Bernard Illowy and nineteenth century American orthodoxy
Sherman, Moshe D.
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The historiography of American Judaism has, to date, paid little attention to the religious and communal life of Jewish immigrants from Western and Central Europe in the middle of the nineteenth century. A survey of the limited historiography of this period, leaves the impression that Jewish immigrants either abandoned religious tradition entirely, shortly after their arrival, or opted for a reformed Jewish belief and practice in order to accommodate the demands of American life. Yet, there was a community of Orthodox Jews who persevered in the traditional way of life during the middle of the nineteenth century, albeit, in new and challenging circumstances, and the religious and communal life of these Jewish immigrants has not been favored with significant scholarly attention.;This study of the Bohemian born Rabbi, Bernard Illowy, who served several American communities during the middle of the nineteenth century, provides useful insights into American Orthodox Judaism prior to the great wave of immigrants from Eastern Europe later in the century. Examining the life of this one individual sheds light on the challenges faced by American Orthodox clergy in analyzing complex questions of Jewish law posed by their new environment and in confronting the rise of religious Reform. In addition, this study begins the process of exploring numerous questions regarding the day-to-day social and communal challenges faced by Orthodox Jews in America during this period.;This dissertation is divided into three parts: The first section surveys Illowy's background; his family, education and early career in Europe as a prelude to his arrival in America. The second part discusses the character of Orthodox Jewish life in America in the middle of the nineteenth century, and religious-legal problems faced by Orthodox clergy as they ministered to the Jewish community. These sections provide the necessary background for the final part of this study: an examination of Illowy's career as rabbi, teacher, halachist and polemicist in mid-nineteenth century America.