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America on the Responsa Map: Hasidim, Mitnagdim, and the Trans-Atlantic Social Network of Religious Authority.

There is a deep tension limning the experience of Jews, Jewry, and Judaism in America and their relation to the Old World. One side of this tension--perhaps ambivalence--is the depth of the immigrants' uprooting, the degree to which they rejected the alte baym (old home). Few voluntary migrations in the modern world were as decisive, the disowning they implied so conclusive. The demographics of the migration, including the proportion of people who migrated versus those who stayed, the rapidity of their coalescence into a mass-migration movement, and that movement's unidirectionality, indicate an overwhelming rejection of the old country.

From the late nineteenth century to the 1920s, fully one-third of Eastern European Jews evacuated their countries of birth. The uprooting was thorough and systematic: a large majority of the Jewish immigrants had their way paid by relatives who had already settled in America. The intention was patent: no family member should remain behind. And indeed, an unusually large share of Jewish immigrants never looked back. While at least 30 percent of most (non-Jewish) immigrants returned to their homelands, the rate of return among Jews was a minuscule 7 percent, and even that was until the outbreak of World War I, which practically stopped return migration. (1) Strictly, "no return" may have been mythical, but it was certainly a dominant state of mind. Jewish immigrants to America conclusively and emphatically turned their backs on the countries they left. (2)

Yet at the same time, Jewish Americans were distinctly outward looking, remarkably mindful of their brethren's affairs. Historian Eli Lederhendler has recently argued that the distinguishing aspect of American Jews, both as an immigrant group and religious group in America, was precisely their awareness, interest, and connectedness to their coreligionists abroad. This "foreign aspect of American Jewry's history," Lederhendler argues, was unique, it was "an essential attribute of Jews' 'otherness.'" (3) The significance of this dimension of connectedness stands, however, in stark contrast to the decisiveness we noted in the uprooting process characterizing American Jewish immigration.

This duality, which touches on the most fundamental sensibilities of American Jews, calls for careful analysis. What follows is an attempt to untangle one strand of this ambiguity, one that relates to the religious aspect of the problem of continuity and its severance. Lederhendler argues that ecclesiastical ties disintegrated, that there were "no formal, hierarchical relations between Jewish rabbis and congregations in the United States and those abroad. Such ties of religious dependency that occasionally developed were ephemeral and apt to atrophy quickly." (4) While we do not disagree with the gist of this argument, we will try here to delimit its scope and point to areas in which religious authority served as a realm of connectedness between American Jews and their homelands, rather than an arena of severance. In what follows, we attempt to map and evaluate the forces of connectedness between America and Europe and their disruption, the continuity and change in the realm of religious authority and religious teachings. In this study, we use responsa literature as a prime source for uncovering the dynamics of traditional Jewish religious authority, its disruption and its binding force.

Responsa literature is a traditional rabbinical genre, dating back to the Middle Ages. Responsa are written replies to questions of Jewish religious law (halakhah), which had been conveyed in writing to a rabbinic authority. While many consider responsa strictly as exchanges related to practical, real-life legal dilemmas that had actually occurred, responsa have in fact been written on virtually every aspect of Jewish life and thought. The diffusion of such texts, in turn, became the standard mode of circulating legal rulings throughout the Jewish diaspora since the Geonic period, in many cases setting binding legal precedents, civil law-style. (5)

Accordingly, responsa literature has been widely recognized by historians as a rich resource for both reconstructing the development of rabbinic law and for illuminating the historical details of everyday life in Jewish communities over the ages. (6) Less obvious and less utilized, but as important, are two other pieces of historical information contained within responsas. Both relate to using the exchange of responsa itself, not the content of the responsa, as a historical source; both are communication-oriented. The first concerns the physical layer of the conveyance of responsa: the documentation of the flow of questions and answers provides unequalled evidence of the routes and channels used by Jews over the ages. This helps chart the map of contact and communication among responsa across the diaspora. The second goes beyond the lateral plane and deals with social structure and hierarchies. Since responsa represent lower religious authorities appealing to higher ones (laymen to rabbis, lower ranking rabbis to higher authorities), the exchange of responsa provides a map of networks of religious authority crisscrossing the Jewish religious world. (7) These two aspects are of course relevant to the problem of the degree and nature of religious connection and communication between American and European Jews.

Accordingly, the present study focuses on the network-oriented aspects of responsa literature relating to America and American Jewry. References to America in European responsa literature can be traced back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but these were rarities. (8) Reflections of America in this genre only became frequent during the late nineteenth century, and especially around the turn of the century. This increase corresponded to the mass migration of Eastern European Jews to North America, rising gradually in the final quarter of the nineteenth century, particularly after 1881. The wave of migrants would subside after 1924, when legal restrictions were laid on the path of potential immigrants. By then, more than two and a half million Eastern European Jews had immigrated to the United States. Responsa relating to America can thus serve as a source for trans-Atlantic communication, tracing certain kinds of relationships between individuals and communities in the new world and the old, as well as the social networks they charted.

This kind of contact was particularly significant in shaping the Orthodox community in the United States, which included, at least nominally, most of the immigrants. However, no precise mapping of these networks of legal authority has previously been attempted in either America or Europe; nor have the connections across the Atlantic been charted. At least as important as mapping these links and connections is identifying lacunae and discontinuities in time and in space. As this study demonstrates, a spatial analysis of the connections between Europe and America in the responsa literature provides some unexpected, even striking findings that may require a reevaluation of certain historiographic commonplaces concerning the religious history, and even the social history, of American Jews. We find that they focus on the divide between Hasidim and Mitnagdim--two social and religious groups within modern Judaism that will be discussed below.

Responsa Literature as a Source for Constructing Communication Networks

Using responsa literature as a source documenting communications between Jewish individuals and communities allows us to focus on questions related to geography: Which European communities corresponded with those in the United States, and which did not? An answer to such a question is relevant to many aspects of the lives of Orthodox Jews and the Jewish community in the New World. They include the nature of local religious authority established there; the role of American rabbis; the ties between immigrants and their European communities of origin; and the emergence of an autonomous American rabbinate. (9)

The evidence we gathered from extant published responsa only surveys one side of the communication network: the reply of European rabbis to queries referring to the United States. Unfortunately for social historians, rabbinic authors and publishers of printed responsa were chiefly concerned with the preservation of halakhic decisions, and tended to omit details that they regarded as superfluous. As a result, the queries are in most cases either abridged or completely absent. Needless to say, in most cases, the names of the queries' authors, their places of residence, and the correspondence dates are not mentioned. Consequently, it is usually difficult to fix the place and the time of the real world occurrence or circumstance launching the responsa process. (10) Inevitably, the chief points of tangible information on networks relevant to the New World are the identity of the responding rabbi mentioning America, and the publication date and place of his work.

Responsa as Digital Data

Fortunately, much of the responsa literature printed over the ages has remained extant, and is now available in digital form. Huge digital databases such as Otzar Hahochma, Hebrew Books, and the Bar Ilan Responsa Project enable a digital analysis of 594 responsa publications appearing between 1890 and 1930. (11) On the downside, and as noted, responsa do not necessarily document the time, place, and identity of the asker or even the text of the query: each responsum usually repeats the gist of the question(s), analyzes the legal issue and then provides a resolution, which commonly is not dated either. Therefore, in this study, when the date of the query is not provided, we used the publication date of the responsum as the basis for dating. In a sample of entries, we found that it took an average of eight years for a responsa to go from written query to publication in a responsa book. As a result, we subtracted this average interval of eight years from the publication dates upon charting responsa exchanges relevant to the United States over time.

The database was narrowed down to all responsa that mention the toponym "America." However, since there is a variety of Hebrew and Yiddish transcriptions of the word, we searched all the known variations, such as [phrase omitted]. (12) Once we omitted all the references to America that were not relevant to the query or the response, our new America-oriented database was set. (13) It included queries that came from American laymen, queries that came from American rabbis, and queries that discussed American-related matters between European rabbis. While the latter group of responsa did not document direct communications between Europe and America, it did imply them indirectly, reflecting involvement with affairs of American Jewry.

We found in references to America written by 72 different European rabbis. The use of the term "America" in these questions and answers ranged from "America" as a mythical or antipodal location to a concrete place with local Jewish communities requesting assistance in their daily affairs. (14) The most frequent problems had to do with communication, or rather lack of communication, in the vast new world. Questions regarding the identification of people, most importantly in divorce documents (get), and the credibility of information, especially regarding deaths in America, constituted 25 percent of the total collection. (15) The problems of communicating across the Atlantic were also depicted in the recurring theme of runaway husbands, wives, and debtors hiding in America, which constituted 20 percent of the responsa. (16)

The 72 authors originated from 72 different towns across Central and Eastern Europe ranging from Bad-Kissingen in Germany to St. Petersburg in Russia. The following density maps show where the various rabbis were concentrated, first between 1890 to 1910, and then between 1910 to 1930 (Maps 1 and 2). (17) The outcomes, shown in the maps, reflect the degree of connection between European regions and American Jewry; or, to be more exact, these maps locate Orthodox communities with intensive ties to American Jewry.

Understanding the Maps

The arrangement of lighter and darker colored regions in the map suggests that the distribution of rabbis dealing with things American was not uniform across Europe, and that a territorial logic hides behind the locations of the central areas of contact with the United States. Moreover, a comparison of Map i and Map 2 demonstrates a temporal change in the location of rabbis communicating with American Jews and involved in American affairs. Until 1910, the gravitational center of these locations was the adjacent territories of east Poland, west Ukraine and a bit of east Hungary. In the following decades, the map portrays a south-eastward shift towards Hungary and the Ukraine.

The problem is that these maps only reflect the existence of such territorial clustering, but do not provide explanations for it. We argue that the explanation lies in the location of Hasidic rabbis in Europe and the dependence of Hasidism on long-distance communication. But first we'd like to reject some alternative and slightly more intuitive interpretations of our maps. The first of these would pertain to the spatial distribution of Jewish emigration to the United States: one would expect American Jews to communicate with the centers whence they originated from. At least as significant would be the demographic distribution of European Jewry; that is, one might expect more correspondence with the more populated Jewish centers. Finally, since we are tracing a specific genre of correspondence--halakhic responsa--one might argue the findings reflect the spatial distribution of responsa literature publication and nothing more.

However, none of these proposed distributions show any correlation to the maps above. The most obvious of these hypotheses would be the first, concerning the geographic origins of emigration. Obviously, the larger the emigration is from a certain territory, the more questions from America a rabbi in that territory would be expected to receive. This is congruent with the idea that immigrants are mediators that connect their community of origin to their new, diasporic, community, thus launching transnational communities. (18) From this perspective, emigration to the United States forged transnational social units, and indeed, a very high share of New World congregations were based on origins from a common European town (landsmanshaftn), representing the transnational extensions of the original communities of the "old home." (19)

While the vital statistics of Jews that immigrated to the United States is relatively well documented and accounted for, the geographical origins of these immigrants has proved a problematic topic, especially with regard to immigrants from Russia. A seminal study, Simon Kuznets's "Immigration of Russian Jews to the United States" identified the distribution of immigrants based on social statistics of remaining Jewish communities in Russia. (20) Shaul Stampfer complemented Kuznets's sources by analyzing Jewish landsmansbaftn in the United States. (21) In more recent studies, Gur Alroey, Joel Perlmann, and Yannay Spitzer each reconstructed the places of origin of Jewish immigrants using distinct, but large, samples of Russian immigrant documents. (22) While the sources and perspectives of each of these studies differ considerably, their spatial conclusions are strikingly similar: Lithuanian and eastern Polish Jews were overrepresented in Eastern European Jewish immigration between 1880-1930, and southern Ukrainian Jews tended to be underrepresented.

These results stand in sharp contrast to Maps 1 and 2, in which communication is focused on southeastern regions. The maps would appear to demonstrate that Lithuanian rabbis rarely refer to America in their responsa publications, while Ukrainian and Hungarian rabbis refer extensively to America. Indeed Perlman's depiction of the origins of Jewish immigration to the United States can almost be described as a mirror image to our maps. As it appears, the premise of a correlation, whether positive or negative, between rates of emigration from a region and the extent of references to America in its responsa does not hold.

As noted, another possible demographic characteristic that may have affected the distribution of references to America in responsa is the general distribution of the Jewish population in Europe. But here, too, as statistical data from the years 1900-1939 demonstrates, there is no positive correlation between the two. (23) To illustrate, Hungarian Jews accounted for 10 percent of European Jewry in 1900, and 5 percent in 1939, and yet Hungary was the source of 26 percent of all American responsa. On the other hand, Poland, with approximately 36 percent of total European Jewry in 1939, accounted for merely 24 percent of responsa mentioning America during the years 1890-1930. Furthermore, Richard H. Rowland's regional analysis of Jewish demographics in the Pale of Settlement, which included cartographic depiction, shows no resemblance to the above Maps 1 or 2. (24) Thus, Jewish demographics cannot explain the spatial distribution of transnational communication.

This leaves us with the third alternative: That the frequency of mentions of America in publications from a certain region reflected the geography of responsa publication and printing, rather than demographic parameters affecting the extent of communications with the United States. This would mean that the concentration of references to America in responsa published in a certain community was identical to its weight in responsa publishing in general. We found, however, that overrepresentations and underrepresentations were the rule, which disproves this suggestion. Between the years 1890 and 1910, Ukraine and Hungary accounted for 29 percent and 14 percent of published responsa regarding America, respectively, compared to 14 percent and 8 percent of total responsa literature printed in those two decades. (25) Similar results can be found in responsa appearing between the years 1910 and 1930; in fact, the discrepancy is even greater. Hungary accounted for 31 percent of American references in the responsa of those years, compared to 4 percent of total European responsa publication. In contrast, Lithuania accounted for 3 percent of American mentions, yet it published 15 percent of total European responsa.

Clearly, the spatial distribution of transnational communication in responsa literature must be attributed to more subtle characteristics of Orthodox migration, communication, and community. One such potential factor emerges from recent advances in the study of the historical geography of Jewish Eastern Europe: the socio-geographical divide between the Hasidic and non-Hasidic (Mitnagdim) communities, to be factored with their religious, cultural, and institutional differences.

The Hasidic Movement

European Orthodox Judaism since the eighteenth century has been divided into two major factions: the Hasidic movement, a pan-European effort to rejuvenate Judaism, and the non-Hasidic communities, or Mitnagdim. (26) The Hasidic movement dates to the mid-eighteenth century, as some members of a small band of Jewish mystics that gathered around Israel son of Eliezer of Medzybizh (commonly tagged the 'Ba'al Shem Tou' or 'besht') attempted to spread the group's esoteric message. (27) This was a challenge in communications across space, but it was no less a challenge in message and audience; Hasidim sought to spread elitist notions of an all-consuming spiritual quest and ecstatic devotion. Hasidic leaders tried to make this quest relevant to the rank and file, those who didn't have the time, capabilities, or wherewithal necessary for a spiritual life of devotion.

The solution was mediation: having the spiritual leader--the tzadik--serve as an intermediary between heaven and earth. This mediation was understood to be bi-directional. The tzadik would bring the heavenly message down to earth, teach it to the masses, and try to show them, individually and collectively, the path for rising to spiritual heights. On the return path, the tzadik would act as an emissary to heaven, representing his flock, as it were, in the heavenly compounds. (28) Either of these directions required close contact between the shepherd and his flock. Hasidism introduced innovative new patterns of interpersonal and group interaction of religious leaders and their followers. Face to face contact would remain the key ingredient in the bond between rebbe and followers. Hasidim would hold repeated pilgrimages to their rebbe's court, and the rebbe would circuit-ride to the communities of the faithful. In the process, the balegule (the Wagoner) would become a centerpiece of Hasidic folklore, his horse and carriage serving as the nuts and bolts of the Hasidic organization. (29)

The movement was a resounding social success: its diffusion demonstrated a remarkably steep S curve. It spread over the vast 750,000 square kilometers of barrier- and obstacle-ridden geography of the erstwhile Polish Kingdom like a wildfire. Within a generation of its first efforts to spread the word, it conquered a majority of the nearly 1 million Jews living between the Oder and Dnieper Rivers and between the Baltic and the Black Sea. The Hasidic conquest of Jewish Eastern Europe was understood as a dual spiritual and social revolution, a populist turn prioritizing belief and devotion over scholarship, and empowering the rank and file vis-a-vis the erstwhile elite comprised of a coalition of the rich and the learned. In spreading the movement, Hasidic leaders adapted administrative and communicative strategies used by Polish lay and religious organizations, creatively merging them with traditional Jewish modes of communication and control. (30)

The remarkable success of the Hasidic movement transformed an initial theological conflict into a geographically distinct religious movement with relatively delimited boundaries. By the early nineteenth century, noted Simon Dubnow, "Hasidism had conquered almost all the communities of the Ukraine and eastern Galicia, most of the communities of central Poland, and a considerable number of communities in Romania and Hungary." (31) A recent study by Marcin Wodzinski and Uriel Gellman analyzed the geography of Hasidic distribution on a historical timeline and illustrated the delimitation of the Hasidic movement and the development of its territorial expansion, quite congruent with Dubnow's general description. (32)

Strikingly, Wodzinski and Gellman's results as represented in the cartographic documentation they provide are almost identical to the maps presented in Maps 1 and z above. This finding is quite surprising and counterintuitive, since responsa literature is supposed to reflect a scholarly orientation highlighting the legal aspects of Judaism, precisely the approach of the Mitnagdim, not of Hasidism. However, this surprising result is corroborated by biographical information on the authors of the responsa in our corpus. Of the eighty European references to "America" between the years 1890 and 1910 whose affiliation could be ascertained, forty-five authors were Hasidic rabbis and only sixteen were Mitnagdim (we could not trace the affiliation of the remaining nineteen). (33) Similarly, of the 120 European references to American between 1910 and 1930 by authors whose affiliation could be ascertained, eighty-seven were by Hasidim, thirty-three were by Mitnagdim.

The correlation between references to America and Hasidic affiliations of authors can serve to explain the geographical shift evident in comparing Map 1 and Map 2. In Map 1, Hasidic centers such as west Ukraine and east Poland were very dominant, while Lithuania, the center of Mitnagdim, was almost negligible. The south-eastern shift in map 2 correlates temporally and spatially with the interwar period migration of Hasidic courts away from Soviet territories, especially to Hungary. (34)

The circumstantial evidence thus suggests a strong connection between Hasidism and discussions of America in rabbinical responsa. This unexpected and counterintuitive finding calls for an explanation, and we believe it can be found in two characteristics of the European Hasidic movement. One, relating to the European side, focuses on the institutional structure of Hasidic courts; the other concerns the unique experiences of Hasidic immigrants to the United States.

Spatial-Institutional Structure of the Hasidic Movement

As noted above, the Hasidic movement was in many ways a counterculture, offering the tsadik's charismatic spiritual leadership as an alternative to legal orientation of traditional rabbinical Judaism. As Hadidism evolved, it splintered into separate groups of followers of a specific tsadik (or rebbe), each with its own theological directives. (35) This was perhaps the main innovation of the Hasidic movement, the creation of a religious authority who was not necessarily known for his scholar ship and legal expertise, but rather for his charisma, spiritual devotion, and wisdom in the art of life. (36)

Since the success of a specific rebbe depended on his personal charisma, accessibility to his followers was a critical feature of Hasidic courts. (37) Therefore, the expansion of Hasidism across Europe was largely a result of new courts founded by disciples of traditional Hasidic rebbes. This form of expansion, which Adam Teller describes as an imitation of the monastery system in Poland, resulted in a widespread network of independent Hasidic centers. (38) In time, the location of a rebbe's court became a brand name defining both the followers and the heirs to the throne. (39) In a way, this form of branding minimized the tension between different branches of the same Hasidic court, at the same time providing a stronger symbolic hold of a Hasidic court on peripheral communities.

The new network, established during the eighteenth century, was only effective as long as the different rebbes were distant from each other. However, this was rarely the case, since rebbes were looking to expand their dominion. (40) This was initially done by sending emissaries, who represented the rebbe, to peripheral Jewish communities. (41) The new communities would attach themselves to the Hasidic court by accepting the spiritual leadership of the distant rebbe. This was only possible by separating the authority of the rebbe as a spiritual leader and role model, and that of a local rabbi ("rav"), who decided mundane questions of religious law (halakba). This rabbi was the educated expert, well-read in the letters of Jewish law, while the rebbe was an expert in the way of life suitable for his Hasidim. (42)

As a result, peripheral Hasidic communities were paradoxically both territorially separated from neighboring Jewish communities, and distant from their own rebbe. (43) As noted above, this was overcome by three important modes of communication between the rebbe and his disciples: pilgrimage, official visits from the court, and written communication. Although the journey to the Hasidic court was considered a high point in the life of a Hasid, this was only seldom done, due to the major financial burden of such a journey. (44) Another form of communication was the deployment of emissaries or, on a smaller scale, visits of the rebbe himself. Teller describes the similarity between these visits and the visits made by Polish noblemen through their estates. (45) However, visits were only a partial solution, since transportation was slow and costly. Therefore, written correspondence between individual Hasidim and the rebbe was a crucial mode of connectivity and was indispensable as means of sending out personal requests (qvitlach), and of course, dues or contributions to the court. (46) On the return path the rebbe would convey blessings, teachings, and, when necessary, responsa.

Hasidic Immigration to the United States

The Hasidic court structure, usually described as a tight-knit centralized system, had plenty of room for peripheral outposts, connected to the court through various modes of communications. This was indeed the case with the Hasidic immigration to the United States. This immigration has been, however, largely overlooked by immigration research. (47) Moreover, conventional wisdom has held that Hasidim only started immigrating to the United States in earnest after World War II. One of the main supporting points of this argument was the nature of the Hasidic court and the refusal of followers to distance themselves from their rebbe, who did not immigrate to America. (48) Some even claim that Hasidic rebbes objected to the migration of their followers to such an extent as to not just prevent immigration to the United States, but to even prevent west European Hasidic communities. (49) These rabbis saw America as a land of ungodliness, where "even the stones are impure." (50) However, others claim that Hasidic rebbes were largely inattentive to the concept of immigration. According to them, America was actually considered an "unknown land" and was therefore not regarded at all. (51)

While the no-immigration argument is largely dependent on the questionable premise that Hasidim had to reside in close proximity to their rebbe, evidence proves the existence of Hasidim and Hasidic communities in the United States since the 188os. Steven Lapidus describes, for instance, the personal tales of isolated Hasidic individuals and families, who lived in small American towns without the support of a congregation, while retaining their Hasidic way of life. (52) In addition, communities were being formed as evinced by the relatively frequent American tours of important European rebbes between 1910 and the 1930s. (53) These tours were accompanied by mass gatherings of followers in cities across the United States and Canada.

These New World Hasidim did not intend to form new Hasidic courts, since the geographical branding was too strong to break. In Elie Wiesel's words, "They live in America but they belong to Lizensk, Mezeritch, or Rishin." (54) In order to maintain their community's way of life, a rabbi was needed, but since Hasidic rabbis were scarce in the United States, many communities placed a "stikl rebbe" as their figureheads. (55) These rabbis could have been Hasidic or not, but they were merely a halakbic guide, and not the rebbe, who was still in Europe. As a result, the Hasidic communities in the United States remained dependent on their European rebbes and sought their guidance, or the guidance of other rabbis in the vicinity of the Hasidic court, through the various questions published in the responsa literature. Issues relating to divorce constituted the bulk of the questions, but other daily matters of life in America were treated. (56) Rabbi Shraga Zvi Tannenbaum from Mezocsat, Hungary, for example, replied to a question regarding the appointment of a butcher in a New York Jewish community. (57) Mordechai Yehuda Winkler from Mad, Hungary, replied to two questions regarding financial conduct in America: currency exchange and commercial rivalry. (58) Eliezer Deutsch from Bonyhad, Hungary, answered fifteen different questions, which included among other issues, the proper conduct of religious ceremonies, the appointment of a local American rabbi, the kashrut of cooking, and the usage of a certain house as a synagogue. (59) This small sample of questions, which range from personal matters of laymen and rabbis to social conduct of American Jewish communities, shows the level of involvement of European Hasidic rabbis in the diaspora in the United States: an involvement that was practical rather than theoretical.

Hasidic responsa communication between America and Europe further indicates that Hasidic disciples immigrated to America. Moreover, it accentuates the distinction that has to be made between the immigration of Hasidic disciples and the immigration of their rebbes and Hasidic courts, which remained in Europe until World War II. As we have argued, Hasids operated in America just as they had operated in Europe. While in Europe, connection to the center was through personal voyages, emissaries, and personal letters, which were referenced later in responsa literature, the latter medium was dominant in the United States. The conventional focus of Hasidic research on the figureheads has kept late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century Hasidim in America under the radar of Jewish historiography. Similarly, Wodzinski and Gellman claim that maps of Hasidism tend to depict only places of residence of famous Hasidic leaders. (60) They add that "an ideal map of Hasidism should represent the distribution of ordinary Hasidic followers rather than simply noting their leaders' places of residence." (61) Although this article does not offer such a mapping of Hasidic followers, it does indicate their existence in the American periphery and their correspondence with Hasidic courts in Europe.

The discussion to this point has ignored the complementary part of American Orthodox community, the Mitnagdim--primarily Lithuanian Jews--who dominated the early-twentieth-century Jewish community in America. The meager responsa references to America from their Lithuanian counterparts in Europe reflected the growing strength of American rabbis, and their self-dependence. This corresponds with evidence from other forms of Orthodox authority such as pesika (decision), semicha (ordination), and haskama (approval) that signify that at the turn of the century an autonomous American rabbinical hierarchy had evolved. (62) The differences between the independent Lithuanian rabbinate and the dependent Hasidic communities led to a conflict regarding the formation of a unified structure for American Jewry. In 1887, for example, an attempt was made to form the position of chief rabbi of New York, which was offered to Rabbi Jacob Joseph of Vilna. However, Galician and Hungarian Jews did not accept his authority or the attempt to unite the Jews of America as an autonomous Orthodox unit. (63) This might be seen as a conflict over control and power between two factions of the Orthodox world, but it can also be seen as an ideological conflict over the idea of authority and its geographical location between the proponents of local autonomy (Mitnagdim) and the proponents of European dominance (Hasidim).


Distance and authority are usually inversely correlated; that is, authority is weakened as the distance is greater. That logic would explain the emergence of the autonomous American Lithuanian rabbinate. However, the Hasidic communities in the United States did not correspond to that pattern because they preserved their European authorities. The overrepresentation of responsa referring to the United States among Hasidim was a reflection of that preservation, caused partially by the unique experience of Hasidic immigrants, who lacked leaders in their new communities.

However, the use of long-distance communication was not just a result of the circumstances in a given periphery (the United States), but rather a necessity of the Hasidic way of life and a fundamental element in the spatial-institutional identity of the Hasidic movement.

Accordingly, Hasidic responsa communication should be seen as more than just a source documenting the religious life of American Hasidim. The Hasidic preoccupation with responsa reflected a general reliance of the Hasidic movement on modern transportation and communications technologies. The existence of an efficient transnational postal system, which depended on railways, steamships and, later, airplanes, and was augmented by telegraph and cable facilities, was a necessary precondition for exporting Eastern European modes of Hasidic tsadik-centered relations to the distant American peripheries. Without these technologies the Hasidic individuals in America would not have remained attached to a specific dynasty. Although the technological perspective of Hasidic communications has barely been researched, a preliminary examination of responsa literature suggests that there is a strong link between Hasidism and communications technology. A study we are preparing on references to the telegraph in rabbinic literature is similarly pointing to its preponderance in Hasidic writings. (64) This is particularly the case when surveying references to the telegraph in responsa literature. (65)

Be that as it may, the differences underscored in this study between the transnational religious communication practices of the Hasidim and Mitnagdim appears relevant to the problem of the linkage of American Jews, Jewry, and Judaism to the Old World, as presented in the opening of this article. The practice of rabbinic deliberation and decision in the case of non-Hasidic Jews points to meager communication between Americans--laymen and rabbis--and European religious authorities. This would indicate that to a meaningful extent, non-Hasidic Judaism was transplanted to the United States, replicating there the structures and processes of traditional religious decision-making in the New World.

Thus, when it came to deciding Jewish law, the disruption caused by immigration could be contained: local religious authority supplanted European authority. In other words, Mitnagdim in the Old and New Worlds spoke in the same language, even if it was not necessary to converse in that language. American Jews, at least in this instance, could indeed turn their backs on Europe.

Not so in the case of the numerous Hasidic immigrants. To maintain religious life for Hasidim, strong connections with their rebbes in Europe were cardinal. Thus, in the case of the Hasidim, the long-distance link binding American Jews and their original localities was paramount. Hasidism could survive, and even flourish, in the United States, as long as it could maintain meaningful connections with its leadership in the Old World. This could be achieved by mail and by telegraph, underscored by identity and by memory.

(1.) Jonathan D. Sarna, "The Myth of No Return: Jewish Return Migration to Eastern Europe, 1881-1914," American Jewish History 71, no. 2 (1981): 256-68; Andrew Goodey, Jewish Immigrant Entrepreneurship in New York and London, 1880-1914: Enterprise and Culture (New York: Palgrave, 2001), 71; Neil L. Shumsky, "Let No Man Stop to Plunder: American Hostility to Return Migration, 1890-1924," Journal of American Ethnic History 11, no. 2 (1992): 56-75.

(2.) On the cultural and institutional level, the discontinuities between Eastern Europe and America were dramatic. See, for instance, Moses Rischin, The Promised City: New York's Jews, 1870-1914 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962); Arthur A. Goren, The Politics and Public Culture of American Jews: The Modern Jewish Experience (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999); Jonathan D. Sarna, American Judaism: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004); Menahem Blondheim, "Divine Comedy: The Jewish Orthodox Sermon in the United States," in Multilingual America: Transnationalism, Ethnicity, and the Languages of American Literature, ed. Werner Sollors (New York: New York University Press, 1998), 191-214.

(3.) Eli Lederhendler, American Jewry: A New History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 191.

(4.) Lederhendler, American Jewry, 191.

(5.) For general introductions see Menachem Elon, Jewish Law: History, Sources, Principles, 4 vols. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2001); Peter J. Haas, Responsa: Literary History of a Rabbinic Genre (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1996).

(6.) See, for instance, Irving A. Agus, Urban Civilization in Pre-Crusade Europe: A Study of Organized Town-Life in Northwestern Europe during the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries, Based on the Responsa Literature, (New York: Yeshiva University Press, 1965); Haym Soloveichick, Shut Ke'makor Histori (Jerusalem: Zalman Shazar Center, 1990).

(7.) Both these aspects have been proposed in Menahem Blondheim, "The Orthodox Rabbinate Discovers America: The Geography of the Mind in a Communication Matrix," in Following Columbus: America 1492-1992, ed. Miri Eliav-Feldon (Jerusalem: Zalman Shazar Center, 1996), 483-510; Menahem Blondheim and Talya Jackson, "Mundane Religion, Sublime Technology: Performativity of the Digitally Communicated Word in Jewish Law," paper presented at the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR), Maastricht, October 13-16, 2002.

(8.) Judah David Eisenstein, "The Development of Jewish Casuistic Literature in America," American Jewish Historical Society 12 (1904): 139-148; Solomon B. Freehof, "An Eighteenth Century American Responsum," American Jewish Archives (1953): 121-125; Rod Glogower, "The Impact of the American Experience upon Responsa Literature," American Jewish History 69, no. 2 (1979): 257-69; Blondheim, "The Orthodox Rabbinate Discovers America."

(9.) Blondheim, "The Orthodox Rabbinate Discovers America."

(10.) Jacob Mann, "The Responsa of the Babylonian Geonim as a Source of Jewish History," Jewish Quarterly Review 7 (1917): 457-490, esp. 460; and see Yaacov Choueka, "Computerized Full-Text Retrieval Systems and Research in the Humanities: The Responsa Project," Computers and the Humanities 14 (1980): 153-169, esp. 154.

(11.) See;; These three databases collect and document only printed books, which are themselves edited compendia of responsa. As a result, mundane or reoccurring questions are ignored. However, there is no reason to assume that responsa related to the United States would be omitted more than others.

(12.) These were the most common toponyms of the United States of America among the Jewish communities during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century.

(13.) Unrelated references to America could be, for example, an acknowledgment in the book's introduction of family members who live in America.

(14.) For the use of America as a mythical place see, for example, Shlomo Tzvi Shik, Shut rashbati even ha'ezer (Satu Mare: Barash, 1905), 26, 120, 315, and 317. For local affairs of the American communities see Eliezer Mishel, Mishnat eliezer, part 2 (Drohobycz: Zupnik, 1906), 656; Eliezer Deutsch, Pri hasade, part 3 (Paks: Meir Segal Rosenbaum, 1913), 19.

(15.) See Yaakov Tannenbaum, Nharei afarsmon (Paks: Meir Segal Rosenbaum, 1898), 10; Israel Trunk, Yeshuot malko (Petrokov: Folman, 1927), 99; Mordechai Tverski, Emek she'ela (Petrokov: Kronenberg, 1898), 226.

(16.) For runaway wives, see Yehuda Tzirelssohn, Atzei halevanon (Cluj: Kaufman, 1922), 85; Yehuda Groibart, Havalim bene'imim, part 3 (Petrokov: Painsky, 1901), 126. For runaway husbands see Binyamin Weiss, Even yekara (Lemberg: Bednarski, 1894), 43-44; Eliyahu Kluchkin, Dvar eliyahu (Lublin: Hershenhorn and Striezberger, 1915), 155. For runaway debtors see Samuel Engel, Shut meharash, part 3 (Bardiov: Horovitz, 1926), 101.

(17.) Continuous density maps were created by implementing ArcMap's point-density function to maps of the various locations. Point-density calculates the density at every point, by summing up the number of previously marked features that fall within an area surrounding that point, and dividing by the magnitude of that area. Further explanation can be found in: "Point Density," ESRI, accessed March 2, 2017, en/pro-app/tool-reference/spatial-analyst/point-density.htm.

(18.) Roger D. Waldinger and David Fitzgerald, "Transnationalism in Question," American Journal of Sociology 109, no. 5 (2004): 1177-1195.

(19.) This emerges from lists in The Jewish Communal Register of New York City 1917-1918 (New York: Lipshitz Press, 1918); Di idishe landsmanshaftn fun nyu york [The Jewish Landsmanshaftn of New York] (New York: Peretz Yiddish Writers' Union, 1938); for a summary see Arthur A. Goren, New York Jews and the Quest for Community: The Kehillah Experiment, 1908-1922 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1970).

(20.) Simon Kuznets, "Immigration of Russian Jews to the United States: Background and Structure," Perspectives in American History 9 (1975): 35-126.

(21.) Shaul Stampfer, "The Geographic Background of East European Jewish Migration to the United States before World War I," in Migration across Time and Nations: Population Mobility in Historical Contexts, eds. Ira A. Glazier and Luigi De Rosa (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1986), 220-230.

(22.) Gur Alroey, "Patterns of Jewish Migration from the Russian Empire in the Early 20th Century," Jews in Russian and Eastern Europe Countries 57 (2006): 24-51; Joel Perlmann, "The Local Geographic Origins of Russian-Jewish Immigrants, Circa 1900," Levy Economics Institute Working Paper No. 46) (2.006); Yannay Spitzer, "Pogroms, Networks, and Migration: The Jewish Migration from the Russian Empire to the United States, 1881-1914," working paper, accessed August 24, 2016, https://yannayspitzer.files.

(23.) A major problem of comparing the data is the changing borders during this period. Figures from 1900, "Statistics," in The Jewish Encyclopedia: A Descriptive Record of the History, Religion, Literature, and Customs of the Jewish People from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, eds. Isidore Singer and Cyrus Adler, (New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1906); Figures from 1939, "Appendix III: Estimated Jewish Population of Europe," in Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry Report, April 20, 1946, accessed August 24, 2016,

(24.) Richard H. Rowland, "Geographical Patterns of the Jewish Population in the Pale of Settlement of Late Nineteenth Century Russia," Jewish Social Studies 48, nos. 3/4 (1986): 207-234.

(25.) The number of responsa titles was calculated from the database of

(26.) For a general introduction see David Assaf, "Hasidism: Historical Overview," in The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, ed. Gershon D. Hundert (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 659-670.

(27.) Ada Rapoport-Albert, "Ha-hasidut achrey shenat 1772: retzef mivni u'temura," in Zadik ve-eda: hebetim histori'im ve-hevrati'im be-heker ha-haisdut, ed. David Assaf (Jerusalem: Zalman Shazar Center, 2001), 210-272.

(28.) Immanuel Etkes, Tenu'at ha-hasidut be-reshita (Tel Aviv: Misrad Habitahon, 1998), 74-77.

(29.) See Shmuel Yoseph Agnon, The Bridal Canopy (New York: Literary Guild of America, 1937). Although thoroughly researched as a spiritual and intellectual movement and to a lesser extent as a social and political movement, the importance of communication in the development of Hasidism and its institutions has been surprisingly neglected.

(30.) Adam Teller, "Hasidism and the Challenge of Geography: The Polish Background to the Spread of the Hasidic Movement," AJS Review 30, no. 1 (1006): 1-29.

(31.) Simon Dubnow, Toledot bahasidut (Tel Aviv: Dvir, 1967), 3.

(32.) Marcin Wodzinski and Uriel Gellman, "Toward a New Geography of Hasidism," Jewish History 27, nos. 2-4 (2013): 171-199.

(33.) Information was gathered from: Meefoyunder, Meunde Ggalitsyah (Jerusalem: Makhon le-hantsahat yahadut galitsyah, 1978); Yehi8ya Yehiel M. Stern, Sefer gedole ha-horot (Jerusalem: Makhon "Minhat Yisraa Y," Makhon "Minhat Yisrael," 1995); Baruch Traktin, Entsiklopedyah le-yahadut romanyah (Jerusalem: Mosad Harav Cook), 2012); Yitzhak Yosef Cohen, Hakhme hungaryah ve-ha-safrut ka-toranit ba (Jerusalem: Makhon Yerusalayim, 1997); Yizhak Raphael, Shalom H. Parush, and Yitshak Alfasi, Entsiklopedyah La-Hasidut (Jerusalem: Mosad Harav Cook, 1980-2004); Yitshaki Alfasi, Meorot me-olam ha-torab (Jerusalem, Alfasi, 2004); Benzion Eisenstadt, Dor rabanav ve-sofrav (Ashdod: Makhon Otzrot Geoney Sefarad, 1997); David Halachmi, Hakhme yisrael (Tel Aviv: Netiva, 1957); Shimshon Nahmani, and NahumHinits, Pinkas sluts klutvenoteha (Amherst: National Yiddish Book Center, 2001); Naftali Ben-Menachem, Hakhme lita (Jerusalem: Mosad Harav Cook, 1959); Shlomo J. Spitzer, Kehilot hungaryah: ha-kehilot ha-harediyot be-hungaryah (Jerusalem: Makhon Yerushalayim, 2009); Natan Goren, Yahadut lita (Tel Aviv: Am Hasefer, 1960-1984).

(34.) Wodzinski, "Toward a New Geography of Hasidism," 195.

(35.) Samuel C. Heilman, "What's in a Name? The Dilemma of Title and Geography for Contemporary Hasidism," Jewish History 27, nos. 2-4 (2013): 221-240, esp. 221.

(36.) Charles L. Bosk, "The Routinization of Charisma: The Case of the Zaddik," Sociological Inquiry 49, nos. 2-3 (2007): 150-167.

(37.) Heilman, "What's in a Name," 221.

(38.) Teller, "Hasidism and the Challenge of Geography," 25. For a detailed account of one major case see Gadi Sagiv, Hashoshelet: Bet Chernobyl U'mekomo Betoledeot Ha-Hasidut (Jerusalem: Zalman Shazar, 2014).

(39.) Heilman, "What's in a Name," 222; 224.

(40.) David Assaf and Gadi Sagiv, "Hasidism in Tsarist Russia: Historical and Social Aspects," Jewish History 27, nos. 2-4 (2013): 241-269, esp. 250-252.

(41.) Teller, "Hasidism and the Challenge of Geography," 11.

(42.) Jerome R. Mintz, Hasidic People: A Place in the New World (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992), 4.

(43.) Assaf, "Hasidism in Tsarist Russia," 252.

(44.) Assaf, "Hasidism in Tsarist Russia," 150; Norbert Gleszer, "Pilgrimages in Jewish Folk Religion in Hungary-From the Chassidic Courts to the Virtual Communities," Acta Ethnographica Hungarica 51 (2006): 91-104.

(45.) Teller, "Hasidism and the Challenge of Geography," 21-22.

(46.) Teller, "Hasidism and the Challenge of Geography," 23.

(47.) Steven Lapidus, "The Forgotten Hasidim: Rabbis and Rebbes in Prewar Canada," Canadian Jewish Studies 12 (2004): 1-30, esp. 1; Ira Robinson, Translating a Tradition: Studies in American Jewish History (Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2008), 190-222.

(48.) Very few important rebbes immigrated prior to 1940. See Jeffrey S. Gurock, American Jewish Orthodoxy in Historical Perspective (Hoboken: KTAV Publishing House, 1996), 52. However, the sources in note 15 point to numerous Hasidic congregations in New York City. In the Jewish Communal Register this is indicated by reference to a congregation with the term "sphar[a]d" (Hasidic communities used "nusach spharad" in their synagogues).

(49.) Jacques Gutwirth, "Hassidism and Urban Life," Jewish Journal of Sociology 38 (1996): 105-113, esp. 107.

(50.) Quoted in Lapidus, "The Forgotten Hasidim," 14. See also Arthur Hertzberg, "'Treifene Medina': Learned Opposition to Emigration to the United States," Proceedings of the Eighth World Congress of Jewish Studies (Jerusalem: World Union of Jewish Studies, 1984), 1-30; Menahem Blondheim, "Divine Comedy: The Jewish Orthodox Sermon in the United States," in Multilingual America: Transnationalism, Ethnicity, and the Languages of American Literature, ed. Werner Sollors (New York: New York University Press, 1998), 191-214.

(51.) Lloyd P. Gartner, "Jewish Migrants En Route from Europe to North America: Traditions and Realities," Jewish History 1 (1986): 49-86, esp. 60: Assaf, "Hasidism in Tsarist Russia," 267; Jonathan D. Sarna, "Jewish Culture Comes to America," Jewish Studies 42 (2003-2004), 45-57.

(52.) Lapidus, "The Forgotten Hasidim," 7-13.

(53.) Lapidus, "The Forgotten Hasidim," 5-7; Janet S. Belcove-Shalin, "Introduction: New World Hasidim," in New World Hasidim: Ethnographic Studies of Hasidic Jews in America, ed. Janet S. Belcove-Shalin (New York: State University of New York Press, 1995), 1-30, esp. 9.

(54.) Elie Wiesel, Souls on Fire: Portraits and Legends of Hasidic Masters (New York: Random House, 1972), 38.

(55.) Some Hasidic rabbis immigrated by the end of the nineteenth century, but they were too few. See Solomon Poll, The Hasidic Community of Williamsburg (New York: Schocken Books, 1962), 63; Belcove-Shalin, "Introduction," 8; Robinson, Translating a Tradition, 190-205.

(56.) Thirty-one of forty-five questions to Hasidic rabbis between 1890 and 1910, and twenty-eight of eighty-seven questions between 1910 and 1930 deal with divorce-related matters.

(57.) Shraga Tannenbaum, Neta Sorek (Munkatch: Blayer et Cohen, 1897), question 91.

(58.) Mordechai Yehuda Winkler, Levushi Mordechai Tanaina, Part 2 (Budapest: Katzburg, 1924), question 5; Mordechai Yehuda Winkler, Levushei Mordechai (Miskolc: Friedman, 1937), question 199.

(59.) Eliezer Deutsch, Pri Hasade, Part 1 (Paks: Meir Segal Rosenbaum, 1906), question 60; Eliezer Deutsch, Pri Hasade, Part 3 (Paks: Meir Segal Rosenbaum, 1913), questions 19, 73, and 112.

(60.) Wodzinski, "Toward a New Geography of Hasidism," 173.

(61.) Wodzinski, "Toward a New Geography of Hasidism," 174.

(62.) Menahem Blondheim, "The Orthodox Rabbinate Discovers America."

(63.) Daniel Soyer, Jewish Immigrant Associations and American Identity in New York, 1880-1939 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2001), 116.

(64.) Menahem Blondheim, Yonatan Fialkof, and Zef Segal, "'And their Lines Spread throughout the Land': The Telegraph and the Spatial Network of Jewish Orthodoxy," paper delivered at the Annual Conference of the Israel Geographical Society, December 14, 2015, Jerusalem.

(65.) The first reference we find is in a responsum by Yechiel Michel Hevner, who was affiliated with the Stretin Hasidic dynasty. In 1876, he referred to the telegraph as a means of communication. See Nachle Lisrueil (Lvov: J.M. Nik, 1876), 84. In the following decade, two additional authors mentioned their telegraph experiences, Yekusiel Yehudah Teitelbaum, who was the rebbe and founder of the Siget dynasty, and Moshe Teumim, who was the rabbi of Horodenka, which was known for its Hasidic courts. See Yekusiel Yehudah Teitelbaum, Avnei Tzedek (Lvov: Moshe David, 1885), 230 and 275; and Moshe Teumim, Orjan Tlisuy (Lvov: Jacob Ehrenpreis, 1880), 211.

[Please note: Some non-Latin characters were omitted from this article]

Caption: Map 1. The density of Responsa references related to "America" during 1890-1910. The density level is marked with a graduated gray color.

Caption: Map 2. The density of Responsa references related to "America" during 1910-1930. The density level is marked with a graduated gray color.
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Date:Jan 1, 2018
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