Ultra-Orthodox politicos follow their orders; the ultra-Orthodox media glorify them; the ultra-Orthodox Internet is full of their pictures. Members of the ultra-Orthodox community refer to them as “The Gdoilim” for short. Who are these individuals, the spiritual leaders of generations of ultra-Orthodox Jewry, who have become its human symbols? What have they accomplished and what is the secret of their power?
The Gdoilim: Leaders Who Shaped the Israeli Haredi Jewry brings together many of the leading scholars of Orthodox Jewry to present, for the first time, the “pantheon” of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, from the beginning of the nineteenth century until recent times. The great rabbis and Hassidic leaders of Eastern Europe, Eretz Israel, the United States, and the State of Israel—from the Hatam Sofer to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef—undergo a multifaceted scholarly analysis that encompasses their biographies, religious writings, and public activity. Figures who until now have been discussed primarily in hagiographies and tales of the righteous are presented for the first time in one compilation through systematic historical analyses that set each in his time, place, and community, but also seek to understand the unique personal traits that led each of them to the peak of spiritual leadership and made him an emulated model.
Gdoilim was inspired by, and written in honor of, Prof. Menachem Friedman, a pioneer in the study of ultra-Orthodox society in Israel and the author of many books and articles on the subject. The anthology’s editors are among the leading scholars of ultra-Orthodox Jewry. Prof. Benjamin Brown studies the Halacha, philosophy, and history of ultra-Orthodox Jewry and is a faculty member in the Department of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Dr. Nissim Leon is a sociologist who studies the Mizrahi ultra-Orthodox stream and is a faculty member in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Bar-Ilan University.