Does the World Need the Jews?

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What would happen if the world woke up one day and there were simply no Jews left? Would the world be worse off? In Does the World Need the Jews?, Rabbi Daniel Gordis suggests that on the eve of the twenty-first century, one of the chief sources of malaise among contemporary Jews is that many cannot answer this critical question. Though many Jewish community leaders now speak of an American Jewish "continuity crisis," Gordis sees a very different problem. The issue, he argues, is not continuity, but identity. ...
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What would happen if the world woke up one day and there were simply no Jews left? Would the world be worse off? In this book, Rabbi Daniel Gordis suggests that one of the chief ... sources of malaise among contemporary Jews is that many cannot answer this critical question. Though many Jewish community leaders now speak of an American Jewish "continuity crisis," Gordis sees a very different problem. The issue, he argues, is not continuity, but identity. American Jews simply have no conception of why they matter or what their tradition stands for. Includes glossary, further reading and index. Read more Show Less

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Overview

What would happen if the world woke up one day and there were simply no Jews left? Would the world be worse off? In Does the World Need the Jews?, Rabbi Daniel Gordis suggests that on the eve of the twenty-first century, one of the chief sources of malaise among contemporary Jews is that many cannot answer this critical question. Though many Jewish community leaders now speak of an American Jewish "continuity crisis," Gordis sees a very different problem. The issue, he argues, is not continuity, but identity. American Jews simply have no conception of why they matter or what their tradition stands for. In this sure-to-be-controversial book, Gordis argues that by assimilating so thoroughly into American culture, Jews have lost their distinctive voice. He contends that important elements of American culture - among them the political left as well as the right, multiculturalism, new forms of anti-Semitism - undermine American Jewish identity. Gordis suggests that American Jews must be willing to stand out rather than blend in, and he urges a return to the substance and richness of Jewish tradition. Rather than simply point to the problem, Does the World Need the Jews? offers solutions. Gordis's vision of an American Jewish future filled with meaning and significance takes us through discussions of abortion and capital punishment, a critique of the "Judeo-Christian" tradition, the problem of Jewish identity on university campuses and a defense of Jewish life in the Diaspora, among many others. What emerges is a dramatic and compelling agenda for American Jews who want to believe that Judaism still has a reason to survive.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Rabbi Gordis (Univ. of Judaism, Los Angeles; God Was Not in the Fire, LJ 7/95) addresses here the assimilated Jew who feels indifferent toward Jewish identity and tradition. Gordis's intention is not to win over this individual by theological argument but by a gentle though sustained argument on the importance of Jewish identity in American culture. The result can be compared to works by Alan Dershowitz (The Vanishing American Jew, LJ 3/1/97) and Elliot Abrams (Faith or Fear, LJ 5/1/97) in that all three authors are distressed by the growing trends of Jewish intermarriage and alienation from traditional identity. Gordis maintains that Jews serve humanity best by asserting their unique outlook and tradition. To illustrate this point he tells of how even the Tibetan leader Dalai Lama sought out noted Jewish figures to find instruction on how a people and religion can survive and thrive in exile. A persuasive volumeeasy to read and discussthat libraries serving Jewish patrons should consider.Paul M. Kaplan, Lake Villa Dist. Lib., Ill.
Kirkus Reviews
A leading rabbi argues that only a proud American Jewry, knowledgeable about its faith and history, can offer a corrective, even subversive force to American culture.

Gordis, vice president of the University of Judaism and dean of its rabbinic school, continues in the "Why Be Jewish?" theme of his God Was Not in the Fire (1995), with emphasis this time on cultural insights gained from Jewish holidays. Hanukkah is rescued from being the Jewish Christmas and reinstated as the holiday commemorating the miraculous survival of a weak minority. Quoting both Alan Dershowitz and Allan Bloom along the way, the author contends that classical Jewish chosenness favors a core curriculum of timeless values over American individualism and the multicultural agenda. Unorthodox enough to sound politically conservative, Gordis champions the American flag and attacks the notion that we have a right to view pornography. He eloquently defends Judaism's demands that Jews bear children, give charity, study Torah, and repair the world, fearing that American Jews are going the way of the Little Mermaid (the self-destructive, non-Disney version). Only an educated American Jewry can add Judaism's voice of moderation to polarized topics like abortion and capital punishment. But there are problems here. For instance, why wouldn't the tiny American Jewish community be more valuable working to make the State of Israel a light unto the nations, rather than in laboring, as he suggests, to transmit its unique insights to American culture? And he falls into his own "trap of the Judeo-Christian tradition" by comparing Sabbath wine and bread to the wine and wafer of the Christian sacriment. If the transubstantiated blood and flesh represents our shared "monotheistic tradition," then the Jewish faith has little to offer Jew or Gentile.

This "call to arms" is rather too philosophical and dispassionate (and occasionally contradictory) to light any fires.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684803890
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 8/12/1997
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.85 (w) x 8.78 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments 11
Introduction: Andersen Versus Disney - Modern Jews and Their Crisis of Identity 17
Ch. 1 The Promise and the Reassurance - "You Shall Be a Blessing" 33
Ch. 2 To Be the Chosen People - "That Cunningest of Races" or "A Treasured People and Holy Nation" 54
Ch. 3 Blending In or Standing Out - An Ongoing Jewish-American Dilemma 82
Ch. 4 "Not by Might and Not by Power" - The Message of Jewish Survival 109
Ch. 5 Distinctiveness, Spirituality and Moderation - The Role of Law in a Renewed Chosenness 141
Ch. 6 Standing Uncomfortably Outside the Mainstream - Reclaiming Our Subversive Heritage 172
Ch. 7 "Exile" or "Diaspora"? - Is Jewish Life in America Illegitimate? 209
Ch. 8 "Choosing to Be Chosen" - Turning Vision into Reality 236
Notes on Sources 253
Glossary of Hebrew Names and Terms 255
Notes 269
Suggestions for Further Reading 275
Index of Primary Sources 287
Subject Index 290
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