The Synagogue in America: A Short History

The Synagogue in America: A Short History

by Marc Lee Raphael
     
 

View All Available Formats & Editions

Read the Jewish Idea Daily's review here.

In 1789, when George Washington was elected the first president of the United States, laymen from all six Jewish congregations in the new nation sent him congratulatory letters. He replied to all six. Thus, after more than a century of Jewish life in colonial America the small communities of Jews present at the birth of

Overview

Read the Jewish Idea Daily's review here.

In 1789, when George Washington was elected the first president of the United States, laymen from all six Jewish congregations in the new nation sent him congratulatory letters. He replied to all six. Thus, after more than a century of Jewish life in colonial America the small communities of Jews present at the birth of the nation proudly announced their religious institutions to the country and were recognized by its new leader. By this time, the synagogue had become the most significant institution of American Jewish life, a dominance that was not challenged until the twentieth century, when other institutions such as Jewish community centers or Jewish philanthropic organizations claimed to be the hearts of their Jewish communities.

Concise yet comprehensive, The Synagogue in America is the first history of this all-important structure, illuminating its changing role within the American Jewish community over the course of three centuries. From Atlanta and Des Moines to Los Angeles and New Orleans, Marc Lee Raphael moves beyond the New York metropolitan area to examine Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, and Reconstuctionist synagogue life everywhere. Using the records of approximately 125 Jewish congregations, he traces the emergence of the synagogue in the United States from its first instances in the colonial period, when each of the half dozen initial Jewish communities had just one synagogue each, to its proliferation as the nation and the American Jewish community grew and diversified.

Encompassing architecture, forms of worship, rabbinic life, fundraising, creative liturgies, and feminism, The Synagogue in America is the go-to history for understanding the synagogue’s significance in American Jewish life.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A leading American Jewish historian as well as an ordained rabbi, Raphael, chair in Judaic studies at the College of William and Mary, has written or edited many books and articles. His latest contribution is this brief overview of synagogues in America, beginning with the six that existed in 1789, when George Washington became president, and continuing to the present, when some estimate the number to be between 3,500 and 4,000. In a two-page appendix, "Counting Synagogues," Raphael argues cogently that these numbers are fallacious, saying that the definition of "religious body" used in enumeration is too vague. He arranges his presentation chronologically and denominationally, touching lightly on synagogue history among Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and Reconstructionist Jews. A Reform rabbi himself, he pays somewhat more attention to that branch of Judaism. He discusses synagogue architecture, but the few pictures he offers hardly do justice to this subject, which has been treated extensively in other books. Similarly, the entire topic of American synagogues is dealt with far more thoroughly by such writers as Kerry M. Olitzky, Samuel C. Heilman, and Jack Wertheimer. Despite his far-ranging research, Raphael makes only a minimally useful contribution to the existing literature on the American synagogue. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
"Raphael's book is finely written and provides an accessible overview of the major historical, demographic, and liturgical changes in the synaogogue's long and ever-adapting history...[it is] an engaging portrait of the emergence of Jewish congregations during the Colonial and early-Republican periods."-Allan Nadler,Jewish Ideas Daily

“A virtuoso in several genres of American Jewish history, but a specialist in the evolution of American Judaism, Marc Lee Raphael has produced the culminating work of his career. This synoptic account of the institution of the American synagogue—and in effect of the rabbinate as well—is punctuated with wonderful insights and assured generalizations. The author wears his learning lightly. A fascinating scholarly overview, The Synagogue in America also happens to be a pleasure to read.”

-Stephen J. Whitfield,Brandeis University

Library Journal
In this brief yet detailed account, Raphael (religious studies, Coll. of William & Mary; Judaism in America) demonstrates how the evolution of the synagogue in America created a distinctly American Judaism. The majority of the book, which is arranged chronologically, focuses on the years from the 19th century to the present, the period of the most drastic changes in American synagogues, as well as in American Judaism in general. Raphael provides only a cursory treatment of the synagogue in Colonial America and nearly no background on synagogues in Europe before the colonization of the United States. A more detailed look at these two topics would have provided readers with a better background to understand the changes taking place in the centuries that followed. Raphael occasionally addresses the driving sociological forces behind this evolution, although they are often implied rather than fully discussed. Given all these circumstances, this book is best paired with a narrative social history of American Judaism. VERDICT A useful and concise scholarly treatise, which neatly interweaves the facts of the evolution of the American synagogue but is, ultimately, not contextualized enough to be an engaging read.—Amanda Folk, Univ. of Pittsburgh Lib., Greensburg

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780814775820
Publisher:
New York University Press
Publication date:
04/18/2011
Pages:
259
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher

“A virtuoso in several genres of American Jewish history, but a specialist in the evolution of American Judaism, Marc Lee Raphael has produced the culminating work of his career. This synoptic account of the institution of the American synagogue—and in effect of the rabbinate as well—is punctuated with wonderful insights and assured generalizations. The author wears his learning lightly. A fascinating scholarly overview, The Synagogue in America also happens to be a pleasure to read.”

-Stephen J. Whitfield,Brandeis University

“Thanks to years of relentless toiling through synagogue archives coast to coast, and by virtue of his close examination of prayer books and rabbis' sermons, Marc Lee Raphael has provided readers with intriguing vistas and insights into the contours of Jewish religious life from the founding of the earliest communities in America to the present day. Written in clear prose by a master teacher, this volume will be welcomed both within university classrooms and in congregational study groups.”

-Jeffrey S. Gurock,Libby M. Klaperman Professor of Jewish History, Yeshiva University

“No one knows more about the American synagogue than Marc Lee Raphael, whose compact yet comprehensive study reveals the astonishing diversity of Jewish congregational life over the last three centuries. Leaving dry institutional history in the dust, Raphael vividly conveys how the synagogue reflected the concerns, needs, and tastes of American Jews, as well as the contradictions that so often characterized their religious identities..”

-Eric L. Goldstein,author of The Price of Whiteness: Jews, Race, and American Identity

“A useful and concise scholarly treatise, which neatly interweaves the facts of the evolution of the American synagogue.”

-Library Journal,

"Raphael, a Reform rabbi and professor of religious studies at the College of William and Mary, has written a concise, detailed history of the synagogue as a religious institution in the U.S." -Booklist

Meet the Author

Marc Lee Raphael is Gumenick Professor of Judaic Studies, Professor of Religious Studies, and Director of the Program in Judaic Studies at The College of William and Mary. His recent books include The Columbia History of Jews and Judaism in America; Diary of a Los Angeles Jew, 1947-1972: Autobiography as Autofiction; and Judaism in America,

.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >