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Rethinking Synagogues: A New Vocabulary for Congregational Life

Rethinking Synagogues: A New Vocabulary for Congregational Life

by Lawrence A. Hoffman

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A critical and challenging look at reinventing the synagogue, as the centerpiece of a refashioned Jewish community.

“America is undergoing a spiritual revolution: only the fourth religious awakening in its history. I plead, therefore, for an equally spiritual synagogue,


A critical and challenging look at reinventing the synagogue, as the centerpiece of a refashioned Jewish community.

“America is undergoing a spiritual revolution: only the fourth religious awakening in its history. I plead, therefore, for an equally spiritual synagogue, knowing that any North American Jewish community that hopes to be around in a hundred years must have religion at its center, with the synagogue, the religious institution that best fits North American culture, at its very core.”
—from Chapter 1

Synagogues are under attack, and for good reasons. But they remain the religious backbone of Jewish continuity, especially in America, the sole Western industrial or post-industrial nation where religion and spirituality continue to grow in importance. To fulfill their mandate for the American future, synagogues need to replace old and tired conversation with a new way of talking about their goals, their challenges and their vision for the future.

In this provocative clarion call for synagogue transformation, Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman summarizes a decade of research with Synagogue 2000—a pioneering experiment that reconceptualized synagogue life—providing fresh ways for synagogues to think as they undertake the exciting task of global change.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"No one involved in synagogue life should miss the privilege of using these new, creative and imaginative tools to re-create their synagogue as a sacred community, and a place that is welcoming, accepting and alive with excitement."
Jewish Media Review

“A must read for lay leaders, professionals, congregants—anyone truly interested in doing synagogue in a new way.… Synthesizes powerful ideas from sociology, economics, history, physics and other disciplines … gives us a distinctively Jewish take on synagogue life. If you want to change the conversation about synagogue transformation and have something radically meaningful to say, this is the book for you.”
Lee M. Hendler, author, The Year Mom Got Religion: One Woman's Mid-Life Journey into Judaism; past president, Chizuk Amuno Congregation, Baltimore

“Challenges lay leaders as well as Jewish professionals.... Provides a creative and fresh approach to 'doing synagogue’.... A wonderful resource.”

“An important study.... A powerful and persuasive case for rethinking synagogues as sacred communities, above all else.”
Prof. Jack Wertheimer, provost, The Jewish Theological Seminary of America

“Daring.... A passionate call to reawaken core beliefs ... and reexamine the meaning of living and passing on the Jewish faith.”
Midwest Book Review

“Challenges many of our assumptions about synagogue and Jewish communal life, and offers a new lens through which we can examine those changes that may be necessary…. When the glorious history of American synagogues in the twenty-first century is written, there is no doubt that Hoffman will be acknowledged as one of the primary architects of its transformation, revitalization and health.”
Rabbi Daniel Freelander, vice president, Union for Reform Judaism

“The first book to address the practical issues of transformation for contemporary American synagogues. A must read not just for synagogues but for all congregations…. Uniquely balances the academic with the practical. Those looking for ‘how do I do it’ best practices will find plenty of nuts and bolts here.”
Rabbi Aaron Spiegel, Indianapolis Center for Congregations, Inc.

Product Details

Turner Publishing Company
Publication date:
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Barnes & Noble
File size:
912 KB

Meet the Author

Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, PhD, has served for more than three decades as professor of liturgy at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. He is a world-renowned liturgist and holder of the Stephen and Barbara Friedman Chair in Liturgy, Worship and Ritual. His work combines research in Jewish ritual, worship and spirituality with a passion for the spiritual renewal of contemporary Judaism.

He has written and edited many books, including All the World: Universalism, Particularism and the High Holy Days; May God Remember: Memory and Memorializing in Judaism—Yizkor, We Have Sinned: Sin and Confession in Judaism—Ashamnu and Al Chet, Who by Fire, Who by Water—Un'taneh Tokef and All These Vows—Kol Nidre, the first five volumes in the Prayers of Awe series; the My People's Prayer Book: Traditional Prayers, Modern Commentaries series, winner of the National Jewish Book Award; and he is coeditor of My People's Passover Haggadah: Traditional Texts, Modern Commentaries (all Jewish Lights), a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award.

Rabbi Hoffman is a developer of Synagogue 3000, a transdenominational project designed to envision and implement the ideal synagogue of the spirit for the twenty-first century.

Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, PhD, is available to speak on the following topics:

  • A Day of Wine and Moses: The Passover Haggadah and the Seder You Have Always Wanted
  • Preparing for the High Holy Days: How to Appreciate the Liturgy of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur
  • The Essence of Jewish Prayer: The Prayer Book in Context and Worship in Our Time
  • Beyond Ethnicity: The Coming Project for North American Jewish Identity
  • Synagogue Change: Transforming Synagogues as Spiritual and Moral Centers for the Twenty-First Century

Click here to contact the author.

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