) refers in modern times to the Nazi German campaign to exterminate the Jewish people during the 1930s and 1940s with death camps and gas chambers. Six million Jews died in this Holocaust. In Hebrew, the Holocau... and the establishment of IsraelLiterally “Wrestler with God”, Israel is the name given to the Jewish patriarch Jacob and came to refer to the entire nation, bound in an eternal covenant to God. Historically, Jews have continued to regard themselves as the continuation of the ancien..., together with the general philosophical trend of existentialism, prompted a reexamination of Jewish theology and gave rise to a renaissance of Jewish thought in America.

The move to suburbia held profound implications for the future of American Judaism. Cut off from the Yiddishkeit culture, ethnicity, and political experience of their immigrant parents, mid-century Jews sought to re-establish Jewish community in a form more compatible with American society. In a development highly reminiscent of the Americanizing impulse of the SephardicSephardic is an adjective used to refer to the Jewish culture which developed in Spain and the Mediterranean, in contradistinction to Ashkenazic Jewry, which has its distinctive roots in Germany and Eastern Europe. The culture and practices of Sephardic J... and AshkenazicAshkenazic is an adjective used to refer to the Jewish culture which developed in Germany and Eastern Europe (called Ashkenaz) in contradistinction to Sephardic Judaism, which has its distinctive roots in Spain and the Mediterranean. By extension, it now ... Jewish communities of the nineteenth century, suburban American Jews established hundreds of new synagogues which often included facilities for socializing and for recreation in an attempt to replace the ambiance of the old neighborhood. However, in a slow rejection of the traditionalism of their parents’ culture, early suburban Jews began to attend religious services only sporadically. Secular Jewish community centers were also established. Most importantly, however, the synagogueSynagogue, shul in Yiddish, is the most widely used term for a Jewish house of worship. Meaning a “place of gathering,” it is the central institution of Jewish communal life. The structure and role of synagogues has changed through the centuries, but ... centers conspicuously incorporated school buildings, a clear statement about the importance placed on educating the next generation.

For some Jewish parents, carpooling children to the HebrewHebrew is the ancient language of the Israelites in which the Bible and most of Jewish liturgy is written. school was their primary form of involvement in Jewish life, with home life including very little Jewish content. Critics have argued that one of the messages communicated in these years was that Judaism is for children, and certainly not a great heritage worth taking seriously as adults.

Meanwhile, the defeat of the Nazis in World War II and the emergence of information about the Holocaust did much to destabilize the anti-Semitism of prior decades. Jews were now seen as patriotic Americans and full members of American society. The vehicle for this acceptance was a new model of pluralism in America, based on religious difference rather than cultural division, and most prominently articulated by an American Jew named Will Herberg in his 1955 book, ProtestantProtestant is a term used for the range of reform movements that broke with the Roman Catholic Church during the period called the Reformation. There are many branches of Protestantism, including the Lutherans, Anabaptists, Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists..., Catholic, Jew: A Study in American Religious Sociology. Herberg’s thesis was that immigrants of various types had assimilated into American life by shedding their ethnic particularities in favor of religious identification. Religious pluralism within a Judeo-Christian framework became the engine for a revival in American religion, Judaism included.

The reformulation of Judaism as a religion was accompanied by a new burst of Jewish intellectual activity. Based in New York City, Jewish writers, critics, and other public intellectuals came into prominence. These included Morris Raphael Cohen, Horace Kallen, Will Herberg, Irving Howe, and Nathan Glazer, all secular thinkers who observed religious life but took little part in it themselves. That same year, a classic in American Jewish theology also appeared: RabbiRabbi means “my master,” an authorized teacher or master of the Torah and the classical Jewish tradition. After the fall of the second Temple in 70 CE and the scattering of the Jewish people in exile, the role of the rabbi became very important in gat... AbrahamAbraham is the patriarch, acknowledged as the father of the lineage of faith by the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions. He is presumed to have lived sometime in the period 2000-1700 BCE. He is the father of Isaac by Sarah (Genesis 12.25), and the "... JoshuaJoshua was the leader Moses appointed to succeed him after his death, laying his hands upon Joshua and committing to him the leadership of the people of Israel. According to biblical history, Joshua led the Israelites, who had been tested for forty years ... Heschel’s Man Is Not Alone. Heschel, a refugee from Germany who became a professor of Jewish thought and mysticism at Jewish Theological Seminary, was the first major proponent of religious existentialism and HasidicHasidic literally means the “pious one,” and Hasidim (pl.) are those who have developed extraordinary devotion to the spirituality of Jewish life. Originally, Hasidism referred to the movement founded in Poland in the mid-18th century by Israel Baal S... spirituality in America. He became the mentor and guide to two generations of American rabbisRabbi means “my master,” an authorized teacher or master of the Torah and the classical Jewish tradition. After the fall of the second Temple in 70 CE and the scattering of the Jewish people in exile, the role of the rabbi became very important in gat..., and even gained some measure of public fame by marching with Martin Luther KingThe Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) was one of America’s most renowned Christian leaders. After earning his Ph.D. from Boston University, King became minister of a Baptist church in Montgomery, Alabama, where he led the successful non-viole..., Jr. in Selma, Alabama in 1965.

This postwar Jewish revival emerged on two levels: the popular and the elite. On the popular level, American Jews moved to suburbia and divested Judaism of much of its cultural energy by building synagogues they did not regularly attend. In the elite sphere, rabbinicRabbinic Judaism is the Judaism descended from the rabbis, the teachers, who compiled the Mishnah and the Talmud between the second and fifth centuries CE, and all the tradition and learning of Judaism that has issued from them. teachers conceptualized a new modern Judaism independent of the European culture that had been destroyed in the Holocaust. In both cases, the view of Judaism as a religious tradition was preferred over that of Judaism as a culture or civilization. Yet the two new cultural centers of world Jewish civilization were then in the making: a developing state of Israel and a religiously reawakened United States.


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