- Editors’ Introduction
This issue of American Jewish History pays tribute to Jeffrey Gurock, marking forty years since he began teaching at Yeshiva University, his academic home throughout his distinguished career. As a prolific scholar of the American Jewish experience, and a mentor to younger peers, Gurock’s impact on the field is substantial, as we shall illustrate in this brief introduction.1
Gurock grew up in the Bronx, New York, and attended Manhattan’s Ramaz Upper School, a pioneering Modern Orthodox institution that would make its way into the historian’s later scholarship. Afterward, he majored in History at City College, and in 1971 began graduate studies at Columbia University. There, he was part of a group of students who honed their scholarly skills during the late 1960s and 1970s in the fields of Urban and Ethnic Studies and History. He would couple with this a focus on topics related to Jewish History. Several of these students—including Gershon Bacon, Gershon Hundert, Paula Hyman, Jenna Weissman Joselit, Deborah Dash Moore, Marsha Rozenblit, and Jack Wertheimer, and, of course, Gurock himself—emerged as leading scholars of Jewish History: focusing primarily on the modern era.
Gurock wrote his doctoral dissertation on Harlem’s Jews in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a study that appeared in book form in 1979.2 Recently, he returned to this topic and published a significantly revised and expanded version. A comparison of the two reveals various clues to the expansion of his repertoire as a social and urban historian, as well as familial and autobiographical reflections that add to those that appear in his previous books.3 For instance, the new edition describes recent developments in Harlem, including Gurock’s own participation, together with his wife Pamela, in the 2012 dedication of the new Torah scroll at the recently-established Harlem center of the Chabad Hasidic movement.4 [End Page ix]
Gurock’s many contributions to the study of American Jewish Orthodoxy made him a path-breaking scholar of this burgeoning field. In fact, discussions of Orthodox communal life were already present in his original work on Harlem. For example, he described the tensions between the “ultra-Orthodox segment” and those who “argued that a Jewish identity based on old-world values and institutions had little chance of surviving the Americanization process.” It was in the early twentieth century, according to Gurock, when “divisions within contemporary Orthodoxy were to a great extent first crystalized.”5
Nonetheless, Orthodoxy was not the central theme of his first work. Instead, that area of his research came into fuller focus in the early 1980s. In 1983, Gurock authored a bibliographical guide for students and scholars of American Jewish history, and commented that “much more still remains to be learned” about Orthodox Jews in the United States.6 Gurock himself moved quickly to fill the gaps he had identified. Within the same year he penned a lengthy article on Orthodox Judaism that focuses primarily on immigrant rabbis and their organizations. There he introduced a fundamental typology that distinguished between “resisters” of Americanization and its “accommodators;” this framework subsequently became a staple of relevant scholarship.7
Since then, Gurock has devoted much of his scholarship to the history of Orthodox Judaism in the United States. This resulted in a series of books and numerous articles that have uncovered an endless trove of often unknown and, for the most part, undocumented chapters in the history of American Orthodoxy. Gurock’s prime interest has been in tracing and contextualizing the historical reality, although as his career advanced, he dedicated increasingly more space to contemporary developments, as well. His work is based upon massive, rich, and diverse documentation, making use of memoirs, letters, official protocols, and legal documents, and the Jewish and non-Jewish press. He interweaves and utilizes this wide variety of sources with methodological sophistication, and creates extremely thick descriptions of events, personalities, and processes. These set forth the foundation for analyzing developments—both continuity and change—within the various facets of Orthodox Judaism.
The educational-institutional history of American Orthodoxy, for example, has been enriched considerably by Gurock’s groundbreaking critical...