Agudath Israel of America
Template:Jew 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 a Haredi Jewish communal organization in the United States loosely affiliated with the international World Agudath Israel.
Agudah in the United States has been very successful in retaining its major Hasidic factions, with members from the Ger Hasidim in America working together within the organization and its non-Hasidic Lithuanian rosh yeshivas as partners. Agudah represents many members of the yeshiva world, sometimes known by the old label of mitnagdim, as well as sectors of Hasidic Judaism; all are commonly known as Haredim or "ultra-Orthodox" Jews representing Torah Judaism in North America. Not all Hasidic Jewish groups are affiliated with Agudath Israel. For example, the Hasidic group Satmar dislikes Agudah's relatively moderate stance towards the State of Israel.
It has ideological connections with both the Agudat Israel party and with Degel HaTorah (Hebrew, "Flag of Torah"), two Israeli Orthodox Jewish political parties that have representation in the Knesset (Israel's parliament). 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.
The original Agudath Israel movement was established in Europe in 1912 by some of the most famous Orthodox rabbis of the time, including the Chafetz Chaim,Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzenski of Vilna, Rabbi Reuven Grozovsky, and Rabbi Meir Shapiro. It grew during the 1920s and 1930s 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 ("[supreme] council") and the movement began to grow rapidly with the rise of the yeshiva-based and Hasidic Orthodox communities.
Mike Tress lead the expansion of the movement during the early 1900s until his death during the mid-1960s as its chief lay leader. His cousin Rabbi Moshe Sherer then took control. He was succeeded by Rabbi Shmuel Bloom after his death in the 90s.
In 2007, it was among over 530 New York City arts and social service institutions to receive part of a $30 million grant from the Carnegie Corporation, which was made possible through a donation by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.Cite error: Closing
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<ref> tag Since 2002, the Carnegie Corporation has donated more than $115 million.
Agudah's policies and leadership are directed by its Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah : Council of Torah Sages, comprised primarily of Rosh yeshivas (the chief spiritual and scholarly authority in a yeshiva) and Hasidic rebbes (who head Hasidic dynasties and organizations). The Moetzes sets all major policies and guides the organization according to its precepts of Daat Torah ("Torah knowledge/direction")
The organization has a lay staff, many of whom are also ordained rabbis, but not of a caliber comparable to the rosh yeshivas and rebbes. After the passing of Rabbi Moshe Sherer, its last significant "lay" leader, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow who is also the Novominsker rebbe and 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 official head is now his son, also known as the Noviminsker Rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow who works closely with his fellow leaders on the Moetzet.
The staff includes Rabbi Shmuel Bloom as the Executive Vice President, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel as the Executive Vice President of Government and Public Affairs and Rabbi Shlomo Gertzulin as the Chief Financial Officer.
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. Rabbi Soloveitchik felt it important to nurture the modern Rabbinical Council of America (RCA). However, at times, a few of the more traditionalist rabbis at Yeshiva University aligned themselves with Agudah's positions.
With its head office in Manhattan and the bulk of its members living in the New York-New Jersey area, the Agudah ensures that it monitors and intercedes on behalf of causes important to it in the politics of New York City, its five boroughs, and in the state government of New York State.
With the growth of Orthodox Judaism throughout the country, AIA also has active branches in Chicago, Ohio, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Texas, Florida and California where they lobby the judicial and legislative branches of these state, and local governments on any issue it deems important morally or religiously or important to its constituency. Agudath Israel's National Director of Government Affairs is Rabbi Yehiel Mark Kalish who manages the state government effort under Zwiebel. It also has a representative at the United Nations and in Washington DC.
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. The Agudah is also responsible for the funding of many other national institutions and projects, including the Bais Yaakov girls' school system, the National Siyum Mishnayos, the national Daf Yomi Commission, and countless others. In addition, there are hundreds of local "Agudah" synagogues scattered in communities throughout the country, all of which are affiliated with AIA.
AIA advocates its position in several ways:
- Mails newsletters of AIA news, Coalition and Inside Track;
- E-Newsletter entitled Weekly Window
- Publishes a general-interest monthly magazine, The 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 (distinct from the Israeli English-language newspaper carrying the same name), 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.