Author Archives: Zev Eleff

Modern Orthodox Judaism: A Conversation

by R. Zev Eleff and R. Gil Student Rabbi Zev Eleff recently published a book documenting the history of American Modern Orthodoxy, titled Modern Orthodox Judaism: A Documentary History. The book is an immediate classic, essential reading on American Orthodoxy. It consists mainly of key articles (or excerpts) from history that are important in charting the historical development of the ...

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Charge to the Graduates

by R. Zev Eleff On the Occasion of the 2016 Hebrew Theological College Men’s Division Commencement Exercises June 1, 2016 In June 1954, Rabbi Zelig Starr addressed the graduating class of Hebrew Theological College and their families. It was the final rabbinical ordination ceremony on the West Side campus, and the duty of graduation speaker at this most sensitive moment ...

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How Bat Mitzvah Became Orthodox

by Zev Eleff and Menachem Butler In 1972, Kehilath Jeshurun in New York announced the formation of a new synagogue ritual. On December 16, the Upper East Side congregation held a program on Saturday afternoon to “honor four young ladies from our congregational family who have recently reached their twelfth birthday and who are, therefore, recognized by the Jewish community ...

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Symposium on Open Orthodoxy II

The Parting of the Ways? Open Orthodox Judaism in Historical Perspective by Zev Eleff In May 2015, the Yated Ne’eman published an article on the burgeoning “Open Orthodox Movement.”1 This was not the rightwing Orthodox newspaper’s first investigation into the subject. To the contrary, the weekly publication had, for a number of years, run columns decrying Open Orthodox Judaism and ...

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The Making of a Lonely Man

The Making of a Lonely Man: The Posthumous Profile of Rabbi Soloveitchik   by Zev Eleff1 In 2008, Noah Greenfield posed a provocative question: “Was the Rav a Tsaddik?”2 The writer did not doubt that Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik was a most righteous person.3 Still, it was striking to Greenfield that he was unaware of evidence that could prove that ...

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Ordination Confiscation

by Zev Eleff In June 1970, Rabbi Alex Weisfogel published a pithy rebuke of the American Orthodox rabbinate. A graduate of the Mirrer Yeshiva in Poland, Weisfogel gained a foothold in the United States as a rabbi in Springfield, MA. Still, he was a proud European extract. To Weisfogel, it was a quality that separated him from his younger colleagues ...

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Open Orthodoxy, Rav Moshe, and the Importance of Being Earnest

by Zev Eleff “In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing.” Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest Rabbi Asher Lopatin, the recently appointed president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, occupies a somewhat unenviable position. Opponents have time and again called on him to speak for “Open Orthodoxy,” a creation of his predecessor, Rabbi Avi Weiss.1 To ...

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Some Notes on Isaac Leeser

by Zev Eleff In 1965, sociologist Charles Liebman published a lengthy essay on Orthodox Jews in the United States.1 For many, Liebman’s article was a call to take the history of American Orthodoxy seriously. One of the first to accept that challenge was Rabbi Aharon Rakeffet. Scholars continue to rely on his important monographs on pivotal Orthodox figures to help ...

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Turkey Traditions: The Problem of Authenticity for American Judaism

In 1851, Congregation B’nai Yeshurun of Cincinnati believed that they had finally found their man. After a string of unhappy experiences with ministers, the traditional congregation hired Rev. Jacob Rosenfeld. In his previous position in Charleston, Rosenfeld had earned a reputation as a fierce defender of orthodoxy.1 That, as well as his ability to deliver “soul-stirring, learned and eloquent discourses,” ...

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The Maharat Moment

The Maharat Moment: Gauging Its Historical Importance On May 12, 1969, Yeshiva University’s director of Rabbinic Placement penned an intriguing letter to the president of the Hebrew Theological College in Chicago. At that time, YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Seminary and the so-called “Skokie Yeshiva” maintained a most apprehensive relationship. Several years earlier, Ahron Soloveichik—whose influence on the New York school’s ...

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