Returning to Tradition The Contemporary Revival of Orthodox Judaism M. Herbert Danzger

Publication date:
26 Apr 1989
Yale University Press
384 pages: 235 x 156mm


In recent years, numbers of young American and Israeli Jews raised in nonreligious families have chosen to become practicing Orthodox Jews, eating only food that is kosher, abstaining from all work on the Sabbath, and observing laws of family purity that require periodic sexual abstinence for husband and wife and modesty in dress and behavior.
This comprehensive study of the revival of Orthodox Judaism was written by M. Herbert Danzger, a sociologist who is also a part of the world of Orthodox Judaism.  Danzger interviewed more than two hundred newly Orthodox Jews, their rabbis, teachers, and recruiters, and spent hundreds of hours in yeshivot (seminaries) and at outreach programs in both countries.  With these rich data, he presents colorful portraits of both men and women; Israelis and Americans; that reveal why they became Orthodox Jews, how Orthodoxy was brought to their attention, how they were socialized into their new commitment, and what sort of life they entered, with what rewards and what costs.  Danzger also focuses on how Orthodox Judaism is being reshaped by its unprecedented attempt to reach out to those who want to learn about it, and he examines its outreach efforts, its organizational structures and recruitment techniques, and its struggle to articulate beliefs and justify accepted practices.  His book is thus not only a description of the movement to return to Orthodoxy but also a reflection on contemporary Orthodoxy from the perspective of this movement.

"A fresh insight into religious change by focusing on methodological as well as rhetorical issues. . . . Throughout this well-written book are . . . golden nuggets ready for collection, sorting, and development. . . . An important stepping-stone for understanding revivalism, may intrigue Torah observant laymen and teachers wanting to fathom their own connection to traditional religion."?Mareleyn Schneider, Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Thought

"[A] fascinating study. . . . Danzger?s book is wide-ranging. . . . Most interesting and charming to me was the objective, scholarly evaluation of the events and trends that molded my own unique and typical life?how the baal teshuvah movement developed, how the basically insular Orthodox community responded to it and how it grew out of and dovetailed with other social and historical forces in Jewish and general society. . . . Danzger is especially incisive in describing how social forces combined with forces operating toward renewal in the Orthodox world."?David Margolis, Jewish Advocate

"Danzger provides important data on Orthodox belief and practice, and on several occasions shows a gift for original insights."?Arnold Ages, Heritage

"Returning to Tradition is a fascinating and well-written addition to our understanding of [Jewish] dynamics."?David Margolis, Jewish Week, Inc.

"I heartily recommend this book to layman and scholar alike. Dr. Danzger has performed a valuable service in providing us with this well-rounded, detailed and pioneering study of a movement, the reverberations of which will assuredly be felt for many years to come."?Rabbi Irwin H. Haut, Jewish Press

"A pioneering work on the history and sociology of the renaissance of Orthodox Judaism. . . . Well researched and insightful."?Rabbi Bertram Leff, Jewish Action

"If one were to select the most important of the books on baalei teshuvah, ?returnees to Judaism,? the choice would clearly be Danzger?s Returning to Tradition. This book goes far beyond the work of Janet Aviad and others. It offers the reader a clear, unified, and comprehensive approach to understanding the world of the baal teshuvah. It is based on many years of careful research into that community, both in Israel and in the United States. The author is intimately familiar with the ins and outs of the group he has chosen to study. He knows where they hang out, what their problems are, and the diversity of backgrounds from which they originate. . . . First rate."?William B. Helmreich, American Jewish History

"An important addition to the sociological literature on contemporary religious movements. It is a highly readable case study that vividly describes?and thereby allows the reader to enter?the world of Orthodox Judaism and the hertofore overlooked t?shwa movement."?Mark Chaves, Sociological Analysis

"Another triumph of Orthodox Jewry?s social scientific arrival, this time a wonderfully complete, fascinatingly nuanced sociological study of the baal teshuvah movement in the U.S. and Israel, including thoughtful speculation on how this growth may affect Orthodoxy and not just vice versa. First rate."?Sh?ma

"Should prove useful to those wanting an intelligent introduction to Orthodox Jewry in general and to its contemporary revival in particular, and to those able to put them into a broader comparative context."?J. Alan Winter, Contemporary Sociology

"A fascinating look into the complexities of the Orthodox world, a world that is not commonly revealed to the non-Orthodox Jewish or to the Christian communities in such a nonpolemic and readable manner."?Barbara Burstin, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science

"An interesting and thought-provoking study."?Alan Unterman, Jewish Book News and Reviews

"Danzger is too much the learned Jew and too much the ?insider? to be intimidated by charisma. But it is for these reasons that Returning to Tradition is so important a book. It describes how people and its literature impact each other; it details how religious Judaism can and does work in a real human world; and it displays the cross culture synthesis of Torah and worldliness that represented Jewish culture at its best throughout its history."?Alan J. Yuter, Jewish Post and Opinion

"A fascinating and well-written addition"?David Margolis, Los Angeles Jewish Journal

"Professor Danzger has provided us with one of the fullest examinations to date of the phenomenon of the Ba?alei T?shuva--the penitent Jews whose return to strict orthodox Judaism has been one of the most uplifting aspects of the post-Holocaust world Jewish experience."?The Times Higher Education Supplement

"Reflects . . . an insider?s delight in Orthodoxy?s unpredictable success in responding to the ambivalence that plagues modern humanity."?Choice

"One of the great merits of Danzger?s volume is the discussion of the theoretical basis for the bal teshuva yeshiva."?-Arnold Ages, The Jewish Post and News

"A wonderfully complete, fascinatingly nuanced sociological study of the baal teshuvah movement in the U.S. and Israel, including thoughtful speculation on how this growth may affect Orthodoxy and not just vice versa. First rate."?Sh?ma

"In a clear and lucid style, he examines the reasons for return, the schools established by Orthodox Judaism to deal with this return, and the values and conflicts thus engendered."?Library Journal

"The issues raised in this book are critical for our times."?Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Founding Rabbi, Lincoln Square Synagogue

"Danzger?s volume treats a subject that is both fascinating and complex. Especially noteworthy is his exploration of an inclusionary strain in Orthodox Jewish life that is often overlooked by sociologists and other contemporary observers."?Norman Lamm, Yeshiva University

"An outstanding book, original, well written, and incisive. It will become the point of departure for all other research in the area."?William B. Helmreich, author of The World of the Yeshiva