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Author: Samuel C. Heilman
Publisher: University of California Press, Berkeley, CA
Since the recent demise of famed Jewish demographer Egon Mayer, of The City University of New York, Samuel Heilman, who is a professor in the sociology department at Queens College in Kew Gardens Hills, now remains the premier social-anthropologist and demographer for the Jewish community.
This extensive, and rather scholarly study of Orthodox Judaism in America, and particularly of the New York metropolitan area, not only extends to over 350 pages (with chapter end-notes), but quite comprehensively states the current (as of 2006) “state of affairs.”
After the Shoah, with the demise of about a third of the world’s Jewish community, and especially of perhaps 90 percent of the Orthodox kehillah of Eastern Europe, it was thought that Hitler had accomplished the demise of Orthodox Judaism. But to the anti-Semites’ surprise the “spark” once again ignited, this time in America, and it appears that the fire is now blazing.
At first, immediately after World War II, and during the 50s and early 60s, the American Jewish community tried to keep a “low profile,” at least partly because American anti-Semitism was evidenced in attempts to control massive Jewish immigration of “Survivors,” but then Israel’s stunning ’67 success, grabbing victory from what appeared to be a disastrous defeat, not only allowed American Jews to raise their heads high; it spurred on a religious process in which succeeding generations became more observant than those they succeeded.
American Orthodoxy, especially the Charedi components, came into their own following the Hungarian uprising of 1956. A much larger portion of Hungarian Jews, especially those who had formerly resided in Budapest, survived than many other European Jewish communities. When these arrived, most to New York City, they established new communities in Americanized versions of the shtetls they left behind.
Some non-Chassidic groups, known as “Yeshivish,” also arrived, and they too made their influence felt on their Americanized cousins who had been living in America already for two or more generations. These all brought what they termed an authentic brand of Yiddishkeit.
In turn, the “cousins” began their own process of retuning to their roots and to assist their efforts a wellspring of literature sprang up, codifying the laws and rules of Orthodox behavior. Such publishers as ArtScroll, Feldheim and Judaica Press helped along the kiruv process by explaining and annotating Jewish law and behavior.
Professor Heilman provides a complete, detailed history and explains the continuing process of conceptualization that the various streams of Orthodox Judaism are going through. He does this without recourse to any “trade lingo;” but rather in a quite readable and very interesting exposition of the subject.