What the Rabbis Said: The Public Discourse of 19th Century American Rabbis

What the Rabbis Said: The Public Discourse of 19th Century American Rabbis

by Naomi W. Cohen


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What the Rabbis Said: The Public Discourse of 19th Century American Rabbis by Naomi W. Cohen, Barbara Bergman, Bina Agarwal, Maria Floro

What the Rabbis Said examines a relatively unexplored facet of the rich social history of nineteenth-century American Jews. Based on sources that have heretofore been largely neglected, it traces the sermons and other public statements of rabbis, both Traditionalists and Reformers, on a host of matters that engaged the Jewish community before 1900.

Reminding the reader of the complexities and diversity that characterized the religious congregations in nineteenth-century America, Cohen offers insight into the primary concerns of both the religious leaders and the laity—full acculturation to American society, modernization of the Jewish religious tradition, and insistence on the recognized equality of a non-Christian minority. She also discusses the evolution of denominationalism with the split between Traditionalism and Reform, the threat of antisemitism, the origins of American Zionism, and interreligious dialogue. The book concludes with a chapter on the professionalization of the rabbinate and the legacy bequeathed to the next century. On all those key issues rabbis spoke out individually or in debates with other rabbis. From the evidence presented, the congregational rabbi emerges as a pioneer, the leader of a congregation, as well as spokesman for the Jews in the larger society, forging an independence from his European counterparts, and laboring for the preservation of the Jewish faith and heritage in an unfamiliar environment.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780814716885
Publisher: New York University Press
Publication date: 05/17/2008
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Naomi W. Cohen, a retired Professor of History now residing in Jerusalem, has written extensively on American Jewry. The recipient of various prizes for her scholarship, she has twice been awarded the National Jewish Book Award for history. Her most recent books are Jacob H. Schiff: A Study in American Jewish Leadership and The Americanization of Zionism.

Table of Contents



  1. 1 The Muzzled Rabbi

  2. 2 From the Words of Sabato Morais

  3. 3 Heroes and Villains

  4. 4 Meant for Children

  5. 5 Rabbi versus Rabbi

  6. 6 Restoration to Palestine

  7. 7 Rabbis under Attack

  8. 8 The New Antisemitism

  9. 9 The World’s Parliament of Religions

  10. 10 Building a Profession



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From the Publisher

“Naomi Cohen’s book brings important new evidence to our attention and thus helps us better understand a crucial era in the history of American Judaism and of the American rabbinate.”
-American Jewish Archives Journal


Cohen breaks new ground by drawing from relatively unstudied sources: the sermons delivered in nineteenth-century synagogues.-Marc Saperstein,Principal, Leo Baeck College

"This book is important for readers of American Jewish history and for anyone who wants to comprehend the thorny interaction between minority and majority religions and cultures in Western modernity."-Choice,

"Naomi Cohen charts how Jewish clergy negotiated the competing claims of tradition and the novel cultural, political, and religious context of America."-First Things,

"Cohen's discussion is learned and lively, clear and well argued: it brings history back to life through some of its most engaged actors and in their own words."-Rhetorical Review

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