Winner, 2017 National Jewish Book Award in American Jewish Studies from the Jewish Book Council
Finalist, Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature
An engaging history of how Jews forged their own religious culture on the American frontier
Jews on the Frontier offers a religious history that begins in an unexpected place: on the road. Shari Rabin recounts the journey of Jewish people as they left Eastern cities and ventured into the American West and South during the nineteenth century. It brings to life the successes and obstacles of these travels, from the unprecedented economic opportunities to the anonymity and loneliness that complicated the many legal obligations of traditional Jewish life. Without government-supported communities or reliable authorities, where could one procure kosher meat? Alone in the American wilderness, how could one find nine co-religionists for a minyan (prayer quorum)? Without identity documents, how could one really know that someone was Jewish?
Rabin argues that Jewish mobility during this time was pivotal to the development of American Judaism. In the absence of key institutions like synagogues or charitable organizations which had played such a pivotal role in assimilating East Coast immigrants, ordinary Jews on the frontier created religious life from scratch, expanding and transforming Jewish thought and practice.
Jews on the Frontier vividly recounts the story of a neglected era in American Jewish history, offering a new interpretation of American religions, rooted not in congregations or denominations, but in the politics and experiences of being on the move. This book shows that by focusing on everyday people, we gain a more complete view of how American religion has taken shape. This book follows a group of dynamic and diverse individuals as they searched for resources for stability, certainty, and identity in a nation where there was little to be found.
About the Author
Table of Contents
Introduction: Judaism, America, Mobility 1
Part I Movement and Belonging
1 Wandering Sons of Israel: Europe, America, and the Politics of Jewish Mobility 13
2 Reminding Myself That I Am a Jew: Voluntarism and Social Life 31
Part II The Lived Religion of American Jews
3 I Prefer Choice Myself: Family and the State 57
4 'Tis in the Spirit Not in the Form: Material Culture and Popular Theology 78
Part III Creating an American Judaism
5 A Congregation of Strangers: The Mobile Infrastructure 103
6 The Empire of Our Religion: The Mobile Imaginary 123
Conclusion: The Spirit of '77 141
About the Author 193