Who Rules the Syn­a­gogue?: Reli­gious Author­i­ty and the For­ma­tion of Amer­i­can Judaism

  • From the Publisher
January 3, 2017

Ear­ly in the 1800s, Amer­i­can Jews con­scious­ly exclud­ed rab­binic forces from play­ing a role in their com­mu­ni­ty’s devel­op­ment. By the final decades of the cen­tu­ry, ordained rab­bis were in full con­trol of Amer­i­ca’s lead­ing syn­a­gogues and large sec­tors of Amer­i­can Jew­ish life. How did this shift occur? 

Who Rules the Syn­a­gogue? explores how Amer­i­can Jew­ry in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry was trans­formed from a lay dom­i­nat­ed com­mu­ni­ty to one whose lead­ing reli­gious author­i­ties were rab­bis. Zev Eleff traces the his­to­ry of this rev­o­lu­tion, cul­mi­nat­ing in the Pitts­burgh rab­bini­cal con­fer­ence of 1885 and the com­mo­tion caused by it. Pre­vi­ous schol­ar­ship has char­tered the reli­gious his­to­ry of Amer­i­can Judaism dur­ing this era, but Eleff rein­ter­prets this his­to­ry through the lens of reli­gious author­i­ty. In so doing, he offers a fresh view of the sto­ry of Amer­i­can Judaism with the aid of nev­er-before-mined sources and a com­pre­hen­sive review of peri­od­i­cals and newspapers.

Eleff weaves togeth­er the sig­nif­i­cant episodes and debates that shaped Amer­i­can Judaism dur­ing this for­ma­tive peri­od, and places this sto­ry into the larg­er con­text of Amer­i­can reli­gious his­to­ry and mod­ern Jew­ish history.

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