Michael A. Meyer and David N. Myers, editors, Between Jewish Tradition and Modernity: Rethinking an Old Opposition. Essays in Honor of David Ellenson. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2.014. xiv + 360 pp.
Reviewing a Festschrift presents a special problem: contributions by colleagues, friends, and/or former students of the person being honored can cover a wide range of topics only tangentially connected to each other. Should the reviewer dwell on the achievements of the honoree or look for elements that the collected essays might have in common? This was not a problem in reviewing Between Jewish Tradition and Modernity, a collection of articles of high quality, interest, and value.
All of the authors of essays in this volume pay homage to David Ellenson. Raised in a modern Orthodox family in Newport News, VA., he received his BA from the College of William and Mary, his MA in Jewish Studies at the University of Virginia, his PhD from Columbia University, and rabbinic ordination from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion where, after several years as a faculty member, he served as president from 200Z to 2014. In his college days influences on him included sociologists of religion Max Weber, Peter Berger, and Jacob Katz. His first book was Rabbi Esriel Hildesheimer and the Creation of Modern Jewish Orthodoxy (1990). His many studies on Judaism in Israel and America are in the dense nine pages of Ellenson's bibliography appended to the volume. A personal note: his oeuvre includes "Zion in the Mind of the American Rabbinate during the 1940s," which appeared in the collection The Americanization of the Jews, that I edited with Norman S. Cohen (1995).
The essays in Between Jewish Tradition and Modernity are arranged under four sub-headings: Law, Ritual, Thought, and Culture. Together they constitute a mosaic of topics connected to American Jewish religious life in the last half century, such as post-denominationalism, the impact of the counterculture, new conceptions of ethnicity, changing styles of worship, the growing importance of feminism, and the State of Israel. To be sure, there are pieces that do not fit tidily into this mold, such as Jonathan Sarna's essay on a mid-nineteenth-century controversy over whether it was appropriate to erect a statue of the New Orleans Jewish philanthropist Judah Touro in view of traditional anti-iconic Jewish teachings. Zvi Zohar examines a responsum from early twentieth-century Salonica...