Judaism in America

Judaism in America

by Marc Lee Raphael
     
 

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Jews have been a religious and cultural presence in America since the colonial era, and the community of Jews in the United States today—some six million people—continues to make a significant contribution to the American religious landscape. Emphasizing developments in American Judaism in the last quarter century among active participants in Jewish

Overview

Jews have been a religious and cultural presence in America since the colonial era, and the community of Jews in the United States today—some six million people—continues to make a significant contribution to the American religious landscape. Emphasizing developments in American Judaism in the last quarter century among active participants in Jewish worship, this book provides both a look back into the 350-year history of Judaic life and a well-crafted portrait of a multifaceted tradition today. Combining extensive research into synagogue archival records and secondary sources as well as interviews and observations of worship services at more than a hundred Jewish congregations across the country, Raphael’s study distinguishes itself as both a history of the Judaic tradition and a witness to the vitality and variety of contemporary American Judaic life. Beginning with a chapter on beliefs, festivals, and life-cycle events, both traditional and non-traditional, and an explanation of the enormous variation in practice, Raphael then explores Jewish history in America, from the arrival of the first Jews to the present, highlighting the emergence and development of the four branches: Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Reform. After documenting the considerable variety among the branches, the book addresses issues of some controversy, notably spirituality, conversion, homosexuality, Jewish education, synagogue architecture, and the relationship to Israel. Raphael turns next to a discussion of eight American Jews whose thoughts and/or activities made a huge impact on American Judaism. The final chapter focuses on the return to tradition in every branch of Judaism and examines prospects for the future.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Raphael, the chair of the religion department at the College of William and Mary, explores the history, theology and practices of American Jews in this accessible and absorbing survey. After a brief introductory chapter outlining Jewish diversity, Raphael discusses festivals and life-cycle events, which are the building blocks of Judaism in practice. Other chapters consider the history of Judaism in America, the changing role of the synagogue and the rise of the many para-synagogue organizations and institutions that help define Jewish life. Raphael's study is greatly enriched by his primary ethnographic research; he attended more than 100 services in the four major branches of Judaism, and also interviewed people formally and informally about their beliefs and practices. While he acknowledges the usual grim statistics (declining numbers, increasing intermarriage and a low birth rate), he doesn't dwell on them, insisting instead that "what strikes the contemporary observer of the synagogue is its vitality." One particularly fascinating chapter explores the increase of interest in spirituality and Jewish renewal, the emergence of homosexual congregations, the "surge" in Jewish day schools and the gradual decline of identification with Israel compared to 50 years ago. Another chapter examines the return to traditional observance that has marked all sectors of Judaism in recent years. Newcomers will find this an engaging introduction to American Judaism, and even experts may learn something new. (Aug.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A fine contribution to the "Columbia Contemporary American Religion" series, Raphael's book is an apt portrait of contemporary Judaism in America. A rabbi and professor of Judaic studies (Coll. of William & Mary), Raphael provides capsule coverage of Judaism's beliefs, doctrines, history, institutions, and religious leaders and the diversity of thought in the four-part Jewish community (Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and Reconstructionist). Raphael finds that there are about six million Jews in America but that only about three million consider themselves to be religious. His research on their beliefs includes interviews and visits to about 100 synagogues. Each section is short and to the point, never bogging down in tedious details. Some of the most significant chapters deal with the religious practices, life-cycle events, beliefs, and devotional life of synagogues in America. This is a solid contribution to the Columbia series, which already includes volumes on Buddhism, Roman Catholicism, Islam, and Protestantism. Recommended for public and academic libraries, especially where the series is being collected.-James A. Overbeck, Atlanta-Fulton P.L. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Choice

Raphael makes an enlightening contribution to the history, development, and future of Judaism... A most pleasurable read. Recommended.

Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter

This is an excellent addition to all collections because it provides a focused overview of American Jewish life today.

Jewish Book World

Raphael's study is not merely a collected analysis of texts, as is clear from his research throughout Jewish communities, but rather an attempt to capture the true nature of the American Jewish community's history: past, present and future.

The Times Literary Supplement
Raphael gives detailed accounts of Judaism being affected by particularities of society in America.... As the title of this excellent study suggests, the book concerns the religion rather than the people.

— Daniel Crewe

The Journal of Jewish Studies
A valuable contribution to the teaching of modern Judaism and of religion in America.

— George R. Wilkes

H-Amstdy
An excellent overview of the transformation of Judaism in the United States.

— Shira Kohn Levy

Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter Newsletter

This is an excellent addition to all collections because it provides a focused overview of American Jewish life today.

The Times Literary Supplement - Daniel Crewe

Raphael gives detailed accounts of Judaism being affected by particularities of society in America.... As the title of this excellent study suggests, the book concerns the religion rather than the people.

The Journal of Jewish Studies - George R. Wilkes

A valuable contribution to the teaching of modern Judaism and of religion in America.

H-Amstdy - Shira Kohn Levy

An excellent overview of the transformation of Judaism in the United States.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231512442
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
06/19/2012
Series:
Columbia Contemporary American Religion Series
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
256
File size:
7 MB

What People are saying about this

Pamela Nadell

Crossing the country, the eminent historian Marc Lee Raphael visited synagogues, large and small, to map American Judaism on the cusp of the twenty-first century. Raphael cites official stances but, far more importantly, he has uncovered those at the grassroots--rabbis and the women and men he met in their synagogues reflecting upon their worship and its place in their lives. Raphael has written the guide to contemporary American Judaism, indispensable reading for all interested in American religion.

Pamela Nadell, professor of History and Director of Jewish Studies, American University

Robert Rockaway

This is a clearly written and imaginatively conceived study that ranges over rabbinic thought, theology, sociology, history and religion, to present an insightful and informative portrait of Judaism in the United States. The book is a must read for anyone interested in the belief and practices of American Jews.

Robert Rockaway, Department of Jewish History, Tel Aviv University

Moses Rischin

Dr. Raphael has created the freshest and most readable portrait that we have of the contemporary American-Jewish religious scene. With a masterful comand of the most diverse historical sources he has crafted a lens for examining the variegated responses of the four major branches of American Judaism to the challenges of post-modernity.

Moses Rischin, Department of History, San Francisco State University

Stephen J. Whitfield

Raphael is an historian who can evoke the vibrancy of the current religious moment, [and] who appreciates both the residual power and the adaptive resources of American Judaism, and a writer who wonderfully conveys the variousness and the surprises of his subject. Judaism in America merits the attention not only of his co-religionists but of anyone intrigued by the heterogeneity and the resilience of faith in the United States.

Stephen J. Whitfield, Max Richter Chair in American Civilization, Brandeis University

Meet the Author

Marc Lee Raphael is the Nathan and Sophia Professor of Judaic Studies, professor of religious studies, and chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the College of William and Mary. He is the author of several books on Jews and Judaism in America, including Abba Hillel Silver: A Profile in American Judaism.

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