web analytics
August 4, 2015 / 19 Av, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


The Evolution Of American Orthodoxy: An Interview with Yeshiva University Librarian Zalman Alpert

Zalman Alpert

Zalman Alpert

Why not the third?

I felt a disconnect in my younger years between Lubavitch and the Holocaust experience. To most other chassidic groups, like Satmar, Bobov, and Ger, the Holocaust was the main – to use Zalman Schechter’s phrase – “Sinai event” of the 20th century. Everything happening in the United States is, in a certain sense, a reaction to it.

In Lubavitch, I never found that. I went through the Lubavitcher school system for nine years, and I can honestly say the Holocaust was never mentioned.

Do you think the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe perhaps intentionally avoided stressing the Holocaust because he felt the topic too depressing or paralyzing?

I think so. I think the Rebbe had an upbeat message for American Jewry that things would be good, and I think getting stuck in the Holocaust was not the message he wanted to give.

Why then are you so focused on the Holocaust?

Because both my parents went through it. My father was in German imprisonment and concentration camps from November 1939 to April 1945, and my mother was in German camps from September 1941 until the end of the war. To me, the Holocaust was the formative event in my life.

Over the years, you have written on American Jewish history in a variety of publications. How do you explain a phenomenon that intrigues many people, namely American Orthodoxy’s turn to the right in recent decades?

I think a lot of it had to do with the Holocaust survivors. Not all of them were Orthodox, but the small group who were included many chassidim, as well as Lithuanian yeshiva students who became roshei yeshiva and teachers. Plus, there were Holocaust survivors who weren’t necessarily haredim but were committed to preserving Judaism, even if only to fulfill Emil Fackenheim’s eleventh commandment, “Thou shalt not give Hitler a posthumous victory.”

But the children of these survivors are even frummer, at least outwardly, than their parents. How did that happen?

That’s the reaction. People overdo it and try to become more Catholic than the pope. It happened in every segment of Jewish society – in the Modern Orthodox world, in the yeshiva world, even among chassidim.

Until the 1970s, Bobov, for example, was fairly modern. Most Bobover chassidim did not dress in the complete chassidic outfit. In the 1950s, they didn’t wear the kapote, and even in the ‘60s, when many adopted it, they certainly didn’t wear the white socks or the half shoes. Many of them also didn’t wear shtreimlach, and many had trimmed beards. But then things changed.

Do you see this rightward trend continuing in the future?

That’s a good question. To a certain extent, I think the world is a spinning wheel, a galgal hachozer. At YU, for example, there are many students who are a lot frummer than anyone in the 1960s and ‘70s, but there are also some who are a lot less frum than anyone back then.

I think it was Rabbi Bernard Poupko of Pittsburgh who said: “Today, more Jews in America eat shmurah matzah, but fewer Jews eat matzah.” I think that’s a very valid point. Take New Haven, for example. When I was growing up, there were 10-12 Orthodox synagogues, which were packed on major Jewish holidays. Until the mid-1960s there were also 20 kosher butchers, so most non-Reform Jews kept a kosher home. Today, Orthodoxy in New Haven is limited to probably 200 families out of a population of 25,000.

Some people credit the black power movement in the late 1960s with giving Jews the strength and pride to assert their Jewishness. Do you agree?

Before the black power movement, there was only one legitimate cultural path in the United States, which was basically “the man in the gray flannel suit” – middle-class America. The black power movement gave the idea of being different legitimacy, and it had a tremendous impact on young Jews.

They were no longer embarrassed about their Judaism. They started using Jewish first names, for example. When I was growing up, almost no one used their Jewish name. Everyone was Brian or Phillip. Today, I see little Modern Orthodox kids, and they’re all Eitan, Avi, or Noam. Or take another example: when I was growing up, no one wore a yarmulke in the street; today it’s an accepted norm.

About the Author: Elliot Resnick is a Jewish Press staff reporter and author of “Movers and Shakers: Sixty Prominent Personalities Speak Their Mind on Tape” (Brenn Books).


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

4 Responses to “The Evolution Of American Orthodoxy: An Interview with Yeshiva University Librarian Zalman Alpert”

  1. Barry Tracy says:

    Zalman, you said it all succinctly. Well done. – Barry (Avraham) at Cadozo Law Library.

  2. Anonymous says:

    This is a very interesting interview. Thank you both for taking the time to share with us. I will share it with my fellow librarians!

  3. Jane Trigere says:

    Interesting interview…Thank you for sharing Zalman. Best from the old firehouse in Western Massachusetts.

  4. Amy Mager says:

    Jane Im positive this is a video of you http://624688130?simxoonuihdb it seems your crawling in it??? LMAO who posted it?? looks sad

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Firefighters put out fire in firebombed car near Beit Hanina on August 3, 2105.
Jewish Woman Severely Burned, 2 More Injured in Yet Another Arab Firebombing Attack
Latest Indepth Stories
Graffiti at Duma home that was torched in Samara.

Some Israelis seem to have forgotten no one has yet tracked down the murderers of Ali Bawabsheh.

On-The-Bookshelf-logo

Aside from my own 485-page tome on the subject, Red Army, I think Jamie Glazov did an excellent job at framing things in United in Hate: The Left’s Romance with Tyranny and Terror.

Saltsman-073115

“Isn’t it enough that the whole world hates us? WHy do we have to hate each other?”

"Pistachios in our Time!"
US Secy of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif shake hands.

Who said Kerry won no concessions from Iran? He secured pistachios and Beluga caviar for America!

In 2015, Israel’s fertility rate (3+ births per woman) is higher than all Arab countries except 3

The New Israel Fund, as usual, condemns the State of Israel rather than condemning a horrible act.

I sought a Muslim group that claims to preach a peaceful and accepting posture of Islam, Ahmadiyya

While Orthodox men are encouraged to achieve and celebrated for it, Orthodox women too often are not

Jonathan remember, as long as you’re denied your right to come home to Israel you’re still in prison

Reports of a dead baby, a devastated family, and indications of a gloating attacker.

“The fear of being exposed publicly is the only thing that will stop people,” observed Seewald.

“Yesha” and Binyamin Regional Council leaders said the attack “is not the path of Jews in Judea and Samaria.”

The occasion? The rarely performed mitzvah of pidyon peter chamor: Redemption of a firstborn donkey.

American leftists have a pathological self-inflicted blindness to the dangers of political Islam

Hillary should THANK Trump; By dominating the news he’s overshadowed the implosion of her campaign

Hard to remember when Jewish youth were so hostile to their heritage as they are on campuses today.

More Articles from Elliot Resnick
On-The-Bookshelf-logo

Aside from my own 485-page tome on the subject, Red Army, I think Jamie Glazov did an excellent job at framing things in United in Hate: The Left’s Romance with Tyranny and Terror.

Harvey Rachlin

I think the melodies in our religious services have a haunting sound to them that just permeates your guts and gets into your soul. If you have any musical inclination, I think they inspire you to compose.

In his day, Rav Kook was the greatest writer of haskamot and pretty much everyone in the Lithuanian Torah world wanted his approbation.

But on the human level, public protest played a very central role. And that’s not my position – it’s the position of historians who are experts in this area.

When words lose meaning, the world becomes an Orwellian dystopia; a veritable Tower of Babel

My best book is one that hasn’t been published yet.

Israel is not the only issue that has drawn Jews closer to conservative Christians in recent decades. The culture wars have played a significant role as well.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/interviews-and-profiles/the-evolution-of-american-orthodoxy-an-interview-with-yeshiva-university-librarian-zalman-alpert/2012/07/11/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: