The Independent Orders of B’nai B’rith and True Sisters

Posted By on September 22, 2023

Founded in New York City in 1843 by immigrants from German or German-speaking territories in Central Europe, the Independent Order of Bnai Brith sought to integrate Jewish identity with the public and civil sphere in America. In The Independent Orders of Bnai Brith and True Sisters: Pioneers of a New Jewish Identity, 18431914, author Cornelia Wilhelm examines Bnai Brith, and the closely linked Independent Order of True Sisters, to find their larger German Jewish social and intellectual context and explore their ambitions of building a "civil Judaism" outside the synagogue in America.

Wilhelm details the founding, growth, and evolution of both organizations as fraternal orders and examines how they served as a civil platform for Jews to reinvent, stage, and voice themselves as American citizens. Wilhelm discusses many of the challenges the Bnai Brith faced, including the growth of competing organizations, the need for a democratic ethnic representation, the difficulties of keeping its core values and solidarity alive in a growing and increasingly incoherent mass organization, and the iconization of the Order as an exclusionary "German Jewish elite." Wilhelms study offers new insights into Bnai Briths important community work, including its contribution to organizing and financing a nationwide hospital and orphanage system, its life insurance, its relationships with new immigrants, and its efforts to reach out locally with branches on the Lower East Side.

Based on extensive archival research, Wilhelms study demonstrates the central place of Bnai Brith in the formation and propagation of a uniquely American Jewish identity. The Independent Orders of Bnai Brith and True Sisters will interest all scholars of Jewish history, Bnai Brith and True Sisters members, and readers interested in American history.

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The Independent Orders of B'nai B'rith and True Sisters

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