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  • "Borough Park Was a Red State":Trump and the Haredi Vote
  • Nathaniel Deutsch (bio)

In June 1973, Milton Himmelfarb, who helped found a veritable dynasty of Jewish neoconservatives that included his sister Gertrude and his brother-in-law Irving Kristol, famously observed in Commentary magazine that Jews earned like Episcopalians and voted like Puerto Ricans. What he meant, of course, was that even after most American Jews had become comfortably middle class and decamped to the suburbs from the immigrant ghettos of their forebears—what Irving Howe called "The World of Our Fathers"—they continued to vote for the same liberal candidates and issues as the working-class Puerto Ricans or African Americans who now resided in the Lower East Side, South Bronx, Lawndale, Roxbury, and other once–solidly Jewish urban neighborhoods. But there was one group of Jews who even then did not see eye to eye with their liberal coreligionists when it came to politics, or much of anything for that matter: the Haredim.

Back in the 1970s, it was understandable that Himmelfarb, Howe, and other prominent social scientists of the American Jewish scene paid little if any attention to the Haredim. After all, they were a tiny percentage of the overall Jewish population and seemed to many like living fossils at worst or objects of nostalgia at best. The American Jewish present would be defined by the sexual and cultural liberation—or to conservative critics, libertinism—of Alexander Portnoy and his ilk. And yet, even Philip Roth, that paragon of a distinctly American [End Page 158] version of the "New Jew," realized as early as 1959, in his short story "Eli the Fanatic," that Haredi Judaism still retained an enduring power.

Instead of the Bund, the International Lady Garment Workers' Union, and other left-wing organizations, the Haredim had inherited a very different political tradition, one reflecting a profoundly conservative worldview and grounded in Central and Eastern European organizations such as Mahzike Ha-das (Upholders of the Faith) and Agudas Yisroel (Union of Israel).1 The latter, in particular, had competed—often successfully—against the Bund, the Folkists, the Zionists, and other Jewish parties in interwar Poland in both intra-communal and parliamentary elections.2

Once they arrived in the United States, European-born Haredim moved into immigrant Jewish neighborhoods and in the period following World War II helped to reinvigorate them demographically, economically, and politically.3 From the 1950s to the 1970s, rather than participating wholesale in the white flight that had led, for example, to a decline in the Jewish population of New York City by more than 40 percent, or nearly 900,000 people, between 1957 and 1970, Haredim remained in neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Borough Park, and Crown Heights, where they lived side by side with Puerto Ricans and African Americans but typically held more politically conservative views on a wide range of issues than did their neighbors.4

Over the course of the next few decades, these communities would serve as the nucleus for one of the most dramatic demographic expansions in the postwar history of the city, leading the New York Times to report in 2012,

After decades of decline, the Jewish population of New York City is growing again, increasing to nearly 1.1 million, fueled by the "explosive" growth of the Hasidic and other Orthodox communities. … It is a trend that is challenging long-held notions about the group's cultural identity and revealing widening gaps on politics, education, wealth and religious observance. … Now, 40 percent of Jews in the city identify themselves as Orthodox, an increase from 33 percent in 2002; 74 percent of all Jewish children in the city are Orthodox.5

Significantly, of this Orthodox population, a rapidly growing majority were Haredim, consisting of different Hasidic groups, Yeshivish or Lithuanian Jews, and a smaller number of Sephardim of various backgrounds.6 [End Page 159]

If Leo Tzuref, the shtreimel (fur hat)-wearing Hasid who converted Eli Peck into a "fanatic" in Roth's story, seemed like a lone voice in the suburban wilderness of 1950s New Jersey, then by 2016 he appeared more like a harbinger of things to come, as New Jersey towns like Teaneck and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2028
Print ISSN
0021-6704
Pages
pp. 158-173
Launched on MUSE
2017-06-15
Open Access
No
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