Rethinking Modern Judaism: Ritual, Commandment, Community

Overview

Arnold M. Eisen here calls for a fundamental rethinking of the story of modern Judaism. Until now, scholars have told this story mainly in terms of belief changed or discarded because of the Enlightenment; Eisen focuses instead on the transformation of Jewish practice in response to the civil rights, economic possibilities, and social challenges that came with Emancipation.

Eisen traces five key phenomena which have crucially influenced Jewish practice over the past two ...

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Overview

Arnold M. Eisen here calls for a fundamental rethinking of the story of modern Judaism. Until now, scholars have told this story mainly in terms of belief changed or discarded because of the Enlightenment; Eisen focuses instead on the transformation of Jewish practice in response to the civil rights, economic possibilities, and social challenges that came with Emancipation.

Eisen traces five key phenomena which have crucially influenced Jewish practice over the past two centuries and which, he demonstrates, still figure prominently today: politics (state and social pressure to conform), explanation of the commandments (as reminders of universal truths), nostalgia (evocation of the ancestors), unending quest for authority (never found), and appeals to the sanctity of tradition (even in the course of its invention). More than simply a study of Jewish thought on customs and rituals, this pathbreaking book explores the central role that practice plays in Judaism's encounter with modernity and, indeed, in any religious or ethnic group's quest to articulate self-identity in an increasingly homogenized world.

Winner of the 1999 Koret Jewish Book Award for Thought and Philosophy.

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Editorial Reviews

Joseph Reimer
I know of no other treatment of these issues [of Judaism] that matches Eisen's talents for synthesizing a wide range of historical, philosophical, and social scientific sources, and bringing them to bear in a balanced and open-minded way on the delicate questions of why modern Jews relate as they do to the practices of Judaism. -- Boston Book Review
Library Journal
In his new book, Eisen (religious studies, Stanford, and author of Chosen People in America), examines modern Jewish ritual as a window into Jewish feeling. He offers some striking ideas, pointing out that modernity has affected even those who consider themselves of orthodox belief. He seeks to show how Jews of all spectra are continually reinventing traditions. After all, nostalgia and the search for usable history partly motivate religious practice, and in our times the Passover haggadah has been rewritten by various Jewish movements to emphasize different aspects of freedom. -- Paul M. Kaplan, Lake Villa Districk Library, Round Lake Beach, Illinois
Samuel Hynes
An insightful entrace point to understanding the evolution of the theologies of America's largest Jewish denominations. -- Tikkun Magazine
David Singer
Arnold Eisen has certainly chosen an opportune time to "rethink" the place of observance in modern Judaism....If Eisen's promiscuous use of religious language serves any purpose, it is to remind us what Judaism has lost in the various attempts to modernize it....Welcome though the current turn to ritual is, it seems unlikely to endure if it is not accompanied by a revival of a more far-reaching and spiritual sort. -- Commentary
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Product Details

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction 1
1 Founding Theories of Modernity and the Critique of Jewish Practice 23
2 Twentieth-Century Theories of Modernity and the Study of Jewish Practice 49
3 The Distinctiveness of Modern Jewish Practice 78
4 The Politics of Jewish Ritual Observance 107
5 New Reasons for Old Commandments: The Strategy of Symbolic Explanation 135
6 Nostalgia as Modern Jewish Mitzvah 156
7 Buber, Rosenzweig, and the Authority of the Commandments 188
8 The Reconstruction of Jewish Tradition in Twentieth-Century America 216
Conclusion 242
Notes 265
Index 323
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