Agudath Israel of America
|Founder||Rabbi Eliezer Silver|
New York City,
|Mike Tress Chaim Dovid Zwiebel|
|Revenue||11,422,304 United States dollar (2017)|
Number of employees
|Part of a series on|
|Jews and Judaism|
Agudath Israel of America (Hebrew: אגודת ישראל באמריקה) (sometimes called Agudah) is an American organization that represents Haredi Orthodox Jews. It is loosely affiliated with the international World Agudath Israel. Agudah seeks to meet the needs of the Haredi community, advocates for its religious and civil rights, and services its constituents through charitable, educational, and social service projects across North America.
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.
Agudah has ideological connections with both the Agudat Israel party and with Degel HaTorah (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).
The original Agudath Israel movement was established in Europe in 1912 by some of the most famous Orthodox rabbis of the time, including Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagen (the Chafetz Chaim), Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski of Vilna, the Radziner Rebbe, Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Elazar Leiner, the Gerrer Rebbe (the Imrei Emes), and the Chortkover Rebbe. It grew during the 1920s and 1930s to be the political, communal, and cultural voice of those Orthodox Jews who were not part of Zionism's Orthodox Jewish Mizrachi party.
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. Some of the early rabbinic leaders of the organization included Rabbi Mordechai Shlomo Friedman, Rabbi Shlomo Heiman, Rabbi Leo Jung, Rabbi Herbert Goldstein, Rabbi Joshua Baumel and Rabbi Joseph B Soloveitchik. After the Holocaust, some prominent rabbis who made their home in America established a moetzes ("supreme council") known as the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, and the movement began to grow rapidly with the rise of the yeshiva-based and Hasidic Orthodox communities.
Mike Tress led the expansion of the movement during the early 1940s as its chief lay leader until his death in 1967. His cousin Rabbi Moshe Sherer then took the reins as president and the organization flourished further in size and accomplishments. After his passing in May 1998, he was succeeded by Rabbi Shmuel Bloom, as Executive Vice President. In 2008 Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, having served Agudah as general counsel and director of government affairs, took over as Executive Vice-President. In 2016, his salary was $220,000.
In April 2020 Agudath Israel of America head Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, the Novominsker Rebbe, 89 years old, died after contracting COVID-19, one month after he urged American Orthodox Jews to follow social distancing and other precautionary guidelines in response to the coronavirus outbreak, saying: "We cannot behave the way we did last week or two weeks ago. We're told that the halakha (Jewish law) is that we must listen to doctors, whether it's about a sick person or Yom Kippur".
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. Rabbi Yaakov Perlow (recently deceased), who was the Novominsker Rebbe and a member of the Moetzes, was appointed as the Rosh Agudat Yisrael ("Head of Agudath Israel").
The Agudah takes positions on many political, religious, and social issues, primarily guided by its Moetzes 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 Haredi Orthodox Jewish community in the United States.
Conservative, Reform, and Modern Orthodox Judaism
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 believed it important to nurture the more 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.
In 2015 and 2017, Agudah denounced moves to ordain women. It 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. Avi Shafran, director of public affairs, wrote "... women ... assuming positions of public leadership is ... antithetical to the concept of tzniut (modesty)." Agudah forbade ordained Orthodox female clergy from being hired to lead congregations. Dr. Noam Stadlan, a board member of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, wrote: "On this issue, the Agudah is irrelevant to Modern Orthodoxy in the same way Satmar or Neturei Karta views are irrelevant on issues of Zionism."
In 2019, commenting on abortion, Agudath Israel said "Jewish tradition teaches that a human fetus has status and dignity, and that abortion is prohibited in the vast majority of pregnancies," with certain exceptions in which it is permitted and in others where it is required. Other Orthodox New York rabbis offered opposing positions.
Also in 2019, Agudath lobbied against a New Jersey bill that would have ended a policy allowing New Jersey parents to not immunize their children—because of religious beliefs, but to still enroll them in school. The bill included an exemption for private schools. In the 2018-19 school year religious exemptions in New Jersey had grown to 2.6%. Doctors and public health experts had said the bill was urgently needed to prevent the level of measles outbreak that spread across the region in 2018 (the largest outbreak in three decades in the area), with most cases of measles being Orthodox Jews, and emphasized that there is overwhelming scientific consensus that vaccines are safe and effective.
While Agudath does not consider itself Zionist, it is generally supportive of the State of Israel insofar as Agudath supports participation in its politics and the development of religious life, as well as the security of its population. It became more involved after the Israeli state was established in 1948. Agudah takes stances on issues affecting the Haredi sector in Israel; in contradistinction to the more stridently anti-Zionist Haredi communal organizations.
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 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 various domestic and foreign issues. Agudath Israel World Organization also has a representative at the United Nations.
Agudah files amicus briefs in cases at all levels of the judiciary, often signing on as one of the 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 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.
Official spokesman 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, and cited a memorandum from 2 years prior 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.
Agudah maintains a network of summer youth camps (including Camp Agudah, Machane Ephraim, Camp Bnos, Camp Chayl Miriam, and Camp Bnoseinu in the Catskills in New York, as well as camps in the Midwest, California, and Toronto, Canada).
"JEP" (Jewish Education Program) is 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."
Agudah 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 responsible for the founding of other national institutions and projects, including the Beis Yaakov girls' school system, and the national Daf Yomi Commission.
Agudah advocates its positions in several ways:
- Publication of an e-newsletter, Weekly Window
- Publication of a general-interest monthly magazine, The Jewish Observer, from 1963 (no longer published)
- Maintains full-time offices in Washington, DC, and the US west coast, Midwest, and South
- Activism by lobbying and submitting amicus briefs
- 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 Haredi Orthodox community; 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 Haredi Orthodox point of view
- Publication of articles and press releases on its website
- Agudat Israel (of Israel)
- Degel HaTorah
- Orthodox Judaism
- Haredi Judaism
- Schisms among the Jews: Hasidim and Mitnagdim
- World Agudath Israel
- "Agudath Israel Didn't Need To Disclose Their Financial — But They Did Anyways". The Forward.
- "Open Debate: Is N.Y.'s Abortion Law Halachic?". Jewish Journal. February 6, 2019.
- "Orthodox rabbis compare abortion to murder - and Orthodox women are angry about it". January 31, 2019.
- "Agudath Israel of America is a communal organization in the United States loosely affiliated with the international World Agudath Israel." "Agudath Israel of America, World Agudath Israel".
- "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.
- "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.
- Otterman, Sharon (February 19, 2015). "City Eases Pre-K Rules to Allow Prayer Breaks". The New York Times.
- Jonathan Rosenblum, "Reb Elimelech Gavriel (Mike) Tress", in Nora Roberts, Daring to Dream, Feldheim Publishers, 2006. "Even the Satmar Rebbe, a fierce ideological opponent of Agudath Israel, once told Mike's son Mendel 'If there were nine more people in the world like your father, Moshiach would come.'"
- "Agudath Israel may be non-Zionist, but it supports Israel and its people". The Jewish Chronicle. March 31, 2008.
- "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".
- "four might pillars" - "German Orthodoxy.. the great yeshivoth of Lithuania... the vibrant, predominantly Hasidic Polish Jewry; and a branch in the land of Israel."
- "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 978-1487510619.
- "... 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.
- "Agudas Yisroel succeeded in electing deputies to the Polish Sejm." "Agudas Yisroel".
- For more information, see World Agudath Israel
- "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.
- Belkin, Lisa (May 12, 1992). "New York Rule Compounds Dilemma Over Life Support". The New York Times.
- "David Zweibel, Agudath Israel of America – Salary Survey 2015". The Forward.
- "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."
- Sones, Mordechai (April 7, 2020). "US Agudath Yisroel head, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, the Novominsker Rebbe, dies of coronavirus". Israel National News. Retrieved April 7, 2020.
- Prince, Cathryn J. (March 31, 2020). "In the eye of NY's coronavirus storm, ultra-Orthodox face rising anti-Semitism". The Times of Israel. Retrieved April 7, 2020.
- Holt, Faygie. "Agudath Israel of America Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, 89, dies after contracting COVID-19". Cleveland Jewish News.
- 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.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- Ferziger, Adam S. (2015-07-15). Beyond Sectarianism: The Realignment of American Orthodox Judaism. Wayne State University Press. p. 136. ISBN 9780814339541.
- "Agudath Israel of America Welcomes Reb Shia Markowitz as Volunteer CEO » The Lakewood Scoop » The heartbeat of the lakewood community". Retrieved 2018-10-11.
- Images, Getty. "The OU Is Right: Orthodox Women Shouldn't Be Rabbis". The Forward.
- "Moetzes: 'Open Orthodoxy' Not a Form of Torah Judaism". Hamodia.
- "Breach in US Orthodox Judaism grows as haredi body rejects 'Open Orthodoxy' institutions". The Jerusalem Post.
- Josh Nathan-Kazis (3 November 2015). "Avi Weiss Defends 'Open Orthodoxy' as Agudah Rabbis Declare War". The Forward.
- "Orthodox Yeshiva Ordains Three Women. Just Don't Call Them 'Rabbi.'". Tablet Magazine. June 10, 2013.
- "How do you solve a problem like a maharat?". www.timesofisrael.com.
- Stadlan, Noam. "Thank You Rabbi Shafran". jewishweek.timesofisrael.com.
- Oster, Marcy. "NJ bill to remove religious exemption from immunization stalls in state senate". www.timesofisrael.com.
- Tully, Tracey. "'Thank you, God!': Bill to ban religious exemptions for vaccines in New Jesey collapses". sun-sentinel.com.
- Sales, Ben. "Gospels and child sacrifice: Inside a NYC ultra-Orthodox anti-vaccination rally". www.timesofisrael.com.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-05-02. Retrieved 2014-04-30.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- "Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel's Washington Director" -"Agudath Israel of America National Board of Trustees". Hamodia. February 27, 2016.
- "After 28 years in Washington, Abba Cohen of Agudath Israel of America ..." "Abba Cohen: The Ultra-Orthodox Man In Washington". forward.com.
- "Agudath Israel World Organization - UNARMS". search.archives.un.org.
- "Rabbi Avi Shafran ... currently serves as the organization's spokesperson and media liaison.""It's All in the Angle".
- "comments by Avi Shafran, a spokesman for the Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America." "Corrections". The New York Times. August 22, 2005.
- "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.
- dated June 20, 2006
- "Jewish Schools in NY Ignore Fingerprint Checks". NY Post. May 30, 2010., "Schools failing on ..."
- Rupp, BenTzion. "PHOTOS: Pirchei Agudas Yisroel of Passaic/Clifton Bnei Yaakov Midwinter Program".
- Jonathan Rosenblum (2006). "Reb Elimelech Gavriel (Mike) Tress". Daring to Dream. Feldheim Publishers.
... Tress, the legendary Agudah leader who would transform Zeirei Agudath Israel ...
- "Interview with Harav Yaakov Perlow - 12/28/77" (PDF).
- Agudath Israel of America Official Website
- National public policy of Agudah, 1999
- Professional survey of Agudah
- Dei'ah Vedibur, weekly web edition of Yated Neeman newspaper
- The Jewish Observer, Agudah's magazine, on the web
- The Lefkowitz Leadership Initiative, Agudah's website for younger people
- "אגודת ישראל באמריקה". Hamichlol.