The Rise of Denominational Judaism in America

May 23, 2024 | Zev Eleff
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For some time, the divisions separating Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaism have been basic facts of American Jewish life—although every few years some discussion arises about the possible end or reshuffling of these categories. Zev Eleff delves into the origins of these denominations, and how Jews came to speak of denominations at all, in conversation with Dovid Bashevkin. Among much else, Eleff explains that it was pragmatism, rather than egalitarianism, that motivated early reformers to switch from the traditional sex-segregated synagogue to mixed pews. For one of the first American rabbis to assert his Orthodoxy, the sticking point was his commitment to “congregationalism”—that is the independence of local communities from governing bodies. (Audio, 128 minutes. Interview begins at 49:26.) A transcript can be found at the link below.)

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