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The Agudah and 'Der Baal Tshuva': the Agudath Israel World Organization, politicized orthodoxy and the interwar American Jewish Community.

On May 25, 1921, the Danish steamer Frederik VIII docked in New York City carrying a small company of identifiably Jewish men with distinguished beards, some in satin caftans, some in bourgeois German suits, in addition to its other assorted travelers, tourists and immigrants in steerage. (1) They would have been unexceptional to the casual observer, no different from other traditionally dressed Jews encountered, often in large groups, in other tourist venues like the Bohemian spas of Karlsbad or Marienbad. It is likely, in fact, that this very quintet of rabbis and one layman would have been spotted at one of those places in the preceding months, in conferences or meetings, perhaps even planning the details of this very trip. Met on the quay in New York with moderate fanfare, their appearance was an important moment in the history of religion and politics in North America. They were delegates of the Agudath Israel World Organization (or Agudas Yisroel, as they would have referred to themselves), and their arrival was a first for Jewish politics in North America. Their appearance, which struck all the right notes of nostalgia, belied their revolutionary import. Contrary to the reigning attitude in the robust Jewish public sphere that viewed religious Jews as old fashioned, usually harmless, but ultimately obsolete and in decline, these Jews represented something new: a European, "Torahtrue," anti-Zionist religious political party seeking to mobilize financial and ideological support from American Jews. (2) The meeting was also a first for the most prominent public figure in the delegation: publicist, political theorist and organizer Nathan Birnbaum.

Although this was not his first visit to the United States, Birnbaum's membership in the Agudah delegation was his first appearance in a new guise to a community familiar with him and his work in his previous life. In the sixth decade of a complex intellectual journey, Birnbaum had come to religious belief and Orthodox practice only a few years before 1921. Before that, he had been among the founders of the Zionist movement (credited with coining the term "Zionism" to describe Palestine-oriented Jewish nationalism) and he was considered a key early theorist of cultural Zionism. Leaving the movement after Theodor Herzl's rise to dominance, Birnbaum had gradually shifted to advocating the adoption of the Yiddish language and national autonomy in the Austrian Empire, and, after a religious awakening at the beginning of the First World War, embraced East-European-style Orthodoxy. When he had come to America thirteen years earlier, it was as a hero of secular Jewish nationalism and as an advocate of a robust modern Jewish nationalist culture. (3) Feted in his first encounter with America as the bold nationalist/essayist Mathias Acher, his well-known nationalist pseudonym, Birnbaum had shared a stage in Greenwich Village's Webster Hall with a group as diverse as Zionist activist and Reform Rabbi Judah Magnes, Jewish socialist Chaim Zhitlovsky, Yiddish playwright Jacob Gordin and union leader Joseph Barondess, all united in their admiration for his work. His visit culminated with an audience in the Oval Office with President Theodore Roosevelt. (4)

Now, clothed physically and metaphorically in Orthodox garb, Birnbaum had exchanged his call for a Jewish volk united by a common language, literary culture and the demand for national recognition for a new message--one even more radical and challenging to his American audience. Mathias Acher had become "Nusn Birnboym"--"Der Baal Tshuve," as he was called both by opponents and supporters, the penitent returnee to the fold of strict religious observance. Now he spoke of the need for a politicized Jewish identity based upon fidelity to Torah, observance of mitzvot and rejection of the temporal or, in his words, "materialist" trappings of Jewish nationalism (especially Zionism). As jarring as his company was to an American Jewish community whose ideas about religion (especially the European Orthodoxy represented by the Agudah) were fraught with complexity, Birnbaum became a lightning rod for criticism in the American Jewish press as much for his personal transformation as for the idea of politicized Orthodoxy. And as many important names in the evolving Jewish public sphere of Yiddish and English newspapers weighed in on the 1921 delegation and its star member, a new and revealing discourse emerged that questioned some of the most basic ideas about the intersection of religion and politics in American Jewish identity. In exhibiting his changed self to the American Jewish community, Birnbaum touched a nerve far more sensitive than he or the rest of the Agudah delegation could have realized.

Although it was not immediately obvious to any of the actors, the source of this sensitivity lay in a recent, divergent evolution of American and European Jewish societies. The Jews of Eastern and Central Europe, having fought through nearly a century of religious denominational conflict, had turned an important corner by the beginning of the twentieth century. Based on the institutionalization (and widespread success in many areas) of religious reform, the erosion of the last vestiges of the traditional Jewish communities and, finally, the advent of a competing "deep" conception of Jewish identity in the form of Zionist nationalism in the last decade of the nineteenth century, European Jewry had broadly settled into a set of stable, if uneasy and often conflicting group identities. (5) In Central Europe, especially in the many Jewish communities of the German Empire, denominational conflict had waxed and waned since before the 1820s. The result of this was that most German communities and individuals had come to identify with modern Jewish denominational categories, such as Reform or Orthodoxy. In the Russian Empire and the eastern regions of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, even though these categories had not made nearly as much headway, the Central European Kulturkampf had its impact on communal and individual identity. Where social and economic modernization occurred, Western religious reform offered a seldom-realized model; where it lagged, it served as a central rallying point around which traditionalist opposition crystallized.

But in America, though all these factors were in play, the waves of migrants who hailed from communities shaped by both of these models created a unique dynamic. On the one hand were older, more established immigrant communities, originating for the most part from German-speaking communities in Central Europe, that had shaped the foundational institutions of American Jewish religious practice--such as the denominational model--in their image since the 1840s. At the same time, the deluge of immigrants from Tsarist Russia that began in the early 1880s demographically overwhelmed the older, Central European immigrant communities. Although eventually economic and social mobility, accompanied by rapid acculturation, would create a uniquely American amalgam of the two, in 1921 this process was still at an early stage. Regardless of their personal piety or belief, new immigrants from the Russian Empire came from a world in many ways accustomed to religious belief and practice as a category of daily life--to use the Weberian distinction, a traditional mode--especially those who settled in the dense immigrant communities of the greater New York metropolitan area. Thus, when the Agudath Israel delegation arrived in New York in the summer of 1921, American Jews were abruptly faced with a new form of Jewish politics predicated on religion playing an unfamiliar role. Unaffiliated with any larger umbrella political organization or ideology, such as Zionism, the Agudah was unlike other forms of Orthodox organization that had taken root and grown in the immediate prewar period. It was a stand-alone party, independent of any of the larger players in Jewish politics, dedicated first and foremost to the furtherance of the interests and culture of "Torah-true" Jews. Most important, it was aggressive in its insistence that it alone represented not just the only legitimate form of Jewish political organization, but also the only legitimate expression of Jewish identity writ large. But as the European Agudah came to America for the first time, it encountered in American Jews a unique challenge to its attitudes from nearly all camps, and in most instances it was met with resistance to, if not outright rejection of, the model it offered.

The Agudah Comes to America: The Delegation and its Aims

Before the full dissonance of this encounter became apparent, there would have been little reason for Agudah planners to doubt the benefits of coming to America. That they would even attempt to organize in New York reflected an important process of normalization for their North American cousins and a statement about the impact of the war on European Jewry. In the four decades that followed the arrival in Castle Garden of the first wave of Russian Jewish immigrants after the eruption of anti-Jewish violence and instability in 1881, the American Jewish community had emerged as a force for European Jews to reckon with regarding issues of Jewish culture and politics because of its rising numbers and affluence. (6) This rise was accelerated by the increasing insecurity European Jews faced, dramatically compounded by the destruction visited upon the Eastern/Central European Jewish heartland during the First World War and the border conflicts that followed. Americans Jews, ready or not, were swiftly becoming an indispensible source of political and economic support for Jewish communities and causes worldwide, a significant shift in the relative power of the European and American Jewish worlds.

Against this backdrop, and supported by organizers in both the home offices of the Agudath Israel World Organization in Zurich and contacts in the United States, the official delegation arrived. Its core included (aside from Birnbaum) rabbis Meir Dan Plotzki, Yosef Lew, Asher Lemel Spitzer, and Meir Hildesheimer. (7) It appears that at various points along the way others appeared with the delegation; a report in the Sentinel, a Chicago Jewish newspaper, also included the names of four other members--Rabbi Israel Rappaport, Wolf Pappenheim, Nissan Jablonski and a Mr. Kirschenbraun, although they are not mentioned in other sources and are not pictured in the only known image of the delegation. (8) An additional delegation from Lithuania, including "the rabbi and genius of Slobodka" (which may have referred to the renowned head of the Slobodka Yeshiva of Lithuania, Moshe Morde chai Epstein, or perhaps Nosn Tsvi Finkel, the "Alter of Slobodka"), and Ya'akov Klotzkin was to have joined them, but he could not leave Lithuania due to "passport difficulties." (9) Although all were figures of some eminence, from the perspective of the Agudah hierarchy they were a middling group; none of them was part of the elite leadership of the movement, the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, The Council of Torah Sages. (10) Advanced talking points, sent as telegrams to newspapers and individuals viewed as friendly to Orthodoxy, such as the Morning Journal and the Yiddishe Tageblatt, briefly described the aims of the delegation, but focused intently on the personality of Birnbaum, the "most prominent member of the delegation." (11)

Of the delegates present for the entire period of the mission, only Birnbaum was a layperson; the other members were community rabbis primarily from Central Europe. Asher Lemel Spitzer was the rabbi of the Slovak (then Czechoslovak) community Spisske Podhradie (Kirschdorf) since 1908, head of the yeshiva of the town and the founder and "Orthodox Chamber and Presidium" of the local branch of the Agudah. (12) Meir Dan Plotzki, rabbi of the Polish city of Ostrow-Mazowiecka, was a Gerer Hasid, a group that was a pillar of rank-and-file Agudah support. He published a modest number of books, including Hemdat Yisrael, a collection of exegetics on rabbinic literature, and Kli Hemdah, a book of Torah commentary. In Ostrow, Plotzki was well regarded as a communal leader, drawing together the town's "Hasidim and maskilim to a source of blessing and spiritual beneficence, for every word that came from his mouth was full of wisdom and knowledge." (13) Politically, Plotzki was, according to the community's memorial book published after the Holocaust, "one of the leaders of Haredi [sic] Jews in Poland and head of the Agudat Harabanim be-Polin" as well as "among the important founders and organizers" of the Agudath Israel. (14) A few years after participating in the New York delegation, Plotzki left Ostrow to become head of the Warsaw Gerer Mesivta, or Talmudic academy. (15) Coming from a very different community, Meir Hildesheimer (1864-1934), son of the prominent German Neo-Orthodox rabbi and educator Azriel Hildesheimer, was similarly engaged in communal leadership and politics. Born into the center of German Austritt Neo-Orthodoxy as the son of one its most prominent leaders, Hildesheimer succeeded his father in the leadership of the two Berlin Neo-Orthodox flagship institutions he had founded, the Rabbinerseminar in Berlin, an institution at the forefront of integrating advanced Torah studies with a modern, European academic education, and the Adass Jisroel synagogue. (16) Yosef (Joseph) Lew, perhaps the most obscure member of the group, would become rabbi of the Mile End and Bow Synagogue in London's East End a few years later. The composition of the Agudah delegation underscored a further goal of the movement: demonstrating the diversity of Orthodox thought, highlighted by the inclusion of Birnbaum and Hildesheimer, unified in a political movement that subordinated ideological differences to fidelity to Torah leadership.

In one quayside interview, Nathan Birnbaum described the Agudah's mission as a public relations effort to raise awareness of its goals among American Jews. "The Agudath Israel ... has a work program for Jews in both the Land of Israel [Eretz Yisrael] and in exile [galut]. In the Land of Israel, the Agudah wishes to undertake colonization work ... and plays a central role in Jewish education, the foundation of faith." (17) Outside of Israel, Birnbaum said, "The Agudath Israel works on both economic and spiritual issues. The organization of the Shomrei Emunei Yisrael [sic] in Poland, part of the Agudah, has undertaken important economic initiatives ... including small loans and jobs creation" for the poor in traditional communities. In America, the Agudah's goals included "work towards regulating Jewish immigration, which has become the most burning issue in Jewish life." (18) Finally, Birnbaum underscored a fund for the sake of supporting Agudah's efforts in Mandate Palestine. "The Agudah has created a fund, 'Keren Eretz Yisrael.'" "The Keren Hayesod [United Israel Appeal]," the article's author inserts, "does not support the Agudah, Dr. Birnbaum made clear, because [it] wants cultural institutions without a religious character." (19) "So does that mean that the main purpose of the delegation is to raise funds in America?" the interviewer asked pointedly. "'That is not the point,' Dr. Birnbaum answered. 'The point was the organization of American Jewish Orthodoxy and its union with worldwide Orthodox Jewry.'" (20)

As the interview in Di Tsayt and other publicity shows, the delegation had several aims. Pragmatically, it was intended to spread awareness of the goals and activities of the Agudah, highlighting its message of unity among religious Jews worldwide (under its auspices, to be clear) and its need to confront the threat of Zionism. The Agudah, explained one informational pamphlet, aimed to "address every question faced in Jewish daily life in exile in the spirit of Torah and Mitzvoth." (21) At the same time, it "works to create a religious center and home for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel, through the founding of Orthodox colonies, Torah institutes, etc." (22) But as important as these aims was the need to raise funds from the American Jewish community, and this was the primary goal. Birnbaum himself knew this well; contrary to his protestations, he was particularly attentive to the financial aspects of the mission. It had been made clear to him that his continued employment as a paid official with the Agudah Israel World Organization was dependent on opening streams of funding from the United States. (23)

Placing the delegation in the context of the short history of the Agudah movement before 1921 underscores its ambitious goals in coming to America. To its organizers, there was at least some hope of repeating a remarkable organizational success over its swift rise in Central and Eastern Europe. When first founded in the (then) German city of Kattowitz in 1912, the Agudah was a small cadre of German Neo-Orthodox, disaffected religious Zionists and politically minded Russian rabbis and lay leaders who sensed a need to formulate some answer on behalf of Torah-observant Jewry to the threats posed by creeping modernism, and especially the ascendance of secular Zionism. (24) Within a few years of its founding, it had evolved into a full-fledged mass movement, thanks to effective organization during the First World War among the devastated traditional enclaves in Central and Eastern Europe. (25) According to the Agudah's informational literature, it claimed remarkably wide support from rabbinic leaders across the Hasidic and yeshiva world and, with them, a significant population of the Central and Eastern European traditionalist enclaves. (26) Powerful and growing but, like many organizations of its sort, always struggling for financial support, the Agudah turned to America as an untapped reserve of support and money. It seemed to be low-hanging fruit.

The delegation's tour, which lasted some three months--from late June to mid-September of 1921--was a dedicated effort to realize these goals. As its members made their way from landfall in New York to venues across the Northeast and mid-Atlantic cities with significant immigrant Jewish populations including Boston, Philadelphia, Atlantic City, Baltimore and even Chicago, the group was followed by scores of announcements and articles in the Yiddish and English Jewish press in each city. The delegation participated in large rallies, including a mass meeting at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art (featuring "the world-renowned cantor Yossele Rosenblatt, accompanied by his choir,"). (27) Individuals in the group spoke in synagogues, including a "Lecture and Concert" that was headlined by Birnbaum's talk "From an Apicoros [sic] to a Disciple of True Judaism," and a performance by cantor Pinchas Yasinowsky at the Downtown Jewish Center on Stanton Street in Manhattan. Birnbaum gave a similar speech at Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Boston. (28) Birnbaum, Spitzer and Hildesheimer spoke together at the First Hungarian Congregation (more familiar today to Orthodox residents of New York's Upper West Side as Congregation Ohab Zedek, or "OZ"), a meeting announced with an earnest request: "It is hoped that none will fail to come and thus pay due respect to the visitors, who by coming have shown American Jewry the greatest compliment." (29) Perhaps the most important of their appearances from a fundraising standpoint (if the least public) was as guests in the private salons of more well-heeled sympathizers, such as a private audience given by Birnbaum where he gave a talk entitled "Judaism and Assimilation" in the Morningside Heights apartment of Dr. Z. Kapner. (30) Guests were asked to contribute five dollars to attend.

America Meets the Agudah: Press Coverage of the 1921 Delegation

In spite of considerable planning, exhaustive travel, extensive public appearances and a great deal of press attention, success in its self-appointed task proved elusive for the delegation. (31) They simultaneously presumed too much and underestimated their audience; with each passing day and in each new venue where they appeared, the group was met with bewilderment by even those sympathetic to their goals, and bemusement and often derision by those less so. "The agenda that brings Dr. Birnbaum and his friends from the Agudah here is not something with which we can sympathize," objected a typical editorial in the Yiddish press. "It is clear that their purpose in coming here is not to spread unity, but discord." (32) An editorial in the Sentinel, a Jewish weekly in Chicago, was even more acid in its assessment of Birnbaum as the delegation's public face: "We Jews, we don't like converts ... and it is hard for us to believe in a man who has been converted not to one but to five or six different causes ... American Jews have too strong a sense of humor to take the leadership of Dr. N. Birnbaum ... or [his] organization seriously, although it is backed up by a few hundred ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Poland and Germany." (33) This tone of disapproval, by far the dominant one in the press, reflected the Agudah's wider failure. Aside from laying basic groundwork for organizational cooperation between the offices of the Agudah in Zurich and its New York affiliates, the delegation saw nothing like the organization's success on the Jewish streets of Central and Eastern Europe. This extended to the very heart of the place that offered the most obvious potential for support: the immigrant communities of the five boroughs of New York, including the heart of immigrant life on the Lower East Side and the growing communities of upper Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn. Even with a reasonably robust Yiddish press that might have been sympathetic to the Agudah--such as the conservative Morgn Zhurnal and Yiddishe Tageblatt, each of which ran several sympathetic articles about the delegation--most coverage came from secular papers such as Forverts and Der Tog.

The overwhelming focus of media coverage, positive and negative, was on Nathan Birnbaum, and attention paid to him far outstripped that of the other delegates. It is possible that this was intended by the delegation; Agudah officials may have imagined that Birnbaum's previous experience organizing in America and his familiarity to some American Jewish circles would aid their project. This was not a bad strategy in theory; in several instances, the press made reference to Birnbaum's past visit to America, giving the impression that he was a familiar figure to many in the American immigrant community. But overall, this approach met with limited success--familiarity with Birnbaum's past often had the unintended consequence of highlighting what was to many the bewildering incongruity with his Orthodox identity. But at least some of the coverage attempted to chart a narrative of his personal history that placed his Agudah involvement in a positive light. "Dr. Nathan Birnbaum is the founder of the Jewish national movement [and] the intellectual leader of Yiddish nationalism," ran one such article in Morgn Zhurnal. "His political and philosophical books are a great treasure of Jewish culture. But Dr. Birnbaum did not find satisfaction in simple Zionism, and after several years he came to the conclusion that religious Judaism is the basis of the Jewish people, and only with the spirit of Torah could Jews achieve true redemption." (34) More than his earlier liaison with American Jewish political groups, it was this theme --the story of Birnbaum's "teshuva,"--that was a favored talking point of the delegation. What little coverage from religious quarters in the press was carried primarily in the Morgn Zhurnal and the Yiddishe Tageblatt, two Yiddish papers with more conservative, traditionalist editorial sympathies. Here, the coverage included brief releases written by Agudah sympathizers (or the supporting staff of the delegation itself), and included in-depth profiles of Birnbaum that focused especially on his transformation from secular nationalist to Orthodox ideologue. "The sensation of the committee is Dr. Nathan Birnbaum," ran one typical news brief in the Morgn Zhurnal, "who has served all manner of avodah zarah [idolatry] and has arrived at his newfound Orthodox piety." (35) So prevalent was this theme in press coverage of all stripes that it was probably not an accident, but a strategy to use Birnbaum's story as an inspiration to American Jews in order to drum up enthusiasm for the Agudah. It was an attempt to reach an American community that they regarded, simplistically, as drifting away from religiosity. But this was the most damaging misreading by the delegation of the community it encountered. The delegation and its planners assumed that American Jews were in need of a religious revival, and that the Agudah was the ideal--indeed, the only--religiously acceptable vehicle to facilitate it. It was at the very least a patronizing and uninformed reduction of a nuanced and diverse community. As responses to the delegation and to Birnbaum in particular would point out time and time again, attitudes toward religion among American Jews were complex and dynamic, and far from the caricature of crude materialism and lapsed religiosity assumed by the public relations approach of the Agudah.

An article written by Tuvia Horowitz, a close friend and tireless supporter of Birnbaum who was active in a number of different Agudah initiatives, underscored the proselytizing tone set by the delegation. (36) Horowitz details Birnbaum's intellectual background, noting his humble origins as the son of a "simple merchant," who, against the trauma of the Russian pogroms of the 1880s, had turned to Zionism. (37) A major force in Jewish politics, "a frequent guest in the centers of East European Jewry," Birnbaum had begun to "doubt modernism, and it became clearer and clearer for him that materialism was bankrupt. Then, little by little, he became preoccupied with spiritualistic thoughts." (38) Tying his increasing religiosity to events, Horowitz details the tragedy that the war visited on the Birnbaum home, where all three sons in the household were inducted into the Austrian army, two of them seriously wounded in action. The experience led to the transformation (which Horowitz had observed directly) of Birnbaum into a Torah-true Jew, as well as "his creation of a proper Jewish home, undertaking all the requirements of the Shulhan Arukh in all its details." (39) And the reward of his new faith was the triumph not just of Birnbaum's arrival in the fold, but also of his entire family over their obstacles. "Shloyme, a doctor of philosophy who had even earlier become frum [religious] like the father and the pride of Orthodox youth in Germany, and his other son who had lost his foot in the war ... is now one of the great Jewish artists in Europe." (40) Horowitz's biography of the delegation's most famous persona, saturated with references to the triumph of the supernatural in Birnbaum's transformation, offered a model for American Jews, a personality with which they could identify in their own religious struggles. That Birnbaum's journey ended inevitably with the Agudah was the obvious, if unstated conclusion.

But the limitations posed by emphasizing Birnbaum's story of religious awakening, a strategy which reflected a simplistic and condescending attitude towards American Jewish attitudes about religion, emerged early. These responses were not exclusively from camps overtly hostile to the Agudah's message. In its blindness to the dynamics of the American traditionalist and Orthodox communities when it came to questions of Zionism and political organization, the Agudah managed early on to offend an obvious source of support: native American Orthodox political groups already on the scene. One illustration of this was a minor imbroglio precipitated by Birnbaum himself, which resulted from his insensitivity toward the American Mizrachi movement, a proudly Orthodox faction of the Zionist movement. This conflict, an unforced error by the Agudah by any estimation, was based on the same lack of familiarity with American Jewish dynamics that had plagued the delegation from the beginning. The American Mizrachi movement, established in the United States in 1914, was one of the more successful among the smattering of Zionist organizations present in the United States. More importantly, along with the Agudath HaRabbanim, it was one expression --if not the most significant one--of emerging Orthodox political umbrella organizations in the country. (41) In order to weather the turmoil of the First World War, Mizrachi had established its world headquarters in New York, and, according to Yosef Salmon, author of The Mizrachi Movement in America, "boasted thousands of members in more than one hundred societies scattered throughout the United States and Canada." (42)

In Europe, there were important reasons why the Agudah was dismissive of and even hostile toward Mizrachi. As much as the Agudah was founded as a "Torah-true" response to the totalizing claims secular Zionism had made on Jewish identity, so much more was this raison d'etre true when it came to the amalgam of Zionism and Orthodoxy Mizrachi represented. In addition, antagonism between the two groups had a family dimension, due to the fact that several members of the Agudah's founding conference were actually defectors from Mizrachi, alienated from the larger Zionist movement by the cultural program initiated in the Tenth Zionist Congress in 1911. (43) But more important than any local ideological conflict was the fact that the Agudah, as a party that claimed to represent the unified opinion of Orthodox religious leadership, could not easily tolerate competition from any other Orthodox group. Its totalizing claims were replete with instruments of legitimation, such as the Council of Torah Sages and the idea of "da'at Torah," (literally, "knowledge of Torah") a model of clerical infallibility that furnished the Agudah (to its mind) with a rhetorically unassailable monopoly on religious politics. (44) And as the European marketplace of Jewish political options began in earnest with the end of the First World War and the incorporation of the Polish Republic, the Agudah's position as an outspoken opponent of any accommodation with Zionism and Mizrachi only increased.

But the delegation discovered quickly that America was not Poland. Although in the newly reconstituted Polish republic an intense and insulated Jewish political marketplace was emerging as Jews found themselves increasingly alienated and excluded from non-Jewish political parties, in America the situation was almost the opposite. For many American Jews, regardless of their place on the political spectrum, engagement with non-Jewish political parties and issues was not just a viable option, it was often preferred. Those groups that counted on a continued or expanded notion of Jewish separation and isolation, including Zionists of all stripes, had to compete not just with other Jewish political options but with larger organizations ranging from international socialism on the left to mainstream American political parties in the center and right. For this reason, ideological flexibility and a limited political ecumenicalism that allowed space for multiple ideologies under a larger tent (like Zionism) was necessary in ways difficult to comprehend from a Central European perspective. As Yosef Salmon notes, Mizrachi had taken a significant role in both Zionist and Orthodox organizational leadership, enticing even those who in Europe may have been (or were) opposed to it: "Even the self-same rabbis who had been opposed [to Mizrachi in Europe] took up a different position upon emigration. They apparently realized that ultra-Orthodoxy had no future in America and were thus able to 'anticipate only one hope: to return to the land of the fathers.'" (45) At the same time, the years immediately preceding the delegation's arrival had included many watershed events in the evolution of Jewish politics, such as the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which raised the profile and reputation of American Zionists just as the victory of Bolshevism in the new Soviet Union raised those of the Communists. Each of these likely made it even more difficult for the Agudah, offering an entirely new and not easily understood political platform, to claim ground in the United States.

More than anything, the press response to the Agudah showed ambivalence and often bafflement about the delegation and its mission. This was in part the result of ambiguity projected by the delegation itself. But even more important was the presence in American of a complicated matrix of religious, political and cultural identities for which the Agudah was ill prepared. On the one hand, the Agudah was vague about its specific aims in America--probably by design--in spite of attempts to explain itself to American Jews. As an international organization whose leadership strove to remain flexible in order to reach out across geographical and political lines to as large a constituency as possible, a calibrated ambiguity was advantageous, even necessary. In some contexts, especially in Western and Central Europe, the Agudah presented itself as a group, like the World Zionist Organization, that lobbied for Jewish (or rather, Orthodox) interests wherever and with whomever necessary. In some cases, including that of a 1920 delegation to England (in which Nathan Birnbaum also participated), the Agudah represented itself as an "official" delegation of a stateless people, and received an audience with the British Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies as self-appointed ambassadors on behalf of Torah-true Jewry. (46) In Poland, by contrast, where the Shlumei Emunei Yisroel (Union of Faithful Jewry, the Polish Agudah) emerged out of the contentious and rich field of Jewish political groups, it was geared toward dominating the Jewish vote in local, regional and national elections, even placing candidates in the newly reconstituted Sejm (Parliament) of the Second Polish Republic. In America, none of these paradigms applied seamlessly, nor did it seem that the members of the Agudah delegation knew how best to present themselves. If the delegation had presented itself as a Jewish religious political party in the Polish model, it would have been incomprehensible to an American audience, neither could they play the role of an ambassadorial delegation as they had in London. Although it is possible that there was some interaction with individual American politicians, neither the coherent sense of mission of the London delegation nor the political necessity of Poland were appropriate in America.

In the absence of an unambiguous communication of purpose from the Agudah, the American Jewish press drew its own conclusions about the delegation's political valence. The Orthodox or religiously sympathetic papers for the most part simply parroted (or directly quoted) the apolitical platform the delegation publicized. The press emphasized the delegation's philanthropic efforts on behalf of displaced Jews in Central and Eastern Europe, its building of religious educational institutions (primarily, yeshivot) in Europe and Mandate Palestine, and its protection of the interests of Jews there whom they regarded as besieged by the secularist designs of the Zionists. Other publications, almost uniformly critical of the delegation, were prepared to read the worst into its designs. While few identified the delegation with the overtly political Agudah active in fielding candidates for elected office in Poland, many did share a perception widely broadcast on the European stage that the party represented a "black" menace (a reference to their black and white attire, a symbol of modesty preferred by many in the Agudah community) of reaction. This attitude, shared by many in the American Jewish press, cast the group's primary aim as rolling back progress and enlightenment in favor of a reactionary religious ideology that would be foisted upon all Jews regardless of their religious attitudes--that is, an unraveling of the freedom of conscience American Jewish emigres theoretically secured by leaving Europe in the first place. Some critics extrapolated from what was known about the Agudah's meddling in the politics of Zionism and Mandate Palestine, labeling them dangerous obstructionists to the Zionist program. "It is clear that their purpose in coming here is not to spread unity but discord," Der Tog asserted, the editors linking their disgust at the Agudah to what they regarded as its diplomatic obstructionism, especially vis-a-vis Zionism. "It is a fact that they do not support the Keren Hayesod. [Birnbaum] and his colleagues are in active opposition to the WZO Zionist World Organization and similar movements of the present day." (47) Other American respondents did not hang their objections or their support on such specific political issues, but addressed the delegation's mission in more ephemeral cultural terms. Orthodox supporters, whether well-informed of the Agudah's programs or not, accepted the Agudah's self-representation at face value, and viewed it primarily as a well-meaning Orthodox social welfare organization whose overall goal was to preserve and improve the quality of life and institutions for communities overseas. They saw it as a kind of Orthodox version of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, even to the point of arranging for private fundraising for Agudah initiatives (such as the parlor meeting with Birnbaum mentioned above). Conversely, most critics responded to the group less as a political or social welfare organization than as a vague but potentially powerful threat to developing American Jewish cultural and religious sensibilities. Even if they did not fear that Agudists would be running for political office in America any time soon, they certainly were concerned that the Agudah would challenge, and even derail the process of modernization and integration that had already become akin to a sacred value among American Jews.

The wide-ranging attitudes toward the Agudah's mission, whether the result of its own ambiguous public relations program or a lack of familiarity on the part of the American audience, had a direct impact on the delegation's accomplishments. But, above all, it was the Agudah's failure to comprehend the complexity of the American scene that was the main cause for its lackluster reception. This was emphatically on display in an interview with Birnbaum that appeared in the May 25 edition of the conservative daily Yiddishe Tageblatt, one of the few papers favorably disposed (or at least not overtly hostile) to the delegation. In response to a question about the relationship between the Agudah and Mizrahi, Birnbaum replied, "The Mizrahim are truly fine Jews, but the fact is that they are led by the Zionist movement, they have become but a small faction in that organization, an organization quite opposed [to Orthodoxy], and thus they cannot be considered a truly Orthodox organization." (48) Asked whether or not the Agudah shared the Mizrahi ideal of Jews dwelling in the Land of Israel governed by Torah, Birnbaum replied that even if they shared the idea of Torah's primacy, "[Mizrahi's] program is unachievable, because the Zionist organization dictates Mizrahi's orientation." (49) That these comments were not taken well by members of the American Orthodox community was quickly evident, when a clarification letter appeared a short time later in the Yiddishe Tageblatt's pages from Birnbaum himself. "I did not say that the Mizrahim allow themselves to be led by the Zionist organization," Birnbaum protested. (50) He continued, "In general I did not say that they have no right to call themselves a real Orthodox body [but] I did say that the Zionist organization would eventually overwhelm the Mizrahi movement." (51) Birnbaum offered no explanation for how the interview (which was reproduced in question-and-answer format with direct quotations in the newspaper) could so misrepresent his words. But whoever was in the right in this minor flap in the pages of the Orthodox-friendly Yiddishe Tageblatt, Birnbaum felt the issue was important enough to emphatically revise the printed version of his statements. It was damage control by the Agudah delegation; clearly, Birnbaum's skepticism about Mizrahi's religious credentials had not been received well.

But the lion's share of discussion about the Agudah and Birnbaum occurred in the non-Orthodox press. Some articles were little more than anti-Orthodox caricatures, such as the essay "The Messiah has come to Bialystok," from one Z. H. Rubenshteyn that appeared in Der Tog. "Perhaps we made a mistake regarding Dr. Birnbaum ... Could he be the messiah, come to redeem the Jews of Williamsburg and President Street? ... There's just one reason I don't believe he is, and that's because when the Messiah comes, he won't be propagandizing and agitating for some [political] organization." (52) Zionist Nachman Syrkin, similarly, judged Birnbaum and the Agudah to be "a tempest in the Jewish teacup." (53) But the delegation garnered significant serious attention, including that of major figures on the lively New York Yiddish literary and journalistic scene. And even if their observations shared a basic discomfort with the idea of militantly political Orthodoxy, they showed considerable nuance, even eloquence, in their meditations on the basic place of religion in the identity of the American Jewish community. These articles, for the most part editorials or feuilletons, illustrate the impact of Birnbaum's presence as a symbol of a new, sharp and unfamiliar form of religiosity on the part of the American Jewish intelligentsia. They differed in their aims and audiences, appearing in a cross section of the Yiddish daily press--including most prominently in the Forverts and Der Tog, two heavyweights in the Lower East Side Yiddish public sphere. Writers including Hillel Rogoff, Abraham Koralnik and Shmuel Niger attempted to make sense of the various strains in Birnbaum's career. They tried to comprehend the evolution of his thought as a politician and, more importantly, as a cultural force of some sort. But all shared the same impulse to understand the Agudah delegation, and especially Birnbaum's place at its front, as an important symbol of the state of religion in American Jewish life.

On one end of the continuum was a column by Hillel Rogoff of the Forverts, who recorded his thoughts after hearing Birnbaum speak at a literary evening in honor of Y. L. Peretz. (54) Held in the Cafe Europa on the Lower East Side, one of the many venues at which Birnbaum appeared, this program was the only one that placed him in the company of those who still inhabited a world he had left behind a decade before. And the tension felt on both sides--on the one hand, by the Yiddish literati gathered to honor a man they regarded as a symbol of modern Jewish culture and, on the other, an apostate, an apikoros (skeptic) from this very worldview--electrified the evening. (55) Birnbaum seems to have been aware of this, but he made no attempt to downplay his religiosity. One senses that he may even have relished the discomfort this stimulated in the other participants. At any rate, his demonstrations of piety did not escape the notice of those around him. "At the venue, there were about fifty Jewish literati," Rogoff reported, "not one with a beard or hat. In a corner sat Dr. Birnbaum, with a long beard and side curls. Everyone ate; he didn't. When he took a drink of water, he made a bracha [blessing]." (56) But regardless of awkwardness, Birnbaum refused to mute or apologize for his appearance; indeed, as an invited speaker that evening, he made it the centerpiece of his remarks. In his "highly poetic and religious speech" a Forverts editorial noted, Birnbaum "observed that if the deceased Y.L. Peretz had still been alive for these last ten years, he'd have been wearing a yarmulke as well." (57)

It was this tension that stimulated Rogoff's musings on Birnbaum's evening amongst the Yiddishists. The Birnbaum encountered on that night had a very different agenda from that of the other participants. As Rogoff observed, Birnbaum was simply not engaged in the same activity of lauding a lion of modernist Yiddish culture as were the other Yiddishists, a crucial point that the other participants had a limited capacity to understand. Quite the contrary: Birnbaum's goal was to undermine the very sense of security and accomplishment that the Yiddish literati felt they had finally achieved and celebrated in toasting Peretz. "Dr. Birnbaum, the former radical, is now a Jewish missionary. He seeks to save Jewish souls, to convince heretics that they should repent." (58) To Rogoff, failure to grasp this fact was to misunderstand everything Birnbaum had said in his "noteworthy" talk. With bemusement, Rogoff observed that Birnbaum wished no less than to "convert a group of literati. They must put on yarmulkes and grow their beards!" (59) But more seriously Rogoff recognized a genuine challenge to the Yiddishists in Birnbaum's speech, beginning with his very appearance as a religious man in their company, and one Birnbaum evidently intended. Birnbaum had known many of these men for years. He knew their sensibilities and could likely anticipate the reaction to his transformation. He understood instinctively the response inspired among his former colleagues by his "regression" from secular intellectual of some heft to an overtly religious one. It was no less than an inversion of their basic assumptions about progress and human development. Birnbaum was under no obligation to appear at the venue; it was certainly not regarded as an audience that the Agudah would find worth engaging. But despite this Birnbaum seized the opportunity. That he spoke eloquently, playing off a stereotype likely rife among the Yiddishists that a man with a "beard and payes" ([side curls]) must be a boor, and one who intentionally left their enlightened ranks doubly so, only increased the talk's impact. "He did speak like a cultured man," Rogoff emphasized, "like a modern, educated man." And Birnbaum's words made explicit the aesthetic challenge to which his demeanor and dress alluded. "He sought to define true artistry in his remarks, only in its religious form ... 'The truly great artist'" Rogoff quoted from Birnbaum's remarks, "'is a deep believer. He creates from godliness, and the artist who lacks the fire of faith in his heart cannot be godly, and thus cannot create transcendent art.'" (60) In Rogoff's assessment, this religious romanticism was an idea new to Jewish literary culture. "[This argument] is shared with certain literary schools in England, France and Germany that seek their inspiration in the literature of the Middle Ages. But for Jewish writers, it is a surprise. Among them there has never been such a movement and they had never dreamt of such a stream in their literature." (61) Although others at the assembly may have dismissed Birnbaum's words, failing to look beyond his outward (and possibly grating) display of piety, to Rogoff this was a mistake. Jewish literature was not immune to the same critique offered by the irrational, spiritual or romantic in other world literatures that had spawned their own versions of Birnbaum. Nor should it avoid or shun these streams; instead, it should receive them as part of its healthy maturation. And Birnbaum, Rogoff suggested, was just the person to embody this challenge. A "famous Jew," a "gifted writer in the German language," Rogoff wrote, Birnbaum couched his call for cultural repentance "strongly and in a highly cultured manner. He brought demonstrations from world literature and art. He explained the logical progression of his thinking, embellished with fine phrases." (62) Although Rogoff was not above registering his amusement at Birnbaum's demonstrative piety--such as making a blessing over his glass of water and pointedly refusing to eat the (presumably) nonkosher food--he did not allow it to blind him to Birnbaum's challenge to Jewish art.

A second essay, "Frumkayt un Makht" (Religion and Power) by Shmuel Niger, registered a different response. Also a reaction to one of Birnbaum's public appearances, Niger's essay is a record of his thoughts after attending the Agudah mass meeting at Cooper Union. In his conversational style, he conveyed a sense of alienation from the new, harder aspect of Orthodoxy that the Agudah represented, in clear continuity with his Yiddishist cultural orientation. To Niger, religion had its functions, despite the assumption he shared with many of his fellow Yiddishists that it was a relic doomed to extinction--but it was not what was on display that evening nor what the Agudah offered as a movement. To him, the arrival of the delegation of European-style (read: Old World) rabbis could have been a chance for American Jews to be exposed to a fading aspect of "Jewish folk life;" thus, he pointedly attended not as a participant ("I am suspicious," he wrote, of all that smacks of "the mode of the romantic"), but simply as an observer. (63) "I wanted to see what was left of Jewish tradition in this country, in what is (for Jews at least), a country without tradition"--an interestingly bold assertion, considering (as he well knew) that a significant portion of Jews in his immediate geographical and linguistic community were by any measure traditional. (64) Like Rogoff, Niger was fascinated by the impact on the audience of a bizarre set of juxtapositions. On the one hand was the image of a panel of rabbis, familiar symbols of the Old World, dissonantly playing a part associated in the American Jewish mind with the modern politics of socialists and union organizers, on the stage of a mass rally at Cooper Union. Adding to the complex image was the figure of Birnbaum himself, a former radical organizer now dressed and speaking like a rabbi. But to Niger, this strange yet familiar tableau was more than anything disappointing. He began his essay with a tone of upbeat expectation, describing the motley audience with shades of ethnography. It was overall composed of "Jews, the likes of which one doesn't often come across in America in such a grand hall: real Jews, with beards and payes in long kapotes [(suit jackets)]," a significant collection of "an attractive group" of Jewish youth, and a "mass of Americanized Jews ... almost every different Jewish type." (65) And they were present not "just to hear a hazzan [(cantor)] and a choir, but the living word." (66)

But what they heard, Niger reported, was no more than a "cold, official mass meeting, an appeal for donations" that missed the mood of its audience entirely. (67) "The simple Jew," Niger continued, "didn't come to hear platitudes ... or stories about the hardships of East European Jews, or [exhortations to] support institutions over there, especially not the yeshivas and their heads, schools and their teachers. The average Jew has heard that a hundred times." (68) Rather, Niger asserted, "he has come to this gathering to be inspired, to cling for a little while to the great ones of Israel whom he loves and in whom he believes." (69) Particularly disappointing was the "cold rabbi-speech style" of Nathan Birnbaum. Here was a man, once renowned for his charismatic enthusiasm in pursuit of political and philosophical truth, with the potential of reviving enthusiasm for one form of Jewish authenticity Niger believed had vanished in America--even if in a religious guise. But instead of inspiration, Birnbaum offered only the same canned clericalism that Niger reckoned to be a major force driving the average Jew away from religion in the first place. "What did [Birnbaum] say that [the average Jew] didn't already know? That the Jews were a chosen people? That no other nation has great personalities like Moses, David, the prophets and rabbis?" Birnbaum's incomprehensible failure to understand that this was the last thing American Jews needed to hear to inspire them was especially disappointing given Birnbaum's own story. "Would that he had spoken with the passion and fire of a convert! ... If he had come to our simple Jews with his own story of penance ... they would have been with him," Niger wrote. But, instead, Birnbaum opted--or felt pressured--to play a role he for which he was unsuited. "He just came as a pedant." (70) His presentation was little more, in Niger's view, than a rehearsed performance. "He just came as a living display, in simple Yiddish, a testament against heresy [apikorsus]. " But "religious Jews don't need [such] instruction," from Birnbaum, "and because of that, they don't need his Torah." (71) Although Niger's critique lacks sensitivity to Birnbaum's personal situation as a newcomer to the Orthodox world, which may well have caused him to restrain himself out of anxiety lest he make a misstatement that would displease his Agudah associates, his assessment of the spoiled opportunity of the mass meeting seems not to have been off the mark.

By far the most devastating attack on the idea of politicized Orthodoxy represented by Birnbaum's new persona and the Agudah delegation was penned by Abraham Koralnik in Der Tog. Koralnik was a dedicated humanist, philosopher and liberal essayist, son of late-nineteenth-century Jewish Ukraine who had been educated in several European universities (he received his doctorate in philosophy at the University of Vienna). In his essay "Der Baal Tshuve" he offered an intimate meditation that placed the content of Birnbaum's message in the context of Birnbaum's intellectual and literary career. (72) Birnbaum, the newest "musar-zoger" ("moralist preacher"), represented a tragic yet all-too-present tendency among Jewish intellectuals: to idealize and create out of whole cloth a Jewish chimera. "We Jews, we are never on time," Koralnik began, "we always arrive too early or too late." (73) Now that the outside world had grown tired of rationalism and progress, turning instead to a romantic search for authenticity, a "root" in obscurantist religion, so, too, had some Jews tardily grasped the "foggy mirror of Jewish renaissance." Birnbaum himself would often amplify this idea of renaissance in his later Orthodox writings. (74) But to Koralnik, this was not a compliment; rather, it underscored a shared defect of both secular nationalism and religious Orthodoxy, rooted in the same strain of destructive and disingenuous romanticism. Although protesting that he cared more deeply than most about the future of the Jewish people, in reality, Koralnik said, Birnbaum lacked the capacity to understand them as more than caricatures; seeing them as "only a literary term. Like every literat, he has created an image, an imaginary form, and that is his East European Jewry. East on the one side, West on the other; on one side, all are praiseworthy [kula zakhay], in the west, all are guilty [kula hayav]." (75)

Koralnik believed reductionism to have been the essence of Birnbaum's thought throughout his career, and it extended beyond Birnbaum to include the entire vision represented by the Agudah. The very idea of the organization was predicated on its exclusive claim to an authentic Jewish identity--but it was one invented by the Agudah itself. "[This] imaginary image of 'the people' who are all strong, kosher and Jewish--it is nothing but a literary construct. Who's ever seen this 'people'? And why is a Jew who stands in his long jacket and sells herring and onions in some little shtetl in Poland more of a Jew than, say, Dr. Goodman, Paul Nathan, Louis Marshall or Professor Einstein?" (76) The vision of the Agudah, its ideal for Jewish life and its imagined history of the Jewish people was, to Koralnik, above all, desperately narrow. "Is Judaism really so paltry that it can only exist in some old-fashioned ghetto form? Is the religion really so fragile that it can only be practiced in Yiddish, at one time in history the old language of assimilation? And even more: is one really only able to turn to Judaism when opening an old siddur, reading a few verses, and only if one spends a couple of hours a day speaking loshn koydesh or targum?" (77) Rehearsing a humanist view that would become a defining characteristic of many American Jewish intellectuals in ensuing decades, often arising from the very Yiddish-speaking intellectuals that formed Koralnik's ideal audience, this turn to religion was an affront--especially when attached to a modern apology for what was, in his view, the most closed form of religious ideology imaginable.

Birnbaum took the brunt of Koralnik's ire. It was not merely Birnbaum's late embrace of Orthodoxy that sparked Koralnik's disdain, but the thread of what he regarded as a basic lack of authenticity that ran through Birnbaum's entire career, typified by his use of Yiddish. "Insofar as he learned the language of the people, he worked it out disconnected from history, from the living language people speak every day ... he created a unique kind of Yiddish ... a Yiddish without juice, without art ... without authenticity." Although such accusations of inauthenticity were a frequent (and unfair) characterization of Birnbaum's decision to use Yiddish late in life as the preferred medium of his political expression, Koralnik's criticism was sharper than most. Seemingly oblivious to the irony of attacking Birnbaum for his lack of authenticity--the same quixotic romanticism he derides just sentences earlier, Koralnik dismissively opens the pamphlet "God's People" ("Gottes Volk"), Birnbaum's most important description of the form and process of his turn to religion. "It is enough to skim over his brochure 'God's People' to see how this Yiddishist, this evangelist of Yiddish culture, a Yiddish fanatic, abuses the poor Yiddish language. The worst hater of Yiddish couldn't do worse." (78) But, Koralnik reflected, it was not the style of Birnbaum's Yiddish alone but the substance of his religiosity that was most repellent: "it doesn't matter to me how far he has gone in his conversion. I don't believe in his influence and am not concerned at all that the whole Jewish people will grow beards and side curls." (79) But Koralnik soon turned to a darker assessment. Politicized Orthodoxy such as that represented by the Agudah was not itself a threat--it was too fundamentally absurd to be taken seriously. The true danger of the party was the failure of its leaders to recognize either the powerful forces with which they were flirting or the uses to which they were being put by Birnbaum. In an inversion of Niger's assessment, to Koralnik Birnbaum was not an eager-to-please new convert who subverts his true genius to please his stodgy overseers, rather it was he who was pulling the strings, ensnaring unsuspecting and naive rabbis in his latest utopian scheme. In Koralnik's estimation, the real essence of the delegation was not, as it was for Niger, a more or less benign misfire that might have at least temporarily inspired downtrodden and rootless American Jews. Rather, it was a damaging step backward in the evolution of the Jewish people. He believed that Birnbaum, were he sincerely interested in "deepening the meaning of Yiddishkeit," could have been "a Spinoza or a Hermann Cohen." That he should turn instead to obscurantism and irrationality --to the denial of history, world culture and the contingency of religion--and seek applause for his efforts, was alarming. (80) Koralnik remained confident that the "religion of reason" model of German Jewish philosopher Hermann Cohen would continue to dominate the shaping of a tolerant, modern and progressive Jewish future in America, despite the efforts of Birnbaum and the Agudah. "The Jewish soul within Birnbaum is a defective reflection. It is the whole new-Jewish nationalism, which began with the idealization of the people and language and ends with the 'atah bahartanu'--from the 'God-ening' of the Jews to the Judaizing of God." (81) But despite this confidence, the tone of the essay contained unmistakable overtones of insecurity and discomfort--and not just with the Agudah and politicized Orthodoxy. Rather, it is with the entire lineage that he saw (not incorrectly) represented in the sight of Nusn Birnboym, the former "Acher," adorned in Orthodox garb. To him, and to many other respondents to the delegation, the very idea of a totalized, exclusionary idea of Jewish identity, be it sung to the tune of "Hatikva" or clothed in a kapote and straymel, was perceived as a real threat to the promise of inclusion and pluralism that America at its best could offer--and that Jews should receive with deep gratitude.

These themes--puzzlement at the aim or meaning of the Agudah, anger at the presumption of the movement and its misplaced message tinged with insecurity about its place (if any) in America--characterized much of the reporting that followed the delegation. As the trip ended, the delegation's members moved on to other things with little to show for their efforts in America. Most returned to Europe in September. For Birnbaum, the American sojourn was the denouement of his short career as a professional Agudah activist. Not long after his return to Europe, he embarked on a new phase in his religious-political quest, still within the Orthodox fold and friendly to the Agudah, but no longer working with it or under its auspices. Perhaps, as some observers thought, Birnbaum's identity was far too complex to fit happily within the Agudah. The delegation's limited success in achieving much of anything had perhaps an even more immediate effect. He had been told by Agudah organizer extraordinaire Jacob Rosenheim that his future as a paid functionary of the Agudah depended on the support coming out of the 1921 trip. The trip's meager returns meant that Birnbaum's days as a paid functionary were numbered. (82) Within a year he had moved on. And once he was unconstrained by the pragmatic and ideological attitudes of the Agudah, he staked out a position as an independent voice on matters of religion, Zionism and Jewish identity.

For the delegation as a whole, the journey to America was disappointing on many levels. A report in the pro-Agudah Austrian paper Jiidische Presse, repeated a vague quotation from New York's Morning Journal that claimed "the idea of the Agudah has spread rapidly across the entire land. The delegation from the Agudath Israel has been flooded with invitations from far and wide to visit. Already in many cities Agudah groups have been established." (83) But when it came to specific examples, the article could point to only one: a branch of the Agudath Israel Youth (Tseirey Agudas Yisroel) established at Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, the predecessor of Yeshiva University. (84) The Agudah brought a message that was simply too dissonant, too alien for the American Jewish community. To the Orthodox, the people that represented the best chance the Agudah had for gaining a foothold in America, the group's presence was far from an unqualified boon. The most significant umbrella group, the Agudat HaRabbanim, made almost no appearance in the public record surrounding the Agudah's visit, which could suggest its willingness to step back and engage in behind-the-scenes logistic aid, aloofness to the Agudah and its aims, or a combination of both. For other groups, such as the Mizrahi, the delegation could have been at best an unwelcome source of competition for scarce human and financial resources. As it was, missteps by the Agudah, highlighted by Birnbaum's impolitic dismissal of the religious credentials of Mizrahi, harmed what chance there was of accommodation with at least one of the two major Orthodox umbrella organizations in America. Among traditionalist elements of the immigrant community, the public rallies and speeches may have made a favorable impression even in spite of Shmuel Niger's assessment. But, absent support from the more established and wealthy segments of the community, there was a limited amount the Agudah could do to mobilize the grass roots. Among the more public voice of American Jews, typified by the Lower East Side Yiddish intelligentsia and the largely secular Jewish press, response to the Agudah was mostly negative. Even if some columnists could find rhetorical space to consider Birnbaum or the Agudah on their own terms, none were prepared to grant the movement the legitimacy and authority it claimed. Indeed, few took it seriously--and for those who did, there was a strong consensus that the movement would never succeed in America.

In the end, the discomfort and ambivalence displayed by the American Jewish press in its encounter with the Agudah and the ba'al teshuva reflected the group's impact. The country was not entirely prepared for the model of assertive, unapologetic Orthodoxy the Agudah represented culturally and politically--at least not on a scale that would satisfy the hopes or even the practical expectations of the delegates. Nor was the country ready for the challenge implicit in the biography of its leading delegate, Nathan Birnbaum. At the same time, though, the Agudah's imprint in certain circles of American Orthodox Jews lasted after its pioneering foray in 1921. It was buttressed by a solid foundation laid in Europe and strengthened by organizational staying power--to say nothing of regular conferences, congresses and meetings, some of which occurred in the United States. Numerous fundraisers from Europe, often associated with the Agudah, followed the 1921 delegation to tap the resources of American Jewry in support of European Orthodox institutions. Rabbi Shmuel Aharon Halevi Pardes' Hebrew-language, American Orthodox monthly Hapardes, out of Chicago, noted the Agudah's work. Several articles and essays were devoted to the 1939 Agudah conference held in Far Rockaway, N.Y., reflected a steady spread of the Agudah in America. (85) But the success the Agudah delegation sought arrived only decades later, when a major wave of European Jewish immigrants, including many thousands of survivors from the devastated former heartland of Agudah support in East-Central Europe, came to the U.S. They were a major factor in the Agudah becoming a significant presence in American Jewish life. As a Jewish political organization, the Agudah has outlived many of the varieties of Jewish politics and identity represented by its harshest critics in Der Tog and other Lower East Side media. The postwar Agudah has succeeded in the American Jewish community in many of the ways envisioned by its first delegation in 1921. (86) It has had a deep impact on American Orthodox education and promoted public initiatives to encourage Torah learning, exemplified by the Daf Yomi cycle. The cycle's last siyum ha-Shas (completion of learning through the Talmud) attracted some 90,000 enthusiasts to the MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. in August 2012. In its success, the Agudah embodies the challenge that it and its spokesman, Nathan Birnbaum, posed in 1921 to the very basic questions of Jewish identity and politics in America, as its ever-more prosperous supporters enter their second century on these shores.

(1.) The author is grateful to David Birnbaum, director and archivist of the Nathan and Solomon Birnbaum Family Archives in Toronto, for providing essential materials for this paper. Except where otherwise noted, Mr. Birnbaum provided all newspaper clippings and other primary materials from his collection. The author is also grateful to Jeffery Gurock, Steven Zipperstein, Joshua Karlip, Gershon Bacon, Maya Balakirsky-Katz, Andrew Noble Koss, Samuel Heilman and Tony Michels for responding to early drafts of this paper and providing valuable comments. Portions of this paper were also presented at a Yeshiva University symposium, "Religious Zionism in America," in honor of Rabbi Bernard Rosensweig and Rabbi Sol Roth on April 22, 2012. The author is grateful for the questions raised by the audience at that event, as well as for the contributions made by the other speakers, Rabbi Yosef Blau, Rabbi Shalom Carmy, and Rabbi Michael Rosensweig, who all provided comments that helped me to refine this paper.

(2.) Notes on terminology: One of the central issues of debate in understanding the emergence and development of Orthodoxy and the complexities of the Agudah's encounter with American Jewry is tied up in the very use of the word "Orthodox." Borrowing an analysis of the term explored by, among others, Michael K. Silber in his essay "The Emergence of Ultra-Orthodoxy: The Invention of a Tradition" in The Uses of Tradition: Jewish Continuity in the Modern Era, Jack Wertheimer, ed. (New York: JTS, 1992), note 26, I use it advisedly and with an eye toward distinction made by sociologist Max Weber between traditional and modernizing societies. Silber describes Weber's notion of traditional as "a premodern society whose acceptance of tradition as a source of authority is unquestioned." I would expand this definition slightly to describe it as a society in which religious belief and activity are tied up in older, deeply engrained structures of society and culture. The term "Orthodox," then, describes a society that has undergone a conscious differentiation from other forms of group identity that emerge from the evolution of modern, integrated societies. The term "Orthodox," a product of the denominational conflict in German Jewish communities in the mid-nineteenth century, while it had become a more familiar term (as evidenced by Birnbaum's liberal usage of it to describe his intellectual position), was nonetheless not native to the much larger traditional Jewish communities of the former Russian Empire and Eastern Austro-Hungarian Empire (or their countrymen and women who had immigrated to the United States). It is not clear how many Jews in these areas would have used the term to describe themselves, nor how they would have understood the term if they did. In this paper, I have tried to differentiate between the conscious use of this word (primarily by Birnbaum and members of the American Jewish press) and what religious Jews in America and beyond would have been comfortable with as self-definition. I use terms such as "Torah-true" and "Orthodox" (both of which share some of the same difficulties) to describe the Agudah's sense of its own identity, and in other cases, simply "traditional." But it is nearly impossible to apply terms like these that describe complex negotiations of identity and institutions with absolute precision. For a discussion of the development of native Orthodox institutions and the milieu of Orthodoxy in America, including political organization in the United States before the interwar period, see Jeffrey S. Gurock, Orthodox Jews in America (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009), 109-148; "American Orthodox Organizations in Support of Zionism, 1880-1930" in American Jewish Orthodoxy in Historical Perspective (Hoboken: KTAV Press, (1996) 117-133; and Jonathan D. Sarna, American Judaism: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 189-193. Both scholars have detailed many aspects of the history of organizations, including the American Mizrahi (the most robust expression of politicized Orthodoxy in America) and the Agudath HaRabbanim.

Regarding the name "Agudath Israel," this is the official English rendering of the name of the group to this day. To those close to and inside the movement, it is universally referred to as the "Agudas Yisroel" or simply "the Agudah." In most early official correspondence, which was largely conducted in German among the upper administrative leadership in Zurich, the organization is referred to as the "Agudas Jisroel" using the German transliteration. For the purposes of this paper, I use the English spelling in all cases except where the context requires a different transliteration.

(3.) There was extensive press coverage of Birnbaum's first journey to America in early 1908. Some examples include: "Di reseptshon far Dr. Birnboym," Morgn Zhurnal (1 January 1908); "Enthusiastic Reception to Dr. Nathan Birnbaum," The American Hebrew (10 January 1908); "Dr. Birnboym kumt haynt," Jewish Daily News (1 January 1908); "Dr. Nusn Birnboym: der hayntigen onkumen fun 'matisiyahu acher' in amerike"; "Dr. Birnbaum Here," The American Hebrew (2 January 1908). For a complete discussion of the 1908 journey, see Jess Olson, Nathan Birnbaum: Architect of Zionism, Yiddishism and Orthodoxy (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2003), 164-184.

(4.) To date, only one clipping is known that mentions Birnbaum's meeting with Theodore Roosevelt, "Dr. Nathan Birnbaum bei Roosevelt," Jiidische Zeitung 14 (3 April, 1908): 8. Given the details of the report, it is very likely that a short ceremonial audience did take place, arranged by New York Congressman Henry Goldfogle. This article is available at Compact Memory (

(5.) The existing literature on communal conflict and the evolution of Jewish denominationalism, often understood as one of the most important developments of modern Jewish history, is accordingly vast. Central texts on the subject include: Michael A. Meyer, The Origins of the Modern Jew and Response to Modernity: A History of the Reform Movement in Judaism; Ismar Schorsch, From Text to Context: The Turn to History in Modern Judaism; Jacob Katz, A House Divided" Orthodoxy and Schism in Nineteenth Century Central European Jewry, trans. Ziporah Brody; Robert Liberles, Religious Conflict in Social Context: The Resurgence of Orthodox Judaism in Frankfurt am Main; and Michael K. Silber, "The Emergence of Ultra-Orthodoxy: The invention of a Tradition.".

(6.) For extensive analysis of the evolution and development of Orthodox institutions and Jewish attitudes toward religion generally in the early twentieth century, see Jeffrey Gurock, Orthodox Jews in America, chapters 3-5; Arthur Goren, The Politics and Public Culture of American Jews (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), chapters 1-6; Jonathan D. Sarna, American Judaism: A History, chapters 4-5. Also, for a broad overview of American Jewish cultural and political life during the period, see Hasia Diner, The Jews of the United States, 1654-2000 (Berkley: University of California Press, 2004), chapters 4-5.

(7.) To date, two monographs have detailed the intellectual background and early development of the Agudath Israel. Gershon Bacon's study, The Politics of Tradition: Agudat Yisrael in Poland, 1916-1939 (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1996) is a detailed study of the founding and interwar (primarily Polish) activities of the Agudah. Alan L. Mittleman's study, The Politics of Torah: The Jewish Political Tradition and the Founding of Agudat Israel (State University of New York Press, 1996) is an analysis of the intellectual background of the party's emergence from within the Hirsch/Breuer Neo-Orthodox community of Frankfurt am Main.

(8.) "The Week," Chicago Sentinel, June 24, 192.1, 9.

(9.) "Agudath Israel," informational pamphlet, 1921, p. 5, courtesy of the Nathan and Solomon Birnbaum Family Archive.

(10.) For a discussion of the structure and role of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah in Agudah politics, see Bacon, The Politics of Tradition.

(11.) Interview with Nathan Birnbaum, Di Tsayt, May 25, 1921.

(12.) "Spisske Podhradie," Pinkas Hakehillot Slovakia (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 2003), 412-4T4.

(13.) Sefer Hazikaron le-kehilat Ostrow-Mazowiecka (Tel Aviv: Irgun old ostrovmezobitsk be-Yisrael/Ostrov landsmanshaft in Amerike, 1960), 27-28. Available at http://

(14.) Ibid.

(15.) Ibid.

(16.) Alexander Carlebach, "Hitdesheimer, Meir," Encyclopedia Judaica (2nd Edition), 2007, 105.

(17.) Interview with Nathan Birnbaum, Di Tsayt, May 25, 1921.

(18.) Ibid. The actual name of the Agudah organization in Poland at the time was Shlumei Emunei Yisrael, not Shomrei Emunei Yisrael.

(19.) Ibid.

(20.) Ibid.

(21.) "Agudath Israel," informational pamphlet for the delegation of 1921, courtesy of the Nathan and Solomon Birnbaum Family Archive, p. 1.

(22.) Ibid.

(23.) The details of the American delegation are revealed in part through the correspondence between Jacob Rosenheim, a central organizer of the movement in Zurich, and Nathan Birnbaum. They reveal that, aside from the goals of raising consciousness of Agudah efforts within the American Jewish population and fulfilling the hope of finding support for its efforts, the delegation had a distinctly fiduciary purpose. Birnbaum himself had a material interest in the success of the endeavor, as Rosenheim had informed him shortly before the delegation's departure that the Agudah would no longer be able to support him (he had received some salary for his organizational and publicity work with the Agudah) unless a significant amount of funds could be raised in America. Records from Birnbaum's return indicate that he was not successful, and that may have been part of the reason for his withdrawal from the movement over the next two or three years. See Olson, Nathan Birnbaum and Jewish Modernity, 276-77.

(24.) Gershon Bacon, The Politics of Tradition, 38-40.

(25.) Its success in organization followed after the war as well, in part due to the efforts of Nathan Birnbaum. Before taking part in delegations to London and America, Birnbaum was tasked by the executive committee of the Agudah in Zurich with helping to organize cells of Orthodox political groups in Lithuania, especially in the Panevezys and Kaunas districts.

(26.) "Agudath Israel," informational pamphlet, 1921. The pamphlet makes some surprisingly broad claims on the support of rabbinic figures. It includes as early supporters R. Hayyim Soloveitchik of Brisk, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe (R. Sholem DovBer Schneerson), even though the claim is questionable in both cases. Among its contemporary (1921) leadership, the pamphlet lists R. Hayyim Ozer Grodzinski of Vilna, the Gerer Rebbe (Avraham Mordechai Alter, the "Imrei Emes"), R. Yitzchak Yerucham Diskin of Jerusalem, the Tcherikover Rebbe, R. Hayyim Snnnenfeld, R. Yoel Yehoshua of Kintsk, R. Moshe Mordechai Epstein from Slobodka, R. Kahaneman of Ponevezh, R. Mayer Dan Plotzki of Ostrova, the Pressberger Ray, the "geniuses [goanim] of Buczacz and Brod," the Ruzhiner Rebbe, the Sokolver Rebbe, Dr. ]Mayer] Hildesheimer, Dr. [Leo] Jung of London, Dr. [Isaac] Breuer from Frankfurt, Dr. Jacob Rosenheim, Dr. Birnbaum, and "the genius [ha-gaon] (Bernhold Lobel) Riter from Rotterdam."

(27.) Pamphlet, "Reseptshon masmiting fun agudas yisroel," [Reception/mass meeting of the Agudath Israel], June 20, 1921, courtesy of the Nathan and Solomon Birnbaum Family Archive.

(28.) Pamphlet, "Lecture--Concert: Lecture by the famous Jewish writer, philosopher and one of the leaders of European Jewry Nathan Birnbaum," September 8, 1921 (Nathan and Solomon Birnbaum Family Archive). The title of Birnbaum's lecture is an English translation of his autobiographical pamphlet, "Fun an apikoyres tsu a ba'al ma'amin," which itself was a translation of the German pamphlet "Gottes Volk," perhaps Birnbaum's most famous during his religious period.

(29.) Invitation, from "the President and Board of Trustees of the First Hungarian Congregation (Ohab Zedek) with the authorization of their Rabbinical leaders, Rev. Dr. Philip Klein and Rev. Dr. B. Drachman," June 30, 1921 (Nathan and Solomon Birnbaum Family Archive).

(30.) Invitation, "'Judaism and Assimilation': A lecture by Dr. Nathan Birnbaum of Vienna, Austria," July 19, 1921 (Nathan and Solomon Birnbaum Family Archive).

(31.) In general, coverage of the Agudah delegation and evaluations of its progress were negative, even if the trend was occasionally interrupted by a positive review--usually from a religious-leaning periodical--of individual speeches (for instance, "Dr. Birnboym's lektshur in Atlantic City makht a tiefen ayndruk," ["Dr. Birnbaum's lecture in Atlantic City makes a deep impression"]. Jewish World (Philadelphia), August 28, 1921; "Shehner abshids-bankvet far Dr. Hildesheimer" ["Beautiful farewell banquet for Dr. Hildesheimer"], Yiddishe Tageblatt, August 8, 1921). The one overwhelmingly positive review of the delegation appeared in the article "Die Aguda-Delegation in Amerika" in the Judische Presse (August 19, 1921) a German-language Orthodox organ affiliated with the Agudah. This report goes to great lengths to recite the accomplishments of the delegation, including the founding of an Agudath Israel Youth group at Yeshivat Isaac Elchanan Spektor (the seminary of the young Yeshiva University); meetings in several synagogue venues, including the Hungarian Synagogue, the Douglas Synagogue and the Warsaw Synagogue; travel to cities such as Chicago, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Baltimore; and the creation of an American Agudah action committee. Tellingly, the report underscores the financial goals of the delegation, detailing the funds raised for the support of Orthodox educational institutions in Europe.

(32.) Der Tog (May 26, 1921), unsigned editorial.

(33.) Untitled editorial, Chicago Sentinel, June 24, 1921.

(34.) News brief in advance of the Agudah delegation's arrival, Morgn Zhurnal, May 25, 1921.

(35.) Editorial, Morgn Zhurnal May 25, 1921.

(36.) The relationship between Birnbaum and Horowitz was a major influence in Birnbaum's turn to Orthodoxy; for a detailed account, see Jess Olson, "Nathan Birnbaum and Tuvia Horowitz: Friendship and the Origins of an Orthodox Ideologue," Jewish History 17:1 (2003): 1-29.

(37.) Tuvia Horowitz, "Nusn Birnboym," Yiddishe Tageblatt (29 May 1921). Interestingly, Horowitz omits one aspect of Birnbaum's background that may have been highly regarded in his new Orthodox home: his mother's fairly illustrious lineage. The descendant on her mother's side of an important Hungarian rahbinic family that included Eleazar Low (the Shemen Rokeah, 1758-1837) and R. Shabbetai ha-cohen, the Shakh (1621-62). Why he does so is unclear; interestingly, it was not a facet of Birnbaum's biography that made much appearance at all in material either about him or by him after his turn to Orthodoxy; it is also possible that the fact of his distinguished lineage may have detracted from the power of his story as a penitent.

(38.) Ibid.

(39.) Ibid.

(40.) Ibid. Horowitz refers to Nathan Birnbaum's oldest son and close collaborator over much of his career, Solomon Birnbaum. Solomon was then in the process of establishing his career both as an academic linguist and a deeply engaged participant in a number of Orthodox political projects and publications. The other son mentioned, Uriel Birnbaum, became a well-regarded graphic artist and bookmaker whose career extended well into the post-World War II period. Contrary to Horowitz's implication, only Solomon and Nathan Birnbaum and their spouses turned to and remained within the Orthodox world (and their children and grandchildren continue to do so). While both of Nathan Birnbaum's other sons, Uriel and Menachem (another respected graphic artist and poet who perished in the Holocaust), were deeply connected to a Jewish milieu and their identity figured strongly in their creative work, they did not follow their father and brother into the Orthodox world.

(41.) The relationship of American Jewry of all stripes to Zionism, in the interwar period still largely a European movement, was a complex one. But it was among Jews with a strong religious identification--such as those sympathetic to the Orthodox Zionist Mizrahi--who were most sympathetic to the movement. See Jeffrey Gurock, "American Orthodox organizations in support of Zionism, 188-1930" and "Resisters and Accommodators: Varieties of Orthodox Rabbis in America, 1886-1983" in The American Rabbinate: A Century of Continuity and Change (Hoboken: KTAV/American Jewish Archives, 1985), 10-98 (see especially p. 76, n. 21.); Yosef Salmon, "The Mizrachi Movement in America: A Belated but Sturdy Offshoot," American Jewish Archives XLVIII: 2 (Fall-Winter 1996).

Interestingly, although some Orthodox groups, such as the twenty-year-old Agudat HaRabbanim, would seem to have been obvious ideological and logistical allies of the Agudah delegation, there is little mention in the press coverage related to the affair showing coordination between the two groups. It is possible, even likely, that cooperation occurred behind the scenes and out of the sight of press coverage, which focused on the events and lectures themselves. The Agudah did manage to book events in a large number of venues, and it seems likely that coordination with the Agudat HaRabbanim would have occurred as a matter of course. Still, its absence in much of the reporting on the delegation is noteworthy, and will hopefully be explained in further research on relations between the two organizations.

(42.) Yosef Salmon, "The Mizrachi Movement in America," 169-70.

(43.) Bacon, The Politics of Tradition, 37-46.

(44.) The idea of "da'at Torah" is that recognized rabbinic leadership (in Orthodox parlance, the "gedolei ha-dor," the "great ones of the generation,") by virtue of their immersion in Torah study to the exclusion of almost all other preoccupations, possessed a unique insight into questions even beyond the religious realm, including secular politics. For the Agudah faithful, this gave the rabbinic leadership empanelled on the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah an unshakable platform of authority. For a discussion of the origins and evolution of the concept and importance of "'da'at Torah," see Jacob Katz, "Da'at Torah--The Unqualified Authority Claimed for Halachists," The Harvard Law School Program in Jewish Studies, The Gruss Lectures--Jewish Law and Modernity, October 26--November 30, 1994; Gershon Bacon, The Politics of Tradition. See also Lawrence Kaplan, "Daas Torah: A Modern Conception of Rabbinic Authority," in Rabbinic Authority and Personal Autonomy, ed. Moshe Z. Sokol (Northvale: Jason Aronson, 1992), 1-60. For an apologetic analysis of the concept from an Orthodox insider's perspective, see Ya'akov Feitman, "Daas Torah: Tapping the Source of Eternal Wisdom," Torah Lives, ed. Nisson Wolpin. (New York: Mesorah Publications, 1995). Feitman's article originally appeared in the Jewish Observer 25:4 (1992), 12-27.

(45.) Yosef Salmon, "The Mizrachi Movement in America," 166.

(46.) See Olson, Nathan Birnbaum and Jewish Modernity, 273-76.

(47.) Unsigned editorial, Der Tog, May 26, 1921.

(48.) Interview with Nathan Birnbaum, Tageblatt Mayzs, 1921.

(49.) Ibid.

(50.) Nathan Birnbaum, undated letter to the editor, Yiddishe Tageblatt, May 1921.

(51.) Ibid.

(52.) Ts. H. Rubenshteyn, "Moshiah iz gekumen in Bialystok," Der Tog, June 29, 1921.

(53.) Nachum Syrkin, Di Tsayt, May 28, 1921.

(54.) Hillel Rogoff (1883-1971), a major figure in the history of the Jewish press in New York, was the managing editor of the Forverts. Arriving in New York at the age of 13, Rogoff had taken the route from young yeshiva student to socialist organizer, running for the U.S. Congress as a socialist in 1926. His lengthy career as a journalist and editor with the Forverts was second only to that of the legendary Abe Cahan himself. In an interesting connection to the larger context of Orthodoxy in America and the Agudah, Rogoff was one of the founding students of the Yeshivat Rabbi Isaac Elkhanon Spektor, which would evolve into Yeshiva University. See "Rogoff, Hillel," in Reyzen, Leksikon fun der naye yiddishe literatur, and "Hillel Rogoff Marks 50th Birthday by Carrying on as Forward Executive," Jewish Telegraph Agency, December 17, 1933 (available at http://

(55.) Leon Khazanovitsh gave another reflection on similar themes in Di Tsayt, May 25, 1921. Khazanovitsh, who had been a participant as a member of Poalei Tsion in the 1908 Czernowitz Conference for the Yiddish Language and, along with Ester Frumkin of the Bund, had contributed to the conference's turmoil, places Birnbaum in context with the figure he knew as a secular nationalist.

(56.) Hillel Rogoff, "Writers, Books and Journals" (column), Forverts, June 29, 1921.

(57.) "Famous Yiddish Writer Greets Sh. Y. Imber," Forverts, 24 June 1921.

(58.) Hillel Rogoff, "Writers, Books and Journals."

(59.) Ibid.

(60.) Ibid.

(61.) Ibid.

(62.) Ibid.

(63.) Shmuel Niger, "Frumkayt un Makht," Der Tog, June 25, 1921.

(64.) Ibid.

(65.) Ibid.

(66.) Ibid.

(67.) Ibid.

(68.) Ibid.

(69.) Ibid.

(70.) Ibid.

(71.) Ibid.

(72.) Abraham (Avrom) Koralnik (1883-1937) was a prolific, if not widely remembered essayist in Russian Imperial and early Soviet and American Yiddish literary communities. Educated in a number of European universities (he completed his doctorate at the University of Vienna), Koralnik was somewhat rare among contributors to the Yiddish press in America. Moving back and forth between the print communities of Central Europe, Russia and the United States, Koralnik published frequently in German, Russian and Yiddish, including as a contributor to Der Tog for several years. Not only was his education and intellectual experience far wider than many of his fellow Yiddish writers, but his humanist, moderate liberal perspective also offered a unique voice in the Lower East Side Yiddish press. See "Koralnik, Avrom," in Reyzen, Leksikon fun der yudisher literatur un presse.

(73.) Koralnik, "Der Baal Tshuve," Der Tog, May 28, 1921.

(74.) For a discussion of the idea of Jewish renaissance in Birnbaum's earlier thought and writings, see Olson, Nathan Birnbaum and Jewish Modernity, 118-138.

(75.) Ibid.

(76.) Koralnik, "Der Baal Tshuve."

(77.) Ibid.

(78.) Ibid.

(79.) Ibid.

(80.) Ibid.

(81.) Ibid.

(82.) Letter, Jacob Rosenheim to Nathan Birnbaum, February 16, 1921 (the year indicated on the letter, 1920, is a typographical error) (Nathan and Solomon Birnbaum Family Archive).

(83.) "Die Aguda-Delegation in Amerika," Juddische Presse, August 19, 1921.

(84.) Ibid.

(85.) Hapardes 13:5 (August, 1939). See especially "B'hitasef rashei am yahad shivtei Yisrael," 2; Va'aida ha-rishona shel Agudat Yisrael be-Amerike," 3-6; "Na 'um ha-petihat shel ha-gaon r. Eliezar Zilber, nasi Agudat Yisrael be-Amerike," 7. I am grateful to the anonymous reviewer of this article for American Jewish History for drawing my attention to this publication and for observing the importance of European fundraisers raising the profile of the pre World War II Agudah in America. Several issues of Hapardes are available at:

(86.) See "Orthodox Jews Celebrate Cycle of Torah Study," New York Times August 1, 2012 (
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