The Three Denominations of Judaism
There are three main denominations of Judaism—Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. Orthodox Judaism maintains the strictest observance of traditional Jewish law and ritual. (Hasidism is an even more traditional practice of Orthodox Judaism.) Conservative Judaism, while maintaining most of these traditions, concedes to some modernization of the observance of Jewish law. Conservative Judaism can be traced back to Germany in the 1840s. In 1985, a significant change in the policy of Conservative Judaism was the decision to ordain women rabbis. Reform Judaism, which dates back to the early 1800s, is the observance most adapted to modern society, and focuses less on the strict observance of traditional Jewish law. Reform Judaism was the first branch to include a girls’ Bat Mitzvah confirmation equivalent to the traditional boys’ Bar Mitzvah confirmation. A newer and more radical practice of Judaism is Reconstructionism.
The Rabbinical Council of America
The Rabbinical Council of America is a national organization of Orthodox rabbis, founded in 1923. It is a branch of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, founded in 1898. Together, these organizations are devoted to supporting Orthodox Jewish observance and education, as well as supporting the State of Israel. They are also the primary body that overseas the approval of manufactured foods as “kosher,” or consistent with Jewish dietary laws.
The Medieval Ghetto
Rabbi Isaac Kornfeld in this story at one point mentions the “medieval ghetto” in the “letter” that the narrator reads. In modern American usage “ghetto” generally refers to low-income areas of a city, often inhabited primarily by minority populations. However, the term “ghetto,” first dubbed in the early sixteenth century, referred to areas of many cities in which Jews were legally forced to live, segregated from the rest of the population. A high fence or gate usually enclosed ghettos, and Jews had to observe special rules and precautions when venturing outside of the walls of the ghetto. In Nazi Germany, the practice of the “ghetto” was brought into use as a means of temporarily containing Jews in one area of a city before sending them off to the death camps.
A yeshiva is an institution of Jewish learning and scholarship. In the United States, the first yeshiva was established in New York City in 1886. In 1928 it became Yeshiva College, and in 1945 Yeshiva University.
Philip Roth is a contemporary modern JewishAmerican writer, perhaps better known than Ozick. Roth’s stories, while very different in style, address many similar themes and concerns as do Ozick’s. His first book, Goodbye, Columbus and Five Short Stories (1959) addresses themes of Jewish identity and faith in the context of secular American culture, as well as themes of family and sexuality. His most famous, most popular, and most controversial work is Portnoy’s Complaint (1969), a novel in which Alexander Portnoy, a Jewish man in his thirties, addresses his psychotherapist concerning his preoccupations with his Jewish identity, overbearing mother, and neurotic sexuality.
Jennifer Smith – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 12, Cynthia Ozick, Published by Gale Group, 2001.