An Orthodox American revolutionary

By Rabbi Harvey Be..., November 12, 2010

Rabbi Sherer: the paramount Torah spokesman of our era
Yonoson Rosenblum
ArtScroll Mesorah, £21.25

This book is a biography of Rabbi Moshe (Morris) Sherer, the visionary leader of American (and latterly of World) Agudath Israel from the 1960s until his death. Its author, Yale-educated Rabbi Yonason Rosenblum, is perhaps the most eloquent English-language spokesman for Charedi Jewry.

In a thoroughly-researched and readable study, Rosenblum shows how under Sherer's guidance, "the Agudah" (the advocacy organisation of strictly-Orthodox Ashkenazic Jewry) became a powerful and coherent vehicle for promoting and attaining the political objectives of its constituents. Sherer was a handsome and charismatic man, an inspirational speaker and a lucid writer, who was comfortable in many worlds. Rosenblum shows how Sherer exploited his brilliant organisational skills, ability to speak with Jews and gentiles of every persuasion, and passionate convictions to put Agudath Israel "on the map of Jewish America". But above all, Rosenblum succeeds in conveying the image of a man who loved people deeply and had the poise to disagree with others, sometimes vehemently, yet stick to the issues at hand without straying into ad hominem rhetoric.

The book is also the account of an important historical phenomenon: the transformation of American Orthodoxy in a few decades from a weak, imperilled "minority within a minority" into a powerful, influential and scene-changing body. Rosenblum was the chief architect of that revolution, promoting Daas Torah (rabbinic authority as the deciding factor in all matters) .

Sherer emerges as a likable, somewhat avuncular figure. The book is overly long and, inevitably, uncritical and hagiographic in places. Yet it provides a unique window into a 20th-century American Jewish transformation and the man behind it.

Harvey Belovski is rabbi of Golders Green Synagogue

Last updated: 10:05am, November 16 2010