Exclu­sion and Hier­ar­chy: Ortho­doxy, Nonob­ser­vance, and the Emer­gence of Mod­ern Jew­ish Identity

Adam S. Ferziger
  • Review
By – July 30, 2012

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.

Sara Lib­by Robin­son received her Ph.D. in Com­par­a­tive His­to­ry from Bran­deis Uni­ver­si­ty. Her forth­com­ing book, Blood Will Tell: Vam­pires as Polit­i­cal Metaphors Before World War I, is sched­uled for pub­li­ca­tion with Aca­d­e­m­ic Stud­ies Press.

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