Modern Orthodoxy in American Judaism: The Era of Leo Jung by Maxine Jacobson (review)
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Modern Orthodoxy in American Judaism: The Era of Leo Jung. By Maxine Jacobson. Brighton, MA., Academic Studies Press, 2016. x + 250 pp.

Rabbi Dr. Leo Jung was among the most respected and influential figures in the twentieth-century American Orthodox rabbinate. An alumnus of the Rabbiner Seminar in Berlin and numerous European universities, he served for over sixty years at Manhattan's prestigious The Jewish Center, the pioneering Orthodox "shul with a pool" whose founding rabbi was Mordecai M. Kaplan. He was a key player in the nascent Yeshiva College (today Yeshiva University, YU), the Orthodox Union (OU) which transformed American kashrut supervision, the Rabbinical Council of America, and the non-sectarian Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), among others. He was also a prolific author and editor who produced some of the first works of Orthodox historiography, ritual instruction, and popular religious thought in the English language, and his presentations on contemporary religion and ethics were featured on regular national radio broadcasts. One of his most eminent devotees was the author Herman Wouk, whose This is My God (1959) was penned under Jung's mentorship.

Maxine Jacobson combed the treasure trove of primary materials stored in the Jung Collection at the Yeshiva University Archives as well as his many publications, and conducted multiple interviews with those who knew him. The result is a copiously documented historical work that places Jung's literary and public activities as a framework for [End Page 316] presenting the evolution of Orthodoxy from a "threatened entity" to a vibrant modern Jewish religious trend that could appeal to second and third generation American Jews (1).

The introduction seeks to define "Modern Orthodoxy," portraying the synthesis of loyalty to traditional rabbinic interpretation, openness to general knowledge, and identification with American social and political norms that was emblematic of this stream, including what it drew from its nineteenth century European predecessors such as Samson Raphael Hirsch and Esriel Hildesheimer, along with its distinctive qualities. For Jung, "Orthodox Judaism" was to be "part of the cosmopolitan society and modern culture," and his aim was to make it "appealing to the American psyche" and "acceptable to Jews 'outside the ghetto'" (25).

The core of the volume is four chapters that address the events of each distinct decade in Jung's career up through the end of the 1950s, when he was appointed Rabbi Emeritus. From the 1920s, Jung and his cohorts began the process of differentiating their brand of Judaism from the "old school" traditionalists affiliated with the Agudath Harabbonim on the one hand, and the burgeoning Conservative movement predicated on Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) graduates and United Synagogue member congregations on the other. In both cases, only during the 1950s did the boundaries become fully discernible. Before that time, JTS was also perceived by many as a "modern Orthodox" institution whose graduates were fit to serve in Orthodox synagogues, so much so that serious merger negotiations were held between Yeshiva and JTS during the late 1920s. Jung was personally involved in the discussions.

Three themes that were already central to Jung's efforts in the 1920s remained at the foundation of his activities throughout his career: the necessity of a decorous and dignified prayer service that would attend to the aesthetic of Americanizing Jews; his belief that "the material successes of Jews in America come at the expense of moral and spiritual failure;" and the importance of demonstrating the rationale behind traditional Jewish practices such as kashrut and family purity laws (57). An area of Jewish adjudication that emphasized his commitment to ethical imperatives was the agunah, the "anchored" wife who was legally prevented from remarrying. Jung supported a solution developed in the 1950s by Eliezer Berkovits, but it did not receive the imprimatur of most Orthodox authorities.

For Jung the halakhah was foundational to Judaism, but most of his congregants were "nonobservant Orthodox" and he did not focus his preaching on encouraging more scrupulous religious conduct. According to Jacobson, Jung's version of Modern Orthodoxy was replaced during the 1960s by a more theological and legally-oriented worldview that [End Page 317] was articulated by Joseph B. Soloveitchik and exemplified by Jung's...