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Orthodox Judaism: Orthodox Union

The Orthodox Union, formally the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of American (OU), is largest organization of Orthodox synagogues in the United States.

Founded in 1898, the OU was originally oriented toward the few English-speaking, rather than Yiddish-speaking, congregations. The call for establishing the organization was sent from the address of the Jewish Theological Seminary, and a few early OU leaders, such as Henry Pereira Mendes , were also identified with that institution. The OU remained a small group until about 1950, and its status rested more on the reputation of its presidents, men such as Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein , than on the activities or the number of its affiliates. Since then it has experienced tremendous growth and in 2005 claimed nearly 1,000 affiliated synagogues.

The OU is best known for its kashrut supervision; founded in 1923, today it is a multinational operation that certifies 400,000 industrial and consumer products manufactured in 73 countries. The kashrut division employs 300 full-time supervisors and produces its own rabbinic journal about kashrut called Mesorah, as well as a quarterly called Behind the Union Symbol. Under the leadership of Rabbi Menachem Genack, the kashrut division also seeks to educate the Jewish community about various aspects of kashrut.

Aside from programming geared towards its constituent synagogues, the OU seeks to promote its perspective and values through its Institute for Public affairs in Washington, headed by the OU director for public policy, Nathan J. Diament. The National Council of Synagogue Youth (NCSY), a division of the OU, has a cadre of 850 volunteers and reaches unaffiliated youth who do not attend Jewish day schools. Yachad, the National Council for Jewish Disabilities, also a division of the OU provides mainstream programming for children and adults with developmental disabilities.

In addition to their offices in New York and Los Angeles, which employ over 200 people, the OU also maintains an office in Jerusalem, which aims to bring secular Israelis closer to Orthodox Jewish observance through adult education programs and summer camps across 25 Israeli cities and towns. The OU also services Orthodox college students through their Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus, which deploys rabbinic couples to serve as Torah leaders and mentors on college campuses. Additionally, the OU sponsors the Sha'alavim High School in Kharakov, Ukraine, and produces a quarterly magazine called Jewish Action. In 2005 the executive vice president of the OU was Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb and its president was Stephen J. Savitsky.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.

Jeffrey S. Gurock American Jewish Orthodoxy in Historical Perspective (1996); C.S. Liebman, in: AJYB, 66 (1965), 21–97; E. Markovitz, in: AJHSQ, 55 (1966), 364–84.