Jeffrey S. Gurock’s Social History Of Orthodox Jews In America

I’ve met Dr. Gurock. He was wonderful. I loved talking to him. He seemed like a real mentch.

He’s an engaging speaker and writer, but I am disappointed by sections of his latest book "Orthodox Jews in America."

It purports to be a social history but it is a whitewashing of Jews.

During Vietnam, the Korean War, and WWII in particular, massive numbers of Orthodox Jews avoided the draft by enrolling in sham yeshivas (they littered Pico Blvd during the Vietnam war) which were specially set up for the primary task of enabling Jews to avoid national service.

Dr. Gurock, a professor of history at Yeshiva University, writes on page 153:

As far as the Sabbath was concerned, those committed to the halacha in such difficult environs were at least sure to avoid "voluntary desecration…for private, non-military purposes." Here too the fortunate ones were those who might find a gentile comrade in arms who was willing to swap "Sunday duty" to allow a Jewish friend "to be off on Saturday." But those who proposed trading places did so in such a way as not to gain any advantage from the arrangement. Nobody wanted to be "accused of using religion as a means of ‘gold-bricking’. Similarly, daily prayers were said both rapidly and partially to avoid holding up the unit from its daily regimens.

Well, if large numbers of Orthodox Jews were gaming the system to avoid national service, it is hard for me to believe that those who did serve in the U.S. Armed Forces entirely avoided using their religion to get out of labor.

I’m thinking in particular of Philip Roth’s wonderful short story "Defender of the Faith" in his book "Goodbye Columbus." It’s about a Jew using his Jewishness to try to gain unfair advantage with his Jewish sergeant. I doubt this story has no replicas in real life. It certainly does not ring true with many of the Jews I know, who are as likely as the next goy to get out of anything onerous with any excuse.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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