In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Post-World War II Orthodoxy

  • Introduction
  • Orthodoxy and Varieties of Orthodox
  • Postwar Orthodox Encounters with the Holocaust
  • Gender Challenges Orthodoxy
  • Orthodox Communal Resurgence toward the End of the Millennium

Jewish Studies Post-World War II Orthodoxy
Kimmy Caplan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 September 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0139


As the Second World War came to a close in the spring of 1945, the scope of destruction within Jewish society throughout Europe became clear. One of the components of this culturally and ideologically diverse society that faced numerous challenges was Orthodoxy. An era of 150 years of Jewish Orthodoxy that was centered in Europe came to an end, and the future of various Orthodox groups, like many other Jews and Jewish groups and trends, was far from promising. Notwithstanding this grim outlook, most Orthodox subgroups rebuilt themselves in the United States, Mandatory Palestine, and later the State of Israel. Within two or three decades and ever since, we have had a thriving, vital, and resurgent multifaceted Orthodoxy, mostly in the United States and Israel. But additional contemporary Orthodox strongholds, even if relatively limited in scope, exist in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, and France. Based upon existing scholarship, this survey attempts to offer an overview of major trends and developments within postwar Orthodoxy, thus implying various lacunae in its scholarly study. It is impossible to address the full geographical gamut and variations of Orthodoxy within the constraints of this article, and I will therefore focus primarily on the two largest Orthodox communities that emerged after the Second World War in the United States and Israel. Finally, it is critical to situate postwar Orthodoxy within the necessary prewar historical contexts, and therefore certain sections begin with brief and general background notes and references.

Orthodoxy and Varieties of Orthodox

Several dominant scholarly approaches toward the study of Orthodoxy and Orthodox Jews and communities emphasize various aspects: Analyzing the writings of Orthodox religious leaders’ with a view to depicting their ideology, theology, and approach to Halakhah; placing Orthodoxy within the relevant historical contexts; applying sociological tools to analyze both contemporary and historical structural, ideological, and behavioral manifestations of Orthodoxy; and utilizing comparative paradigms of the fundamentalist family. These approaches do not necessarily exclude but rather complement one another as they tend to offer different foci. The accumulative sociological and historical scholarship on Orthodoxy provides several general conclusions regarding its collective “genealogy” and basic characteristics. First and foremost, as Katz 1986 and Samet 1988 prove, notwithstanding the overall Orthodox perception that it is the only authentic expression of traditional Judaism and although relating to traditional Judaism, Orthodoxy is a modern European phenomenon that had over time emerged in response to the gradual demise of traditional Jewish society, the rise of Jewish Enlightenment (Haskalah), Jewish Reform, secularization, and various additional processes that developed throughout the nineteenth century. These historical contexts are essential in any effort to analyze postwar developments within Orthodoxy, as, for example, Manekin 2020 and Seidman 2019 have demonstrated recently regarding the Beit Yaakov schools network. Overall, Orthodox groups agree that the future of “true” Judaism is at risk as a result of these aforementioned developments, and their strategy for survival is similar to other conservative religious enclave and counterculture fundamentalist groups, according to Marty and Appleby 1991 and the categories established in Sivan 1995. This strategy is composed of seclusion, isolation from surrounding “dangerous” influences, creating authoritative absolute religious leadership, and insisting on setting forth clear religious normative behavioral demands. Its leaders lean toward a defensive and apologetic approach, which, at times, can manifest itself in offensive rhetoric. All Orthodox groups declare adherence to several basic theological beliefs, such as God is active in history; the Jewish people are the chosen nation; the event described in the Bible of God delivering the Torah to the Jewish people indeed occurred; the Jewish people are obliged to observe its commandments; the Torah has eternal authority and traditional recognized interpreters have absolute authority throughout the ages; and there exists messianic redemption and divine reward and punishment. Orthodoxy is a family name rather than a personal name. It is composed of a wide plethora of groups and subgroups that declaratively and fully accept certain beliefs and worldviews but differ ideologically, theologically, and in religious practice, as Heilman 1982 articulates. Furthermore, there are different, at times opposing, expressions and manifestations of Orthodoxy within the same geopolitical contexts. There is a wide variety of Orthodox types, ideological and behavioral, including ultra-Orthodox (or Haredim), modern Orthodox, non-observant Orthodox, Orthodox-lite, social Orthodox, Conservadox (Conservative-Orthodox), and Orthoprax (those who practice but do not fully accept Orthodox beliefs).

  • Heilman, Samuel C. “The Many Faces of Orthodoxy, Part 1.” Modern Judaism 2.1 (1982): 23–51.

    DOI: 10.1093/mj/2.1.23

    An outline of different types of Orthodoxies and Orthodox ideologies. Continues with a second part in the subsequent issue 2.2 (1982): 171–199.

  • Katz, Jacob. “Orthodoxy in Historical Perspective.” Studies in Contemporary Jewry 2 (1986): 3–18.

    This article sets forth the basic notion that Jewish Orthodoxy is a modern phenomenon and not a continuation of traditional society.

  • Manekin, Rachel. The Rebellion of the Daughters: Jewish Women Runaways in Habsburg Galicia. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2020.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctvxrpxx9

    A social-history monograph of Jewish women who chose to offer alternatives to their Orthodox upbringing, Beit Yaakov being one of them, within their European context.

  • Marty, Martin E., and R. Scott Appleby. “Conclusion: An Interim Report on a Hypothetical Family.” In Fundamentalisms Observed. Edited by Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby, 814–843. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

    Based upon the articles in this volume, the authors outline the various common components of fundamentalist groups, their familial “genetic code.”

  • Samet, Moshe. “The Beginnings of Orthodoxy.” Modern Judaism 8.3 (1988): 249–270.

    DOI: 10.1093/mj/8.3.249

    The author explains the origins of Orthodoxy through focusing on Rabbi Moshe Sofer, known by the acronym Hatam Sofer, and sketches the various archetypes of Orthodoxy in the European context, such as ultra-Orthodoxy and neo-Orthodoxy.

  • Seidman, Naomi. Sarah Schenirer and the Bais Yaakov Movement: A Revolution in the Name of Tradition. London: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2019.

    DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781906764692.001.0001

    A historical account of the background, founding, and development of the Beit Yaakov schooling network.

  • Sivan, Emmanuel. “The Enclave Culture.” In Fundamentalisms Comprehended. Edited by Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby, 11–69. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

    Based upon a model set forth by Mary Douglas, this comparative study suggests various sociocultural, structural, and other helpful categories in an effort to characterize fundamentalist cosmology, space, leadership, authority, and group structure and hierarchy.

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