REVIEW: Authentically Orthodox

Yaakov Bieler Tradition Online | February 15, 2021

In TRADITION’s recent Winter 2021 issue Yaakov Bieler reviewed Zev Eleff’s latest book, Authentically Orthodox: A Tradition-Bound Faith in American Life (Wayne State University Press), writing:

In Authentically Orthodox, the prolific and erudite historian, Zev Eleff, devotes nine chapters to disputes that roiled American Orthodoxy during the twentieth century, some of which continue to cause controversy in our own day. The topics taken up in the book’s chapters can be categorized as “a tradition-bound faith” responding to trends associated with different manifestations of modernity in general, and addressing women’s issues in light of the advent of feminism in particular. Eleff attempts to make the case that rather than viewing such conflicts as indications of “sliding to the right” or “leftward shifts,” two overarching themes can be seen to be at play: “Americans of all kinds started around the turn of the century… to search for what they deemed authentic expressions of life and culture…. Faith communities like Orthodox Judaism have encountered change by measuring its religious experiences against various expressions of Americanism.”

Eleff amply illustrates how the representatives of more “traditional” versions of Orthodoxy have done their utmost to resist what they considered inroads being made by contemporary American cultural values upon their religious traditions, potentially rendering them “inauthentic,” while leaders of more progressive Orthodox groups and institutions have attempted, sometimes with more success and at other times with considerably less, to incorporate what they considered “authentic,” necessary changes in customs and practices. While the more “conservative” Orthodox factions were committed to preserving what they perceived as time-honored values and practices, those who affirm a more liberal and open-minded approach attempted to straddle the fine line of demarcation between appropriate, necessary changes for traditional Judaism, and completely unacceptable modifications. 

Click here to read Yaakov Bieler’s review of Authentically Orthodox.

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