Jewish History

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 1–29 | Cite as

Nathan Birnbaum and Tuvia Horowitz: Friendship and the Origins of an Orthodox Ideologue

  • Jess Olson


Nathan Birnbaum, early Zionist, Yiddishist and later general secretary of the Orthodox Agudat Yisrael, is a perplexing figure to modern Jewish historiography. While the trajectory of his early career as a Zionist and his leadership in the first Conference for the Yiddish Language have been well charted, his later years have been largely overlooked. In the years leading up to and during the First World War, Birnbaum turned his back on the secular political groups which had defined his public persona, and became a ba'al teshuva, a penitent returnee to Orthodox Judaism. Essential to his turn to Orthodoxy, and to his very quick arrival and success in the Orthodox political world, was his relationship with a young rabbi from Eastern Hungary, Tuvia Horowitz. Horowitz, the nephew of the Viznitser Rebbe, sought out Birnbaum upon receiving rumors of his teshuva while a refugee in Vienna, and the relationship between the two men quickly grew to a warm collegiality. Detailed in the extensive correspondence which spanned the rest of Birnbaum's life, their friendship sheds light on Birnbaum's intellectual transformation, as well as the central role played by Horowitz in Birnbaum's emergence as an Orthodox leader.


Early Career General Secretary Political Group Political World Public Persona 
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jess Olson
    • 1
  1. 1.Stanford UniversityU.S.A

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