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  • Wasserman Prize

We are pleased to announce that the American Jewish Historical Society committee tasked with selecting the best article in the 2017 volume of American Jewish History has chosen to award the Wasserman Prize to two articles:

Jonathan Sarna and Zev Eleff, “The Immigration Clause that Transformed Orthodox Judaism in the United States,” 101, no. 3 (2017): 357–376.

Sarna and Eleff examine the implications of a provision in the 1921 Emergency Quota Act that allowed a number of professions, including clergy, to enter the United States under the quota. The American rabbinate, therefore, remained disproportionately “foreign born,” long after Jews were forbidden entry, and the Orthodox rabbinate was the primary beneficiary of the exception. This clause, they argue, created an Orthodox Judaism that was far more vital than the era prior to WWI could have predicted. It brought learned leadership to Orthodox institutions of higher learning, created a more right wing Judaism whose leaders had little interest in cooperating with other American Jewish denominations, and expanded the numbers of Orthodox rabbis. They convincingly argue that a post WWII revival of Orthodox Judaism was attributed to this little-known clause.

Shari Rabin, “Let Us Endeavor to Count Them Up”: The Nineteenth Century Origins of American Jewish Demography,” 101, no. 4 (2017): 419–440.

Rabin traces the history of counting Jews in the United States in order to demonstrate that “administrative pursuits” were among the most significant Jewish responses to nineteenth century life in the United States. In particular, she examines Issac Lesser’s and Issac Mayer Wise’s efforts, among others, to determine the number of Jews in the nation. She demonstrates that social scientific methods were used much earlier than normally assumed, and that the collection of this data was their effort to define and order who was a Jew. She suggests that the collection of statistics was not a neutral pursuit, but created a definition of Jewishness that was more stable than was accurate, and that Jews shared an “organic community” that did not reflect how many congregations viewed themselves. Demographic data collection that established a national and institutional Jewish life was, she argues, the critical legacy of the nineteenth century.

Congratulations to these outstanding scholars and our thanks to the colleagues who served on the committee to make the selections. [End Page 321]



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