In 1926, a year after the Scopes trial brought the theological implications of the theory of evolution to public attention in the U.S, two prominent New York Orthodox rabbis—Leo Jung of the Jewish Center and David de Sola Pool of Shearith Israel—engaged in a heated exchange on the subject in the pages of the Orthodox community’s main organ. While in many ways similar in education and outlook, the two took opposite positions on the question of whether Darwinism and Judaism were compatible. Rachel S.A. Pear argues that the differences stemmed as much from their respective communal contexts as from philosophical and hermeneutic abstractions.
Pool led the oldest Jewish congregation in the United States. . . . In 1907, he was called to help lead the synagogue by his cousin, Henry Pereira Mendes. Rabbi Mendes belonged to a group of young traditionalists who were well-educated scientifically as well as religiously, and who came out in strong support of Darwinism in the 1880s. . . . Pool, as well as many other young Orthodox rabbis, followed suit, seeing the embrace of Darwinism as in no way out of step with religious sensibilities.
Jung, by contrast, led a synagogue less than a decade old, whose first rabbi, Mordecai Kaplan, had left due to his increasingly unorthodox positions. (He would go on to found the Reconstructionist movement):
Jung realized that his young congregation lacked the communal and theological stability that Pool enjoyed sixteen blocks away. Jung was at the eye of a storm, fighting for every congregant, and considered himself a defender of an Orthodoxy under fierce attack in the 1920s. While the defense against what he termed “Kaplanism” did not detract from Jung’s mission to display Orthodoxy’s sophistication and elegance, it likely made him hesitant to embrace concepts that seemed radical in their adjustments to Jewish thought, especially one like Darwinism, which Kaplan himself had placed at the center of his [own thought]. . . .
Therefore, somewhat ironically, Pool’s support of Darwinism did not emerge despite tradition but because of the tradition of predecessors like Mendes. . . . Jung’s rejection of Darwinism, on the other hand, was not merely the preservation of old beliefs, but a conscious reaction against what he viewed as a pressing danger to Orthodoxy in America.