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Agudath Israel of America

From Academic Kids

Agudath Israel of America or Agudas Yisroel of America or Agudat Yisrael of America or simply the Agudah (agudah is Hebrew for "gathering" or "union" ), is an Orthodox Jewish communal organization affiliated with the international Agudath Israel movement.

It represents many members of the yeshiva world and sectors of Hasidic Judaism, commonly known as Haredim or "ultra-Orthodox" Jews. Not all Hasidic Jewish groups are affiliated with Agudath Israel. For example the anti-Zionist Hasidic group Satmar scorns Agudah's relatively moderate stance towards the State of Israel.

It has ideological connections with the Agudat Israel party and with Degel HaTorah (Hebrew, "Flag of Torah"), two Israeli Orthodox Jewish political parties. In Israel, Degel and Agudah are in a political coalition called United Torah Judaism, UTJ.

AIA is also a part of the World Agudath Israel organization, which convenes international conferences and religious conclaves.

Contents

History

The original Agudath Israel movement was established in Europe in 1912 by some of the most famous Orthodox rabbis of the time. It grew during the 1920s and 30s to be the political, communal, and cultural voice of those Orthodox Jews who were not part of Zionism's Orthodox Jewish Mizrachi party. See more information at World Agudath Israel.

Rabbi Eliezer Silver, an Eastern European-trained rabbi, established the first office of Agudath Israel in America during the 1930s, organizing its first conference in 1939. After the Holocaust, some prominent rabbis made their home in America who established a moetzes (council) and the movement began to grow rapidly with the rise of the yeshiva-based and Hasidic Orthodox communities.

Rabbi Moshe Sherer lead the expansion of the movement during the 1950s until his death during the mid-1990s. He was succeeded by Rabbi Shmuel Bloom who now serves as its chief director.

Structure

Its policies and leadership is directed by a moetzes (or Moetzet Gedolei Hatorah, in Hebrew): Council of Torah Sages, comprised primarily of roshei yeshiva (a rosh yeshiva is the chief spiritual and scholarly authority in a yeshiva) and Hasidic rebbes (who head Hasidic dynasties and organizations).

Missing image
Noviminsker_Rebbe.jpg
Rabbi Yaakov Perlow heads Agudath Israel of America

The organization has a huge lay staff, many of whom are also ordained rabbis, but not of a calibre comparable to the roshei yeshiva and rebbes. After the passing of Rabbi Moshe Sherer, its last significant "lay" leader, Rabbi Yakov Perlow, a member of the Moetzet was appointed as the Rosh Agudat Yisrael ("Head of Agudath Israel"). The past Noviminsker Rebbe, Rabbi Nochum Perlow was considered a key figure in the Agudah. The present head is his son, the Noviminsker Rebbe, Yakov Perlow.

There are AIA-affiliated synagogues across the United States and in Canada. Not every member of such a synagogue is necessarily a member of AIA; nor does he necessarily agree with AIA's stances on various issues.

Stances

The AIA takes sides on many political, religious, and social issues, primarily guided by its Moetzet Gedolei Hatorah. It uses these stances to advise its members, to lobby politicians, and to file amicus briefs. See below, under "Activities".

In 1956 for example, the moetzes issued a written ruling forbidding Orthodox rabbis to join with any Reform or Conservative rabbis in rabbinical communal professional organizations that then united the various branches of America's Jews, such as the "Synagogue Council of America". This position was not endorsed by the Modern Orthodox. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik of Yeshiva University had initially aligned himself with Agudah but later established his independent views on these matters and a host of other issues, such as attitudes towards college education and attitudes towards the secular-led Israeli governments. However, some of the more traditionalist rabbis at Yeshiva University aligned themselves with Agudah's positions.

Activities

Political activity

AIA actively lobbies the judicial and legislative branches of the federal, state, and local governments in the United States on any issue it deems important morally or religiously or important to its constituency. It also has a representative at the United Nations.

AIA also files amicus briefs in cases at all levels of the judiciary, often signing on as one of many organization signatories to a brief authored by Nat Lewin or COLPA.

Social services

Agudah maintains a network of summer youth camps attended by several thousand children. It has a number of social service branches that cater to the elderly, poor, or disabled. It has a job training program called COPE, a job placement division, and a housing program.

Communications

AIA advocates its position in several ways:

  • Mails newsletters of AIA news, Coalition and Inside Track;
  • Publishes a general-interest monthly magazine, Jewish Observer;
  • Promotes its views as a member (along with other Jewish organizations) of Am Echad ("One Nation");
  • Maintains full-time offices in Washington, the west coast, the midwest, and the south;
  • Activism by lobbying and submitting amicus briefs, as described above;
  • Organizes prominent lay-person missions to government agencies;
  • Appoints official spokesmen, such as Rabbi Avi Shafran, who respond to media articles and statements they find offensive; Rabbi Shafran also organizes AIA members to do the same;
  • Conveys its positions in the Jewish media, particularly through a privately-owned weekly Jewish newspaper in English called Yated Neeman, which conveys news and views from the Agudah point of view.

Agudath Israel does not have its own website, since its official policy is for its members not to use the Web for uses other than work-related. However, its message, as relayed in the pages of its magazine, the Jewish Observer, is intermittently republished to the Web by a third party, the Shema Yisrael Torah Network. AIA does allow the use of e-mail, and uses it to disseminate information to its members.

See also

External links

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