Between the Yeshiva World and Modern Orthodoxy

BookBetween the Yeshiva World and Modern Orthodoxy

Between the Yeshiva World and Modern Orthodoxy

The Life and Works of Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg, 1884-1966

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


November 1st, 1999

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The span of Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg's life (1884-1966) illuminates the religious and intellectual dilemmas that traditional Jewry has faced over the past century. Rabbi Weinberg became a central ideologue of modern Orthodoxy because of his positive attitude to secular studies and Zionism and his willingness to respond to social change in interpreting the halakhah, despite his traditional training in a Lithuanian yeshiva. But Weinberg was an unusual man: even at a time when he was defending the traditional yeshiva against all attempts at reform, he always maintained an interest in the wider world. He left Lithuania for Germany at the beginning of the First World War, attended the University of Giessen, and increasingly identified with the Berlin school of German Orthodoxy. Although initially an apologist for the Nazi regime, he was soon recognized as German Orthodoxy's most eminent halakhic authority in its efforts to maintain religious tradition in the face of Nazi persecution. His approach, then and in his later halakhic writings, including the famous Seridei esh, derived from the conviction that the attempt to shore up Orthodoxy by increased religious stringency would only reduce its popular appeal. Using a great deal of unpublished material, including private correspondence, Marc Shapiro discusses many aspects of Weinberg's life. In doing so he elucidates many institutional and intellectual phenomena of the Jewish world, a number of which have so far received little scholarly attention: the yeshivas of Lithuania; the state of the Lithuanian rabbinate; the musar movement; the Jews of eastern Europe in Weimar Germany; the Torah im Derekh Eretz movement and its variants; Orthodox Jewish attitudes towards Wissenschaft des Judentums; and the special problems of Orthodox Jews in Nazi Germany. Throughout, he shows the complex nature of Weinberg's character and the inner struggles of a man being pulled in different directions. Compellingly and authoritatively written, his fascinating conclusions are quite different from those presented in earlier historical treatments of the period.

‘Thoroughly researched and highly readable . . . an excellently written book, highly recommended for all college-level libraries.’
- Yisrael Dubitsky, AJL Newsletter

‘Shapiro’s exemplary biography marks the onset of a new stage in biographical scholarship about leading Orthodox personalities . . . Shapiro’s mastery of rabbinic and historical sources, the fact that no relevant archival or published source is untouched, the superb contextual studies, the 1,037 enriching and critical footnotes, make this a classic.’
- Gershon Greenberg, AJS Review

‘Marc Shapiro's excellent new study dedicated to the life and philosophy of Rabbi Weinberg is certainly one of the finest pieces of contemporary Jewish scholarship . . . This is a monumental study of a great man and a great rabbi. It breaks new ground in biographies of “Gedolei Israel” as Rabbi Weinberg is depicted as a human being, warts and all. Few events are glossed over—his family, philosophy, friends, and career are all discussed in detail without the usual embellishments. In addition, this study offers the reader a detailed view of the complexities of Orthodox Jewish life in the twentieth century . . . This book serves not only as a study of Rabbi Jehiel Weinberg, but as a memorial to the vanished world of German Orthodoxy.’
- Zalman Alpert, Algemeiner Journal

‘With impeccable authority, Marc Shapiro has written an important account . . . an important historical study by a masterful Jewish scholar of a central aspect of Jewish life all too frequently neglected by secular and non-religious Jews . . . No understanding of modern Jewish history can be considered complete without an understanding of how Orthodox Judaism encountered the modern world. Shapiro’s study of the life of Jehiel Jacob Weinberg is a major scholarly contribution to our comprehension of that world.’
- Richard L. Rubenstein, Congress Monthly

‘We are indebted to Marc Shapiro for his brilliant work that brings to life this major halakhic personality.’
- Simcha Krauss, Edah Journal

‘A full-scale study of the life and writings of Jehiel Weinberg . . . that goes a long way toward clearing up the mystery surrounding the man. Shapiro’s signal contribution is to present Weinberg in the round: both the public and the private figure.’
- David Singer, First Things

‘A refreshing pleasure . . . Shapiro's scholarly account of Weinberg's remarkable life and turbulent times happily avoids the panegyric tone that has too long dominated the field of rabbinic “biography”, offering instead a detailed look at a rabbi of great learning and character who nonetheless strayed and erred about grave matters and who was, by the end of his life, a tragic and lonely figure . . . arguably the best biography of a twentieth-century rabbi yet written, a work of serious scholarship that greatly enriches our understanding of the history of European Judaism.’
- Allan Nadler, Forward

‘Marc Shapiro has written a fascinating book … His erudition is impressive.’
- Alan Unterman, Jewish Chronicle

‘The author demonstrates an impressive command of a broad range of primary and secondary source materials.’
- Robert Brody, Journal of Jewish Studies

‘A splendid biography . . . a superlative book, elegantly written, fastidiously researched, providing us with rare insights into Orthodoxy’s encounter with the modern world as reflected in the life of one of its most complex figures . . . This is scholarship of a high order.’
- Jonathan Sacks, Le’ela

‘Important . . . a remarkably well-written biography, and even those with little understanding of Orthodox Judaism will find it interesting and informative.’
- Jack Fischel, Metrowest Jewish News

‘This excellent study . . . is more than a first-rate intellectual biography. It is a portrait of Orthodoxy in the modern world . . . Shapiro combines exhaustive research with exquisite scholarship; this is not self-serving hagiography but a balanced historical study deserving a very wide audience.’
- Stephen D. Benin, Religious Studies Review

‘This first-class, definitive monograph . . . of genuine distinction . . . Beautifully executed . . . The dissertation itself deserves nothing but admiration. It is well-organized and well-written, intelligent in every aspect, lovingly researched but economically set forth . . . Shapiro tells us what we need to know and does not over-research or over-sell his subject. Here we have critical learning, not hagiography. Unlike equivalent studies of other Orthodox figures, however, Shapiro also preserves perspective, balance, proportion, and above all coherence, in telling the story. Here we have the definitive account of an important subject in the study of the twentieth-century history of Judaism. No-one has to go over this subject again. For a first book, that is as high praise as I can imagine—or for a tenth book, for that matter. Shapiro takes his place among the most promising and interesting and intelligent scholars of his generation.’
- Jacob Neusner, Reviews in Religion and Theology

‘It is to Shapiro’s credit that Weinberg’s life is painstakingly mapped out and his ideological profile carefully portrayed . . . should be read by every serious student of modern Jewish history.’
- Morton J. Merowitz, Shofar

‘Measured, careful, well-written, and critical yet respectful . . . The great strength of Shapiro’s study lies in his ability to “locate” Weinberg in each of the successive locales in which he found himself . . . based on a rich selection of contemporary and scholarly sources . . . a fine work of intellectual history and a worthy example of rabbinic biography written in accordance with the best standards of academic scholarship . . . Between the Yeshiva World and Modern Orthodoxy, an admirable piece of scholarship in its own right, is also part of an ongoing conversation within Orthodoxy that students of contemporary Jewry should fine of no less interest than historians.’
- Gershon Bacon, Studies in Contemporary Jewry

‘This is a first rate, scholarly book. The author has expended considerable energies in exhuming hitherto unavailable biographical material . . . he has also drawn on, and partially catalyzed the creation of, an oral history by interviewing an impressive cross-section of individuals . . . To this wealth of raw material he has brought an integrating intelligence and judicious melding of disparate sources to create a vivid and ultimately convincing portrait . . . The rewards for the reader’s investment are substantial.’
- Mechy Frankel, Tradition

Author Information

Marc B. Shapiro holds the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Chair in Judaic Studies at the University of Scranton, Pennsylvania. A graduate of Brandeis and Harvard universities, he is editing the collected writings of Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg, the first volume of which appeared in 1998, and the second in 2003.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Half Title2
Title Page4
Note on Transliteration11
Note on Sources12
List of Abbreviations12
1: Early Life (1884‒1905)14
2: Pilwishki (1906‒1913) 31
3: The First World War and its Aftermath (1914‒1920) 64
4: Giessen and Beyond (1920‒1932) 89
5: Response to the New Nazi Government (1933‒1934) 123
6: The Nazi Era (1933‒1945) 148
7: Post-War Years (1946‒1966)185
Afterword 235
1: Lebenslauf—Autobiographical Note 237
2: Letter to Hitler 238
3: Letter from Jacob Rosenheim 247
Glossary 249
Bibliography 252
Index 288