Orthodox Voices within The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1886-1940.
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The story of the dwindling Orthodox voices within the Jewish Theological Seminary of America over the course of the 20th century is part of the larger history of the Seminary’s evolution away from its original ideological moorings to become the bastion of Conservative Judaism it remains today. The early Seminary was founded in 1886 by a coalition of American rabbis opposed to radical Reform Judaism and dedicated to addressing the needs of secondgeneration American Jews who were estranged from their immigrant parents’ religion. The Orthodox rabbis Sabato Morais, Henry P. Mendes, and Bernard Drachman dominated this founding coalition and fashioned the Seminary along the lines of what Morais called “enlightened Orthodoxy,” meaning commitment to halakha and traditional Judaism coupled with realistic expectations of American Jewry. The number and influence of Orthodox faculty members at the Seminary declined with the reorganization of the Seminary in 1902 and the arrival of Solomon Schechter. Mendes and Drachman’s subpar scholarship, in Schechter’s eyes, and potentially his mistrust of their religious values, led to the dismissal of these remaining Orthodox founders from Schechter’s Seminary. However, Schechter cannot be neatly pegged as opposed to Orthodox faculty within his school. After all, Moses Hyamson, an Orthodox rabbi who led an Americanized Orthodox congregation in New York, was hired by Schechter to teach Codes at the Seminary—a position he held beyond Schechter’s death and throughout the presidency of Cyrus Adler. From 1915 until his retirement in 1940, Hyamson served as the most traditional voice on the Seminary faculty.
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