In Exclusion and Hierarchy, Adam Ferziger explores the emergence of Orthodoxy as a response to the mushrooming nonobservance of 19th century Germany. Ferziger’s investigation focuses on the re-mapping of internal boundaries in a world where emancipation, Enlightenment, and the Reform movement put observant Jews increasingly in the minority. Early Modern rabbis often threatened transgressors with herem (excommunication), but Ferziger argues that with the normalization of nonobservance, many Orthodox rabbis adopted increasingly lenient rulings regarding dealing with nonobservant Jews. In this they showed their recognition of Orthodoxy’s new minority status within Judaism, as well as their desire to maintain even tenuous ties with less observant Jews. Many hoped that maintaining some contact and cordiality in the name of religious identity and social cohesion would bring back some who had strayed from the path of observance.
Ferziger draws heavily on the Responsa and correspondence of German Orthodoxy’s most influential rabbis, from the Hatam Sofer to Samson Raphael Hirsch. He also uses sociological and anthropological paradigms to explore how these rabbis reshaped their group boundaries and dealt with what they considered deviant behavior. The rabbis’ reactions in fact run the gamut from leniency to harsh criticism, but the seeming departures from Ferziger’s argument paints an even more interesting and nuanced picture than readers may expect: of the ambivalence and conflict that shaped Orthodoxy’s relationship with an increasingly secular and nonobservant Jewish majority. Ack., biblio., index, notes, list of abbreviations.