The land of Israel was reborn to Jews in the 19th century and at first was primarily a religious movement. Disciples of the Vilna Gaon and the Baal Shem Tov made aliyah in the early 1800s, and Rav Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer already in 1840 exhorted Jews to return to Israel.
Women’s Torah education began in the 19th century in Germany, not, as is widely assumed, with the Beis Yaakov movement in 1917 Krakow. The advent of mandatory education for both boys and girls necessitated this change, which revolutionized Jewish life as well.
It turns out that the 19th century was hardly a time of stagnation for Jews but rather an era of immense vibrancy and growth.
And if one thinks Orthodoxy has become dormant since, consider some of the great successes of the Torah world in the past 100 years. Certainly a more educated laity is at the top of the list, followed by the prominence of Orthodox Jews in every profession and endeavor, and the gradual permeation of the ethos of Torah in Israel, including the development of the Orthodox soldier (the scholar-warrior), something not widely seen in Jewish life for almost two millennia.
It is certainly through God’s Hand that the Torah has been rejuvenated and the Am Hashem is again dynamic. Our obligation as always is to anticipate the challenges of the future, craft appropriate responses, and glorify the Creator, His Torah and His people.
About the Author: Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is the spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, New Jersey, and the author most recently of “Judges for Our Time: Contemporary Lessons from the Book of Shoftim” (Gefen Publishing House, Jerusalem, 2009). His writings and lectures can be found at www.Rabbipruzansky.com.
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