Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin


Conclusions are never easy, but they are always satisfying. It is undeniable that the Second World War has a central place in the history of Jewish education in modern America. As satisfying as this conclusion may be, it is not easy to define and explain why that is true. What makes matters more complicated is that historians and educationists are generally rooted in one field and often cannot perceive the direct connection between history and its impact on educational policy. On the other hand, the Jewish scholars of the Talmud, then and now, did not treat history, education, and Judaism as diverse fields. For them the Torah encompassed everything. Thus, whereas the "Holocaust" has become a source of consternation and bitterness in the general world, Orthodox Jewry seems to have placed it in a perspective that has not caused alienation.

In a recent work, On Equal Terms: Jews in America 1881-1981, (1982), Lucy S. Davidowicz has written that "the soil out of which the new Orthodoxy grew had been brought from Eastern Europe after the Second World War by survivors of the Holocaust, mostly, though not exclusively, Hasidim. Having outlived the gas chambers of the Third Reich and the Gulag of the Soviet Union, they brought to the United States their traditions, their learning, and above all their passion for Judaism. They built yeshivot and day schools with sacrificial effort. They shamed the established American Orthodox and Conservative institutions by their passion and, by example, vitalized them.'' ...


This small sample of thought reflects the deep commitment to Jewish education by those who stood at the head of the traditional Jewish schools. We see that in spite of the catastrophes brought about by the war, there was a redoubling of effort to regain that which was lost. The overriding conclusion must be that at the centre of the rise of Orthodoxy in America there stood a nucleus of outstanding educators. They came to America as Europe sank into the darkness of war and genocide. Some saw the darkness descend and realized that since America was a refuge, Orthodoxy would find its niche there too, and, find room to grow. Others were forcibly thrust across the oceans onto the American scene as they fled Europe at the height of the war.

These extraordinary personalities lived with a dual vision of what had once been, and what should ideally be. Their actions on behalf of Jewish education in the present grew out of this dual vision, based on the teachings of the Jewish sages, chazal. They sought to re-establish and secure the link between the generations of the past and of the future.

The rise of Orthodoxy in America after the Second World War attests to the efficacy and viability of unspoiled and undiluted tradition in the most modern, and perhaps, darkest of times. In spite of obstacles and barriers, the pattern of growth continues. Those who helped this growth, lived with the knowledge that the Torah is compared to light, and that "a little light dispells much darkness". It remains to be seen to what extent that "light" will shine in America.