Agudath Israel of America

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Agudath Israel of America (Hebrew: אגודת ישראל באמריקה‎) (sometimes called Agudah) is an ultra-Orthodox Jewish organization in the United States loosely affiliated with the international World Agudath Israel.[1][2] Agudah aims to meet the needs of the Orthodox Jewish community, advocates[3] for its religious[4] and civil rights, and services its constituents through charitable, educational, and social service projects across North America.

Functions[edit]

Agudah serves as a leadership and policy umbrella organization for Haredi Jews in the United States representing the vast majority of members of the yeshiva world, sometimes known by the old label of misnagdim, as well as a number of Hasidic groups. However, not all Hasidic groups are affiliated with Agudath Israel. For example, the Hasidic group Satmar, which is vehemently anti-Zionist, dislikes Agudah's relatively moderate stance towards the State of Israel.[5][6][7][8]

Agudah has ideological connections with both the Agudat Israel party and with Degel HaTorah (Hebrew, "Flag of the Torah"), two Israeli Haredi political parties that have representation in the Knesset (Israel's parliament). In Israel, Degel and Agudah are in a political coalition called United Torah Judaism (UTJ).[9]

Agudah is also a part of the World Agudath Israel organization, which convenes international conferences and religious conclaves.[citation needed]

History[edit]

The original Agudath Israel movement was established[10][7] in Europe in 1912 by some of the most famous Orthodox rabbis of the time, including Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (the Chafetz Chaim), Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski of Vilna, the Radziner Rebbe, Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Elazar Leiner, the Gerrer Rebbe (Imrei Emes), and the Chortkover Rebbe. It grew during the 1920s and 1930s to be the political,[11][12][13] communal, and cultural voice of those Orthodox Jews who were not part of Zionism's Orthodox Jewish Mizrachi party.[14]

Rabbi Eliezer Silver, an Eastern European-trained rabbi, established the first office of Agudath Israel in America during the 1930s, organizing its first conference in 1939. After the Holocaust, some prominent rabbis made their home in America who established a moetzes ("[supreme] council"), and the movement began to grow rapidly with the rise of the yeshiva-based and Hasidic Orthodox communities.[citation needed]

Mike Tress led the expansion of the movement during the early 1940s until his death during the mid-1960s as its chief lay leader. His cousin Rabbi Moshe Sherer then took the reins as president[15] and the organization flourished further in size and accomplishments. After his passing in May 1998,[15] he was succeeded by Rabbi Shmuel Bloom, as Executive Vice President. In 2008 Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel, having served Aguda as general counsel and director of government affairs,[16] took over as Executive Vice-President.[17][18]

In August 2012, Agudath Israel organized and operated the National Celebration of the 12th Siyum Hashas in MetLife Stadium, the largest gathering for Orthodox Jewry in the history of the United States.

Structure[edit]

Agudah's policies and leadership are directed by its Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah: Council of Torah Sages, composed primarily of Rosh Yeshivas (the chief spiritual and scholarly authority in a yeshiva) and Hasidic Rebbes (who head Hasidic dynasties and organizations). The Moetzes sets all major policies and guides the organization according to its precepts of Daas Torah (Hebrew: דעת תורה‎), generally translated as Torah knowledge/direction.[19]

The organization has a lay staff, many of whom are also ordained rabbis, but not of a caliber comparable to the rosh yeshivas and rebbes. Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, who is also the Novominsker rebbe and a member of the Moetzet, was appointed as the Rosh Agudat Yisrael ("Head of Agudath Israel").

The administrative staff includes Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel as the Executive Vice President, Rabbi Shlomo Gertzulin as the Vice President for Finance and Administration, Rabbi Yosef C. Golding as the Chief Operating Officer, and Rabbi Labish Becker as the Executive Director.[citation needed]

There are several hundred Agudah-affiliated synagogues across the United States and in Canada.[7][20]

Positions[edit]

The Agudah takes sides on many political, religious, and social issues, primarily guided by its Moetzet Gedolei HaTorah. It uses these stances to advise its members, advocate for its constituency in the halls of government, and to file amicus briefs on behalf of the Orthodox Jewish community in the United States. See below, under "Activities".[citation needed]

In 1956, for example, the moetzes issued a written ruling forbidding Orthodox rabbis to join with any Reform or Conservative rabbis in rabbinical communal professional organizations that then united the various branches of America's Jews, such as the Synagogue Council of America. This position was not endorsed by the Modern Orthodox. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik of Yeshiva University had initially aligned himself with Agudah, but later established his independent views on these matters and a host of other issues, such as attitudes towards college education and attitudes towards the secular-led Israeli governments. Rabbi Soloveitchik felt it important to nurture the modern Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America (RCA). However, at times, some of the more traditionalist rabbis at Yeshiva University aligned themselves with Agudah's positions.[citation needed]

In 2015, Agudah denounced moves to ordain women, and went even further, declaring Yeshivat Maharat, Open Orthodoxy, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, and other affiliated entities to be similar to other dissident movements throughout Jewish history in having rejected basic tenets of Judaism.[21][22][23]

While Agudath does not consider itself as Zionist, it is generally supportive of the State of Israel insofar as it supports participation in its politics and the development of religious life, as well as the security of its population. Agudah takes stances on issues affecting the Haredi sector in Israel; in contradistinction to many of the more stridently anti-Zionist Haredi communal organizations.[24]

Activities[edit]

Political activity[edit]

With the growth of Orthodox Judaism throughout the country, Agudah also has active branches in 27 states, including Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Maryland, Minnesota, Texas, Florida, California, and New Jersey, where they lobby the judicial and legislative branches of these state, and local governments, on any issue it deems important morally or religiously or important to its constituency (for example, abortion, physician-assisted suicide, same-sex marriage, school vouchers/school choice). Agudath Israel's National Director of State Relations is Rabbi A. D. Motzen, who manages the state government efforts, under Zwiebel.[citation needed]

Agudath Israel's federal activities are coordinated by Rabbi Abba Cohen, the Director and Counsel of the organization's Washington Office. Agudah was the first Orthodox Jewish group to open a Washington Office, in 1988, and maintains ongoing relations with the White House and executive agencies, as well as with the U.S. Congress, on numerous domestic and foreign issues.[25][26]

Agudath Israel World Organization also has a representative at the United Nations.[27]

Agudah also files amicus briefs in cases at all levels of the judiciary, often signing on as one of many organization signatories to a brief authored by Nat Lewin or the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs.

With its head office in Manhattan, and the bulk of its members living in the New York-New Jersey area, the Agudah ensures that it monitors and intercedes on behalf of causes important to it in the politics of New York City, its five boroughs, and in the state government of New York State.[citation needed]

Fingerprinting controversy[edit]

Official spokeman[28][29] Rabbi Avi Shafran denied claims by The Jewish Week that Aguda "is opposed to both the mandated reporting and finger printing, and background check legislation" then under consideration,[30] and cited a memorandum from 2 years prior[31] expressing strong support for the legislation.

The difference is: Aguda's 2006 support was for legislation that passed in 2007 permitting but not mandating fingerprinting/background checking.[32]

Youth services[edit]

Agudah maintains a network of summer youth camps attended by several thousand children (including Camp Agudah, Camp Bnos, Camp Chayl Miriam, and Camp Bnoseinu in the Catskills in New York, as well as camps in the Midwest and Toronto, Canada).

Zeirei Agudath Israel[edit]

Sometimes referred to as "Pirchei / Zeirei",[33], this was an important part of the work by Mike Tress.[5][34]

JEP[edit]

"JEP" (Jewish Education Program) is best known for its release hour work, and was identified by Harav Yaakov Perlow as "the JEP operation of Zeirei Agudath Israel" in a 1977 interview, in which he spoke about "to take off a seder from yeshiva and go out and speak at a release hour at a public school."[35]

Social services[edit]

Agudah also has a number of social service branches that cater to the elderly, poor, or disabled. It has a job training program called COPE, a job placement division, and a housing program. The Agudah is also responsible for the funding of many other national institutions and projects, including the Beis Yaakov girls' school system, the National Siyum Mishnayos, the national Daf Yomi Commission, and others. In addition, there are hundreds of local "Agudah" synagogues scattered in communities throughout the country.[citation needed]

Communications[edit]

Agudah advocates its positions in several ways:

  • Publication of an e-newsletter entitled Weekly Window
  • Publication of a general-interest monthly magazine, The Jewish Observer, for almost 45 years (1963 - 2010)
  • Promotion of its views as a member (along with other Jewish organizations) of Am Echad ("One Nation")
  • Maintains full-time offices in Washington, the west coast, the Midwest, and the South
  • Activism by lobbying and submitting amicus briefs, as described earlier
  • Organizes prominent lay-person missions to government agencies
  • Rabbi Avi Shafran, the official spokesman of Agudah, responds to media articles and statements which concern the Orthodox community; Rabbi Shafran also organizes members to do the same
  • Conveys its positions in the Jewish media, particularly through privately owned weekly Jewish newspapers in English called "HaModia", and "Yated Neeman" (distinct from the Israeli English-language newspaper carrying the same name), which convey news and views from the Orthodox point of view

Agudath Israel does not have its own website, since its official policy is for its members not to use the Web for uses other than work-related. However, Agudah allows the use of e-mail, and uses it to disseminate information to its members. The Lefkowitz Leadership Initiative, a division of Agudath Israel of America, has a website listing its services, and also many general services of Agudath Israel of America. The website is located at http://ourlli.org/.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Agudath Israel of America is a communal organization in the United States loosely affiliated with the international WWorld Agudath Israel." "Agudath Israel of America, World Agudath Israel". 
  2. ^ "Agudath Israel of America is an Orthodox Jewish organization in the United States loosely affiliated with the international World Agudath Israel." "Agudath Israel of America". C-SPAN.org. 
  3. ^ "New York City’s health commissioner and Agudath Israel respond to an editorial" "Orthodox Jews and New York's Circumcision Rule". The New York Times. March 11, 2015. 
  4. ^ Otterman, Sharon (February 19, 2015). "City Eases Pre-K Rules to Allow Prayer Breaks". The New York Times. 
  5. ^ a b Daring to Dream. 
  6. ^ "Even the Satmar Rebbe, a fierce ideological opponent of Agudath Israel, once told Mike's son Mendel: Quote: If there were nine more people in the world like your father ... Endquote.
  7. ^ a b c "Agudath Israel may be non-Zionist, but it supports Israel and its people". The Jewish Chronicle. March 31, 2008. 
  8. ^ "For example, Neturei Karta..."
  9. ^ "... list made up of the ultra-Orthodox parties Agudat Israel and Degel HaTorah ... United Torah Judaism (UTJ) promotes the interests of the Haredi community ..." "United Torah Judaism - The Israel Democracy Institute". 
  10. ^ "four might pillars" - "German Orthodoxy.. the great yeshivoth of Lithuania... the vibrant, predominantly Hasidic Polish Jewry; and a branch in the land of Israel."
  11. ^ "Agudath Israel... In time it became a political party represented in the Sejm (Polish Parliament)." Roberto Perin (2017). The Many Rooms of this House: Diversity. ISBN 1487510616. 
  12. ^ "... between the wars, none was more effective than the Agudath Israel. ... in the Polish government and was represented in the Sejm (Polish Parliament)." William B. Helmreich (2000). The World of the Yeshiva: An Intimate Portrait of Orthodox Jewry. ISBN 0881256412. 
  13. ^ "Agudas Yisroel succeeded in electing deputies to the Polish Sejm." "Agudas Yisroel". 
  14. ^ For more information, see World Agudath Israel
  15. ^ a b "aided the right wing of Orthodox Judaism by helping build the Agudath Israel of America organization from a small group into an influential force." "Rabbi Moshe Sherer". Britannica.com. 
  16. ^ Belkin, Lisa (May 12, 1992). "New York Rule Compounds Dilemma Over Life Support". The New York Times. 
  17. ^ "David Zweibel, Agudath Israel of America – Salary Survey 2015". The Forward. 
  18. ^ "Rabbi Chaim David Zwiebel has been the executive vice president of Agudath Israel since 2008. Prior to that, he worked for 30 years at a law firm."
  19. ^ Avi Shafran, "What Da'at Torah really means", New York Jewish Week. Reprinted at "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-05-16. Retrieved 2008-02-19. 
  20. ^ Wisconsin. Cincinnati, Baltimore. NY, NJ, CT, CA.
  21. ^ "Moetzes: 'Open Orthodoxy' Not a Form of Torah Judaism". Hamodia. 
  22. ^ "Breach in US Orthodox Judaism grows as haredi body rejects 'Open Orthodoxy' institutions". The Jerusalem Post - JPost.com. 
  23. ^ Josh Nathan-Kazis (3 November 2015). "Avi Weiss Defends 'Open Orthodoxy' as Agudah Rabbis Declare War". The Forward. 
  24. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-05-02. Retrieved 2014-04-30. 
  25. ^ "Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel's Washington Director" -"Agudath Israel of America National Board of Trustees". Hamodia. February 27, 2016. 
  26. ^ "After 28 years in Washington, Abba Cohen of Agudath Israel of America ..." "Abba Cohen: The Ultra-Orthodox Man In Washington". forward.com. 
  27. ^ "Agudath Israel World Organization - UNARMS - the United Nations". 
  28. ^ "Rabbi Avi Shafran ... currently serves as the organization's spokesperson and media liaison.""It's All in the Angle". 
  29. ^ "..comments by Avi Shafran, a spokesman for the Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America." "Corrections". The New York Times. August 22, 2005. 
  30. ^ "New York - Agudath Israel: We Strongly Support Bill Requiring Employee Background Check In Yeshivas, Reports To The Contrary False". Vos Iz Neias. September 13, 2008. Retrieved November 30, 2017. 
  31. ^ dated June 20, 2006
  32. ^ "Jewish Schools in NY Ignore Fingerprint Checks". NY Post. May 30, 2010. , "Schools failing on .." 
  33. ^ "PHOTOS: Pirchei Agudas Yisroel of Passaic/Clifton". 
  34. ^ "... Tress, the legendary Agudah leader who would transform Zeirei Agudath Israel ..."
  35. ^ "Interview with Harav Yaakov Perlow - 12/28/77" (PDF). 

External links[edit]