Mainline Judaism

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Mainline Judaism


American Sephardi Association

Current address not obtained for this edition.

The Jewish community is usually seen as divided into two main segments, the Ashkenazi and the Sephardi. The Ashkenazi refers to that branch of the community that derived from the Jewish communities of northern and eastern Europe, and in America, the Ashkenazi form, by far, the larger segment of the community at more than 90 percent. The Sephardi are those Jews who come, broadly speaking, from the lands of the Mediterranean and Western Asia. More narrowly the Sephardi are those Jews who derive from the prominent community of medieval Spain and Portugal. That community was disbursed in the 1490s and many left Iberia for the Americas and the eastern Mediterranean. The Sephardi differ form the Ashkenazi primarily on matters of culture. They have developed a distinctive culture in Spain, and have various differences in their Sabbath and high holydays liturgy.

Sephardi from Brazil were largely responsible for the founding of the Jewish community in what is now the United States. They had emerged at Recife during the period of the Dutch occupancy of that city, but were forced to flee when Portugal regained control. The initial group arrived in New York (then New Amsterdam) in 1654 and went on to establish the first synagogue, Shearith Israel. Shortly thereafter, other participants in the same migration founded the first Canadian synagogue, in Montreal. Subsequently, synagogues were opened in Philadelphia, Newport (Rhode Island), Savannah, and Charleston. At the time of the American Revolution (1775-83), the Sephardi constituted about half of the Jewish community, but were completely overwhelmed after the first wave of German Jews began to arrive following the fall of Napoleon. After the arrival of the massive numbers of Eastern European Jews in the 1880s, the Sephardi became an almost invisible minority.

Attempts to organize the Sephardic community in America began soon after the turn of the century; the earliest seem to have been in the New York area, a single urban area with several Sephardic synagogues. As early as 1912 the Federation of Oriental Jews was founded by the synagogues in New York, Montreal, and Philadelphia. It fell apart in 1918. Other attempts were made over the years, but it was not until 1972, with the founding of the American Sephardi Federation, that a permanent organization was effected. It drew strength from many immigrants of the Jewish communities of North Africa, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran, in particular. While many Sephardi have joined Ashkenazi congregations, many have formed their own congregations, a few nationally specific, and affiliated through the American Sephardi Federation.

Membership: As of the late 1980s, there were an estimated 150,000 Sephardic Jews in the United States, the largest percentage of which (60,000) live in the New York City area. There are organized Sephardic synagogues in 21 communities in all sections of the United States.

Periodicals: Sephardic Connection.


Elazar, Daniel J. The Other Jews: The Sephardim Today. New York: Basic Books, 1989. 236 pp.


Association of American Orthodox Hebrew Congregations


The Association of American Hebrew Congregations was an early attempt to organize Orthodox Jewish synagogues. It was founded in 1887 by lay leaders in some 15 congregations. They advertised in Europe for a rabbi to come to America and serve as a Chief Rabbi. Jacob Joseph of Vilna came over the next year. His task was to supervise the congregations, establish a Beth Din (Jewish court), see to the proper observance of dietary regulations in the preparation of kosher food, and administer the religious schools.

Chief Rabbi Joseph met fierce opposition from other rabbis (none of whom were consulted by the association earlier) and people displaced by the attempt to establish kosher regulations. He died in 1902, by which time the association had been abandoned and new structures of a more permanent nature arose.


Rosenthal, Gilbert S. Contemporary Judaism: Patterns of Survival. New York: Human Sciences Press, 1986.


Congregation Bina

600 West End Ave., Ste. 1C
New York, NY 10024

Congregation Bina was founded in 1981 as a fellowship for Jews who had migrated to the United States from India. When Europeans began to invade India in numbers in the nineteenth century, they became aware of the existence of a small community, some 25,000 people who claimed that they were Jews, and who traced their existence to the 10 lost tribes of Israel and called themselves Bene Israel, Children of Israel. They traced their origin to the second century B.C.E. when they were shipwrecked off the coast of India near Bombay. Only seven families survived and they were cut off from their fellow religionists for many centuries. Another small group was discovered in southwest India centered upon the town of Cochin.

According to the accounts of Bene Israel historians, the survivors of the shipwreck lost their religious records and soon lost the Hebrew language which they replaced with Marathi, a west India language. However, they retained the Sabbath, the practice of the Holy Days, the dietary regulations, circumcision, and the Shema (the confession of the Jewish faith). Other historians have suggested that the Bene Israel arrived in India much later by way of Arabia or Yemen.

The Bene Israel seemed to have survived by becoming a separate caste within the complex caste system of India. They experienced a religious revival in the early 1800s when Christian missionaries, motivated by possible conversion of the Bene Israel to Christianity, translated the Bible into Marathi, created a Hebrew-Marathi grammar, and even hired members of the community to teach in their schools. However, few accepted Christianity and the missionary efforts contributed more to the establishment of contacts between the Indian Jews and their fellow believers in Europe. European and American publications began to flow into India.

The Bene Israel were scattered throughout India until the modern era and they did not erect a synagogue until 1796 in Bombay. However, there are no rabbis; worship is in the hands of the membership.

In the years since the independence of India and the emergence of the state of Israel, the community in India has been decimated by migration. While most have gone to Israel, during the 1970s a small number came to the United States. Thus in 1981 the Bene Israel in the United States came together and founded Congregation Bina. They seek to preserve the customs, liturgy, music, and folklore of the Indian Jewish community. The group is currently headed by Joseph Moses, its president.

Membership: In 1994 Congregation Bina reported 90 members in one synagogue in New York City.

Periodicals: Kol Bina.


Strizower, Schifra. The Bene Israel of Bombay. New York: Schrocken Books, 1971. 176 pp.


Conservative Judaism

℅ The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
155 5th Ave.
New York, NY 10010

Alternate Address The Rabbinical Assembly, 3080 Broadway, New York, NY 10027.

As Reform and Orthodox polemics began to polarize the Jewish community, there arose a middle group that advocated an allegiance to traditional Judaism, but without strict attention to all the Orthodox ways. In 1887, drawn together by an affront to tradition accompanying the graduation of the first class at Hebrew Union College, the Reform college located in Cincinnati, Ohio, Rabbi Sabato Morais, Marcus Jastrow, and Henry Pereira Mendes formed a Jewish Theological Seminary Association to counteract the effects of the liberalizing Reform movement.

Not a strong movement at this time, Conservative Judaism nevertheless found champions in Cyrus Adler and Rabbi Solomon Schechter. The two revived the faltering Jewish Theological Seminary in the first decade of the twentieth century, and Schechter became the mainstay of a Judaism that respected tradition but was saturated with contemporary scholarship. The Conservative synagogue uses English as well as Hebrew, does not separate men and women, and emphasizes modern education. However, many Orthodox practices, such as covered heads during worship are retained.

The Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and Los Angeles remains the educational center of Conservatism. In 1913, Schechter pulled together the United Synagogue of America now the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism which serves as the association of Conservative congregations in North America. The Rabbinical Assembly, the association of Conservative rabbis, was founded six years later.

The United Synagogue is an association of congregations that accepts the Standards for Congregational Practice. A delegated convention meets biennially and elects the national officers and a board of directors. Congregations are grouped into 16 regions each served by a regional office. National departments of education, youth activities, extension activities, and leadership development, among others, provide guidance and materials for the congregations. Internationally the Conservative movement finds expression through the World Council of Conservative/Masorti Congregations. The United Synagogue operates the Fuchsberg Center in Jerusalem.

During the twentieth century, the Conservative movement found favor in Canada among the older congregations just as massive waves of Russian and Eastern European migration (primarily Orthodox in makeup) were remaking the Jewish community. By 1960 more than 20 congregations had affiliated with the United Synagogue. That number almost doubled over the next two decades.

Membership: In 2001 there were approximately 760 affiliated Conservative congregations and 1,500,000 affiliated members in North America.

Educational Facilities: Jewish Theological Seminary, New York, New York.

University of Judaism, Los Angeles, California.

Periodicals: United Synagogue Review, c/o The United Synagogue, 155 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010. • Conservative Judaism. Send orders to 3080 Broadway, New York, NY 10027.


Davis, Moshe. The Emergence of Conservative Judaism. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1963.

Gillman, Neil. Conservative Judaism: The New Century. West Orange, NJ: Behrman House, Inc., 1993.

Karp, Abraham J. A History of the United Synagogue of America, 1913-1963. New York: United Synagogue of America, 1964.

Sklare, Marshall. Conservative Judaism. Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1955.


Jewish Reconstructionist Federation

Church Rd. & Greenwood Ave.
Wyncote, PA 19095

During the years following World War I, the Jewish community became prosperous and diffuse. In recognition of the not strictly religious nature of much of what was commonly labeled Judaism, conservative scholar Mordecai M. Kaplan proposed in the 1930s a new approach to Judaism, one which would take account of its diverse nature. In his Judaism as a Civilization (1934), he argued that Judaism was more than a religion, it was an evolving religious civilization. He called for a reconstruction of Judaism not around the synagogue but the community as a whole. Jewish civilization would unite Reform, Conservative and Orthodox religion, Zionism and various other Jewish interests.

The ideas of Kaplan appealed especially to nonorthodox Jews who were nonetheless attached to "Jewishness." Thus was founded the Reconstructionist movement, and in 1935 Kaplan began a periodical, The Reconstructionist, to propagate his ideas within Conservative Judaism. Kaplan's approach to tradition, his rejection of the divine origin of the Torah and his reevaluation of ritual in light of modern thought, however, proved a constant source of discord, and Kaplan and the Conservatives slowly drifted apart. The Orthodox were so annoyed with him that, in 1945 (after he published a revised prayer book), he was excommunicated. The excommunication was in turn attacked by the Conservative and Reform leadership.

The Reconstructionist Movement took organizational form in 1940 with the founding of the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation. Reconstructionist congregations appeared, and in 1954 the Federation of Reconstructionist Congregations and Havurot was founded to coordinate the activities of the various centers. In 1968 a rabbinical college was established and more recently the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association has formed. Formally known as the Federation of Reconstructionist Congregational and Harvurot, its current name was adopted in 1996.

Membership: In 1997 the federation reported 50,000 members, 90 congregations, and 220 rabbis in the United States, and 1,000 members, two congregations, and five rabbis in Canada.

Educational Facilities: Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Wyncote, Pennsylvania.

Periodicals: The Reconstructionist. • Raayonot.


Alpert, Rebecca T., and Jacob J. Straub. Exploring Judaism: A Reconstructionist Approach. Elkins Park, PA: Reconstructionist Press, 2000.

Cohen, Jack J. The Case for Religious Humanism. New York: Reconstructionist Press, 1958.

Eisenstein, Ira. Reconstructing Judaism: An Autobiography. Elkins Park, PA: Reconstructionist Press: 1986.

Kaplan, Mordecai M. Basic Values in Jewish Religion. New York: Reconstructionist Press, 1948.

——. The Future of the American Jew. New York: Macmillan Co., 1949.

——. The Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion. New York: Reconstructionist Press, 1962.

Kohn, Eugene. Religious Humanism. New York: Reconstructionist Press, 1953.

Scult, Mel. Judaism Faces the 20th Century: A Biography of Mordecai Kaplan. Elkins Park, PA: Reconstructionist Press, 1993.


K'hal Adath Jeshurun

90 Bennett Ave.
New York, NY 10033

K'Hal Adath Jeshurun is an outpost of German Orthodox Judaism in the United States. In the 1880s, Solomon Breuer (1850-1926) had emerged as a staunch defender of Orthodoxy in Frankfort and in 1888 founded the Verbund orthodoxer Rabbiner (Association of Orthodox Rabbis) in Germany, frequently cited as an ultra-Orthodox group in that it refused membership to those Orthodox rabbis who cooperated with Reform Jewish rabbis on work for the Jewish community. Breuer was the son-in-law of S.R. Hirsh, a great Orthodox leader who had defined what was later called neo-Orthodoxy, a combination of extreme Orthodox Jewish belief combined with an openness to the modern world and culture on secular matters.

In 1926 Breuer was succeeded as head of the congregation in Frankfort by his son Joseph Breuer (1882-19??). In 1939, on the eve of World War II, Joseph Breuer migrated to the United States and became the spiritual leader of K'hal Adath Jeshurun. He saw himself as carrying on the work of his father in America. In 1944 he established a school, Yeshiva Rabbi Sampson Raphael Hirsh, named for a nineteenth-century German Orthodox leader, who also happened to be his maternal grandfather. The school followed the pattern he had learned in Germany.

Breuer emerged as a respected rabbi, if one seen as somewhat on the extreme side of the Orthodox community. He authored a number of books in both English and Hebrew. On his 80th birthday, he received a jubilee volume compiled in his honor.

Membership: Not reported.


National Council of Young Israel

3 W. 16th St.
New York, NY 10011

The Young Israel movement began in 1912 at the Jewish Theological Seminary, the school serving Conservative Judaism. It was started by two professors, Israel Freidlander and Mordecai M. Kaplan (later to develop Reconstructionism), and Rabbi Judah Magnes. The movement attempted to unite Orthodox Jewish youth of Manhattan's lower east side. It developed an English language program and a supplementary program not generally available in other Orthodox centers. As the Conservative movement emerged and as the seminary became identified with it, in 1922 the Orthodox leadership of Young Israel repudiated conservatism, but found that this practice did not fit well with other Orthodox groups.

Young Israel emerged as a powerful adult movement over the next decade. The group incorporated in 1926. Within a few years it expanded through the Jewish community in America and entered Canada. In 1939 it reported 35 affiliated synagogues and by 1971 had reached 100. A variety of organizations have been created to carry out its program. The American Friends of Young Israel in Israel promotes the formation of Young Israel synagogues in Israel. An Armed Forces Bureau counsels Orthodox Jews in the armed forces in regard to sabbath and dietary behavior. The Mesilah Institute for Jewish Studies promotes Jewish education at all age levels. Young Israel Youth and Tong Israel Collegiates and Young Adults are age-specific programs for young people.

Beginning at the more liberal end of Orthodoxy, Young Israel has with age become more conservative. It calls for attention to Sabbath laws, separates men and women in worship services, and attacks non-Orthodox Jews. It has become staunchly pro-Zionist.

Membership: In 1994 there were more than 200 Young Israel congregations worldwide—United States, Canada, Netherlands, and several South American countries.

Periodicals: Viewpoint. • Divrei Torah Bulletin •CYIR Newsletter.


Rosenthal, Gilbert S. Contemporary Judaism: Patterns of Survival. New York: Human Sciences Press, 1986.

"Young Israel—Movement to Synagogue." In Ivan L. Tillem, ed. The Jewish Directory and Almanac. New York: Pacific Press, 1984.


Neturei Karta of U.S.A.

Box 2143
Brooklyn, NY 11202

The Neturei Karta (Guardians of the City) emerged in 1935 as an ultra-Orthodox faction within the Agudat Israel, a movement that sought to focus Jewish attention on the Holy Land but was opposed to Zionism. Agudat Israel had also been a separatist movement in that it opposed cooperation with non-Orthodox Jews. In the early 1930s there had arisen among members of Agudat Israel residing in the Holy Land the demand for an independent Orthodox Jewish community separated from the "zionist" community. The larger membership of Agudat Israel opposed the demand, thus leading to the split. Those seeking the independent Orthodox community broke away and founded Hevrat ha-Hayyim, which eventually became Neturei Karta. Among the leaders of the breakaway group was Amram Blau (1895-1976).

After World War II, Neturei Karta members opposed the creation of the Jewish state of Israel and Israel's control of Jerusalem. They claimed that the Talmud prohibits cooperation with any state not created by revelation from the heavenly realms. They worked, unsuccessfully, for the internationalization of the city. Today, many among the Neturei Karta refuse to cooperate or even recognize the existence of Israel, which they manifest by refusing to vote, accept an Israeli identity card, or recognize the decisions of Israeli courts.

The Neturei Karta faced a severe test in 1966 when Blau married a convert, Ruth Ben-David, which led to a number of defections. In the meantime members they have established themselves in the United States and found an ally in the Satmar Hasidism, who share their anti-Zionist stance. The Satmar community contributes regularly to the support of the Neturei Karta.

Membership: Not reported.

Periodicals: The Jewish Guardian.


Domb, I. The Transformation: The Case of the Neturei Karta. London, 1958.

Lawrence, Bruce. Defenders of God: The Fundamentalist Revolt Against the Modern Age. Colombia, SC: University of South Carolina Press,1995.


Orthodox Judaism

Rabbinical Council of America
305 7th Ave.
New York, NY 10001

Alternate Address Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, 333 7th Ave., New York, NY 10001.

The earliest divisions in American Judaism were linguistic. They came about as various national groups settled in America. While all professed a similar Old World form of faith, the groups were differentiated by peculiarities of the various national cultures. Orthodox Judaism remains one of the major facets of the American Jewish experience. Orthodox Jews are distinctive within the Jewish community in their Old World practices: strict keeping of the Sabbath, kosher food laws and special attention to tradition, the keeping of the exact forms of their elders. The learning and use of Hebrew is emphasized.

In the process of Americanization (and the demand for English in the service), and with the importation of German-based Reform Judaism, champions of Orthodoxy, such as Rabbi Isaac Leeser of the Mikveh Israel Congregation, arose. Orthodoxy is, in a real sense, an American product, arising as a tradition-affirming segment of Judaism in reaction to the Reform movement. Orthodoxy was also the poorest. The Orthodox scattered into urban centers around the country. Thus Orthodoxy, while continuing the much older traditions of European Judaism, only formalized an organization at the end of the nineteenth century.

Preliminary efforts at cooperative endeavor began among Orthodox adherents in the 1880s, in reaction to Reform activities. In 1898 the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America was formed. Only two years earlier, the first rabbinical school, the Rabbi Elchanan Theological Seminary (now Yeshiva University) had been established. In 1902, the Union of Orthodox Rabbis was formed by the Eastern European rabbis, who had come to control the congregational association. However, the English-speaking rabbis retained control of the seminary, which grew as the number of English-speaking Orthodox Jews grew, and in 1935, the English-speaking rabbis formed the Rabbinical Council of America.

The Rabbinical Council of America and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America have emerged as the primary organizations serving Orthodox Jews in the United States. Following the basic congregation-based organizational life of American Judaism, both rabbis and congregations are free in their associations, and the Union serves congregations whose rabbis are orthodox but not members of the Rabbinical Council.

Prior to the 1880s, Canadian Jewry had been almost totally factions apparent in American Judaism. However, in Canada, the orthodox segment has remained the majority due to the significant wave of immigration as the turn of the century supplemented by a second wave immediately after World War II, and in spite of the large advances of the conservative movement usually at the expense of Orthodoxy. Many of the Canadian Orthodox congregations are affiliated with the Union of Orthodox Congregations, though may remain independent and unaffiliated with any association.

The Union carries on a far-reaching educational program through numerous publications a Torach Tape Library, and materials for the deaf and developmentally disabled. It operates the National Orthodox Information Center and sponsors the National Conference of Synagogue Youth. Through it OU Kashruth Program it designates products which meet Orthdox standards and are free of items forbidden to Orthodox people. The Union and the rabbinical Council cooperate in support of the Institute of Public Affairs, an advocacy think tank created to represent the American Orthodox Jewish community.

Membership: Not reported. In 1995, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations reported about 1,000 congregations.

Educational Facilities: Yeshiva University, New York, New York.

Hebrew Theological College, Chicago, Illinois.
Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, New York, New York.
Ner Israel Rabbinical College, Baltimore, Maryland.
Hayin Berlin, New York, New York.

Periodicals: Jewish Action. Send orders to 333 7th Ave., New York, NY 10001. • Tradition. Send orders to 1250 Broadway, Suite 802, New York, NY 10001.


Hapgood, Hutchins. The Spirit of the Ghetto. New York: Schocken Books, 1966.

Katz, jacob. A House Divided: Orthodoxy and Schism in Nineteenth-century Central European Jewry. Brandies University Press, 1998.

Mayer, Egon. From Suburb to Shtetl. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1979.

Schlossberg, Eli W. The World of Orthodox Judaism. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1997.

Schwartz, Elkanah. American Life: Shtetl Style. New York: Jonathan David, 1967.


Reform Judaism

℅ Union of American Hebrew Congregations
633 Third Ave.
New York, NY 10017

Reform Judaism, the most liberal of the major movements within Judaism today, began in Germany in the early 1800s, after Europe's Jews were granted citizenship and moved out of the ghettos into society at large. As Jews began to examine their religion with an eye toward egalitarianism and rationality, some congregations introduced changes in worship, including the use of the vernacular language for prayer and sermons, mixed seating, and organ music.

While its roots were in Germany, Reform Judaism flourished in America, where Jews had true freedom of religion due to the separation of church and state. As German Jews immigrated in the mid-1800s, Reform rapidly became the dominant belief system of American Jews.

The first congregation to identify itself as "Reform" was formed by a number of individuals that split from Congregation Beth Elohim in Charleston, South Carolina in 1825, followed by Har Sinai Congregation in Baltimore in 1842 and Emanu-El Congregation in New York in 1845. In 1846 Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, who is considered the founder of Reform Judaism in North America, came to the United States from Bohemia. After spending eight years in Albany, New York, he moved to Cincinnati, then the heart of the American Jewish community.

In Cincinatti Rabbi Wise founded The Israelite, an English language weekly newspaper espousing the principles of Reform Judaism, and wrote the first prayer book for American worshippers, Minhag American (1857), which included both Hebrew and English readings.

At Wise's urging, delegates of 28 congregations gathered in Cincinnati in July 1873 and founded the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, with the primary objective of forming a seminary. In 1875 the Hebrew Union College opened in Cincinnati with Wise as its president. In 1889 Wise founded the third major branch of the Reform movement, the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

By 1880, over 90 percent of American synagogues were Reform. Many Reform congregations of this time were difficult to distinguish from neighboring Protestant churches, with preachers in robes, pews with mixed seating, choirs, and hymnals. Yet by 1935, Reform had started on the path of return to a more traditional approach to Judaism—distinctly Jewish and distictly American.

Reform Jews are committed to a Judaism that changes and adapts to the needs of the day. Since its earliest days, Reform Judaism has asserted that a Judaism frozen in time is an heirloom, not an evolving religion that encourages its members to be fully integrated into and involved in society. Reform differs from other major branches of Judaism in that it views the Torah as divinely inspired but a product of human hands.

Reform Judaism is also committed to the absolute equality of women and the acceptance of gays and lesbians in all areas of Jewish life. It was the first movement to ordain women rabbis and accept children of one Jewish parent—either the father or the mother—as Jews if they were raised as Jews.

After World War II the Reform Movement expanded rapidly as congregations were formed in the new suburban communities. Today it is the largest and fastest growing denomination of Judaism.

There are some Internet sites that represent Reform Judaism, such as the Union of American Hebrew Congregations at; Central Converence of American Judaism at; and the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion at

Membership: In 2002, there are approximately 1.5 million Reform Jews in America. There are more than 900 congregations in North America affiliated with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. More than 2,500 rabbis have been ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, which operates campuses in Cincinnati, New York, Los Angeles, and Jerusalem. It has also invested 381 cantors.

Educational Facilities: Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, Ohio. (There are HUC campuses in New York, New York; Los Angeles, California; and Jerusalem, Israel.)

Periodicals: Journal of Reform Judaism. • Reform Judaism.


Borowitz, Eugene B. Liberal Judaism. New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1984.

An Intimate Portrait of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations—A Centennial Documentary. Cincinnati: American Jewish Archives,1973.

Jacob, Walter, ed. American Reform Responsa: ollected Responsa of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1889-1993. Cincinnati, OH: Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1999.

Kaplan, Dana Evan. Platform and Prayer Books: Theological and Liturgical Perspectives on Reform Judaism. Lanham, MD: Rowan & Littlefield,2002.

Olitzky, Kerry M., Lance J. Sussman, and Malcolm H. Stern, eds. Reform Judaism in America. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group,1993.

Plaut, W. Gunther. The Rise of Reform Judaism. New York: World Union for Progressive Judaism, 1963.

Reform Judaism. Cincinnati, OH: Hebrew Union College Press, 1949.

Washofsky, Mark. Jewish Living: A Guide to Contemporary Reform Practice. New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 2001.


Union of Orthodox Rabbis in the United States

235 E. Broadway
New York, NY 10002

The organization of Orthodox Judaism occurred very slowly in America as traditionalists came to terms with the strength and persistence of Reform Judaism at the close of the nineteenth century. Various efforts at the municipal level were attempted with more or less success. Finally in 1898 the union of Orthodox congregations was affected. Two years later the Rabbi Elchanan Theological Seminary (now Yeshiva University) was created. Finally, the Union of Orthodox Rabbis in the United States and Canada, the oldest Orthodox rabbinical organization in North America, was founded in 1902.

The union, also known as the Agudat Harabanin, called together Yiddish-speaking rabbis. It rejected the graduates of the Jewish Theological Seminary (the primary school of what was emerging as Conservative Judaism) and backed the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. It demanded of its members that they possess the traditional semikhah, ritual ordination.

The founders of the Agudat Harabanin were trained in Europe. The American graduates of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary gradually americanized; that is, they began to lobby for more modern training and understood the need for proficiency in English more than Yiddish. Developing their strength through the school's alumni association in 1938 they organized the Rabbinical Council of America as a rival organization.

In 1997 issued a declaration claiming that the Reform and Conservative movements were not Judaism but another religion. Orthodox rabbis affiliated with the Rabbinical Council denounced the Unions action.

Membership: Not reported.


Rosenthal, Gilbert S. Contemporary Judaism: Patterns of Survival. New York: Human Sciences Press, 1986.


Union of Sephardic Congregations

8 W. 70 St.
New York, NY 10023

The Sephardic Jews, those Jews who lived in medieval Spain, and Portugal, and were cast at the end of the fifteenth century, were among the first to come to the New World. They settled in Portuguese Brazil and from there came to what is now the United States and founded the first synagogues in New York City and Newport, Rhode Island, Philadelphia, Charleston, and Savannah. They were followed by the arrival of larger wave of German Jews in the early nineteenth century and the Eastern European Jews beginning in the 1880s.

During the early years of the twentieth century, until the passing of the new immigration laws in 1924, thousands of Sephardic Jews from Turkey, Greece, the Balkan countries, and Syria immigrated to America. Through the centuries, the Sephardic Jews had developed a number of cultural distinctives which tended to separate them from their Northern and Eastern European cousins. In 1928 the Union of Sephardic Congregations was formed for the "promotion of religious interests of Sephardic Jews."

The first major project of the union was the preparation of a prayer book with accurate Hebrew as well as an English translation. David de Sola Pool, rabbi of Shearith Israel in New York, provided the necessary leadership and saw the publication of The Daily and Sabbath Prayer Book (1936), followed by books for the High Holy Days and festivals. These have found their way to Sephardic congregations throughout the U.S., Canada, Australia, and other locations around the world.

Membership: There are an estimated 300,000 Sephardic Jews in the United States, of which about 40 percent live in the greater New York City area.


Cohen, Martin A., and Abraham J. Peck. Sephardism in the Americas. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1993.