Modern Orthodoxy in American Judaism: The Era of Leo Jung. By Maxine Jacobson. Brighton, MA., Academic Studies Press, 2016. x + 250 pp.
Rabbi Dr. Leo Jung was among the most respected and influential figures in the twentieth-century American Orthodox rabbinate. An alumnus of the Rabbiner Seminar in Berlin and numerous European universities, he served for over sixty years at Manhattan's prestigious The Jewish Center, the pioneering Orthodox "shul with a pool" whose founding rabbi was Mordecai M. Kaplan. He was a key player in the nascent Yeshiva College (today Yeshiva University, YU), the Orthodox Union (OU) which transformed American kashrut supervision, the Rabbinical Council of America, and the non-sectarian Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), among others. He was also a prolific author and editor who produced some of the first works of Orthodox historiography, ritual instruction, and popular religious thought in the English language, and his presentations on contemporary religion and ethics were featured on regular national radio broadcasts. One of his most eminent devotees was the author Herman Wouk, whose This is My God (1959) was penned under Jung's mentorship.
Maxine Jacobson combed the treasure trove of primary materials stored in the Jung Collection at the Yeshiva University Archives as well as his many publications, and conducted multiple interviews with those who knew him. The result is a copiously documented historical work that places Jung's literary and public activities as a framework for presenting the evolution of Orthodoxy from a "threatened entity" to a vibrant modern Jewish religious trend that could appeal to second and third generation American Jews (i).
The introduction seeks to define "Modern Orthodoxy," portraying the synthesis of loyalty to traditional rabbinic interpretation, openness to general knowledge, and identification with American social and political norms that was emblematic of this stream, including what it drew from its nineteenth century European predecessors such as Samson Raphael Hirsch and Esriel Hildesheimer, along with its distinctive qualities. For Jung, "Orthodox Judaism" was to be "part of the cosmopolitan society and modern culture," and his aim was to make it "appealing to the American psyche" and "acceptable to Jews 'outside the ghetto'" (25).
The core of the volume is four chapters that address the events of each distinct decade in Jung's career up through the end of the 1950s, when he was...