THE SECOND WORLD WAR & JEWISH EDUCATION IN AMERICA:
THE FALL AND RISE OF ORTHODOXY
By: Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin
The Second World War (1939-1945) signalled the end of a vast traditional Jewish culture located primarily in Eastern Europe. The death of six million Jews throughout Europe was a catastrophic fall for Jewry and Orthodox Judaism. The war also saw the emergence of American Jewry as the largest single Jewish community in the world, as well as the rise of traditional, Orthodox, Judaism on an unprecedented scale in America. At the core of the revitalization of Jewish life was the domain of Jewish education. There was a direct connection between the events of the war and the growth of Jewish education in America. It is the purpose of this study to describe and explain this period of Jewish history, focusing primarily on the world of Jewish education.
The study covers three broad periods: Jewish education and culture in America and Europe before 1939; the war itself and the role of Jewish education in the lives of its victims; the post-war period of growth in Orthodox Jewish life in America.
The first section places the nature of Jewish life and education before the war in a historical perspective. In an overview of Jewish education in America the difficult and troubled progress of traditional education in an open society is described. The fate of Jewish community life in the broader Jewish educational configuration is noted as it struggles to maintain its identity. In Europe, the hostility between adherents of Enlightenment, the haskalah movement, and traditional Judaism, paves the way for a bitter denouement during the war years.
The second section describes a response of Jewry much neglected by historians: the repeated examples of Kiddush Hashem the "sanctification of God's name" by the victims of Nazism as they faced death. It was this same spirit that imbued and inspired individual survivors of the war to rebuild traditional Jewish life in America. A few select leaders, such as Rabbi Aharon Kotler (1891-1962), Rabbi Avrohom Kalmanowitz (1891-1965), Rabbi Y. Y. Schneerson (1880-1950), and Rabbi E. M. Bloch (1894-1955), escaped from Europe during the war, and established large-scale yeshivahs which were schools of Jewish learning. This was achieved in spite of the apathy and difficulties they encountered in America.
The third section deals with the successful rise of intensive Jewish education and communal life in America after the war. The war itself is seen as a turning-point and catalyst for the fortunes of Orthodoxy in America. As a result of the traumatic implications of Hitler's "Final Solution", American Jewry was more receptive to calls for an increase in all-day, and even full-time, Jewish education.
The section contains the following
"American Haven for 'Yavneh and its Sages' ";
"Rebbes, Hasidim, and Authentic Kehillahs";
"A Comparison of Two Post-War Successes: The Traditional Yeshivah and the Hebrew Day School".
The events of the Second World War therefore have a central position in the rise of Orthodox Judaism in America. In spite of great losses, culturally and educationally, Orthodoxy recouped its position, reclaiming a rightful role in the modern world.
Home Page: Table of Contents