We pride ourselves on producing a magazine that is not predictable and that brings you—our readers—articles you simply won’t find elsewhere. With our broad grasp of the Orthodox world, we try to present articles on the lifestyles, trends and views that reflect the full gamut of the Orthodox community. Why do we strive to be unpredictable? Because Jewish life—our past, as well as our present—is unpredictable.
In this issue, we focus heavily on the American Jewish experience. We look at the American Orthodox rabbinate and ask: How has it changed and evolved? How are rabbis different today than they were fifty, sixty or even one hundred years ago? How has technology affected the rabbinate? How does the unpredictability of modern Jewish life continue to affect the role of the rabbi? In her extensively researched article, writer Bayla Sheva Brenner discovers some surprising answers to these questions.
Nothing proves the unpredictable nature of Jewish life more than our article on Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein, a giant of a man who served as president of the OU from 1924 to 1933. A true visionary, Rabbi Goldstein, in the words of famed writer Herman Wouk, “combined total loyalty to tradition with a sophisticated modern mind.” Today there are many Orthodox Jews who manage to successfully merge tradition with modernity. But Rabbi Goldstein lived in a time when American Orthodoxy was in its infancy, and predictions that Orthodox Judaism would not survive in America were common. Indeed, the predictions did not seem unreasonable. As Rabbi Goldstein noted in a speech he delivered at an OU convention in 1927 (parts of which are reprinted in this issue), the “chief problem” that confronted American Jewry was chillul Shabbos.
Could Rabbi Goldstein have predicted the beautiful Torah communities that today dot the American landscape? Could he have foreseen the Shabbos-observant enclaves of Teaneck, Phoenix, Brooklyn, Dallas and Los Angeles?
Similarly, no one could have foreseen the remarkable explosion of the kosher food industry. Today the US kosher market generates more than $12 billion in annual retail sales. In his article on Rabbi Alexander S. Rosenberg, rabbinic administrator of the OU Kosher Division from 1950 to 1972, Timothy Lytton, author of Kosher: Private Regulation in the Age of Industrial Food, describes how kosher certification was riddled with corruption in the early part of the twentieth century. In fact, in the 1920s, the New York City Department of Markets estimated that 40 percent of the meat sold as kosher in the city was, in fact, nonkosher. The situation seemed bleak; but then the OU embarked upon an extraordinary endeavor—it established the first nonprofit kosher certification agency. As the OU grew, thousands of products became OU certified. Yet even Rabbi Rosenberg, known as the “kashrut guru” because of his passionate commitment to making kosher food available in every supermarket in the country, could not have predicted that one day the OU would certify more than 500,000 products in more than eighty-three countries.
There is much to glean from this jam-packed issue which reminds us that Jewish life is ever so fascinating because it is inexplicable, incomprehensible and, above all, unpredictable.
Before I wish you a kesivah vachasimah tovah, I want to invite you to check out our online edition at www.ou.org/jewish_action. Thanks to the OU’s wonderful communications staff including our new chief communications officer, Mayer Fertig, and Gary Magder, our director of digital media, we are constantly upgrading our digital offerings to ensure that you get the most meaningful and relevant content, in print and online. Jewish Action recently teamed up with Savitsky Talks, the OU radio program featuring talented host Steve Savitsky. Now, after reading Jewish Action articles online, you can listen to fascinating interviews with some of the authors. In this issue, for example, Steve interviews Rabbi Yamin Levy on coping with the loss of a baby, Rabbi Natan Slifkin on the relationship between Torah and the natural sciences and BJ Rosenfeld, a Conservative Jewish mom who discusses dealing with her sons’ decision to become Orthodox.
Visit us online to take advantage of our digital-only features, and feel free to send us your suggestions for future interviews. In the meantime, I wish all of you a shanah tovah.
Gerald M. Schreck is chairman of the OU’s Communications Commission.