Judaism in America

Judaism in America

Marc Lee Raphael
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Judaism in America
    Book Description:

    Jews have been a religious and cultural presence in America since the colonial era, and the community of Jews in the United States today -- some six million people -- continues to make a significant contribution to the American religious landscape. Emphasizing developments in American Judaism in the last quarter century among active participants in Jewish worship, this book provides both a look back into the 350-year history of Judaic life and a well-crafted portrait of a multifaceted tradition today. Combining extensive research into synagogue archival records and secondary sources as well as interviews and observations of worship services at more than a hundred Jewish congregations across the country, Raphael's study distinguishes itself as both a history of the Judaic tradition and a witness to the vitality and variety of contemporary American Judaic life. Beginning with a chapter on beliefs, festivals, and life-cycle events, both traditional and non-traditional, and an explanation of the enormous variation in practice, Raphael then explores Jewish history in America, from the arrival of the first Jews to the present, highlighting the emergence and development of the four branches: Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Reform. After documenting the considerable variety among the branches, the book addresses issues of some controversy, notably spirituality, conversion, homosexuality, Jewish education, synagogue architecture, and the relationship to Israel. Raphael turns next to a discussion of eight American Jews whose thoughts and/or activities made a huge impact on American Judaism. The final chapter focuses on the return to tradition in every branch of Judaism and examines prospects for the future.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51244-2
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. CHAPTER ONE What is American Judaism?
    (pp. 1-12)

    There are about six million Jews in the United States today, and the population projections by most demographers are for an “expected long-term decline in numbers.”¹ Three commonly discussed reasons for this projection are lack of new immigrants, low reproduction, and high intermarriage rates. There does not seem to be any likelihood of large-scale Jewish immigration to the United States in the near future. Jews have been notorious, at least since the 1950s, for residing in the lowest ecological fertility category, or being unable to even reproduce the parental generation. And, Jewish intermarriage rates are high, with a concomitant dilution...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Beliefs, Festivals, and Life-cycle Events
    (pp. 13-38)

    Few American Jewish thinkers have written anything resembling what Christians call systematic theology, or even—what was so popular in nineteenth-century Europe—a theology that collected and arranged, under various headings, scriptural and rabbinic passages with an interpretation or two added to contemporize the “theology.” Even among the group with (seemingly) the most unified belief system, there are, as Emanuel Rackman has noted, “the existence of different orthodox approaches.” He rightly concluded that “orthodoxy,” the true or established doctrine, is “no more monolithic than the non-orthodox movements.”¹

    To whom are we to listen when trying to delineate the beliefs of...

  6. CHAPTER THREE A History of Judaism in America
    (pp. 39-74)

    Hard-pressed to escape the clutches of the Inquisition during the two centuries following expulsion from their Spanish and Portuguese homelands in 1492 and 1497, respectively, many Iberian Jews fled to the Netherlands where the Dutch enthusiastically welcomed these (mostly) businessmen and their families. While thriving in Amsterdam—where they became the hub of a unique urban Jewish universe and attained a status that anticipated Jewish emancipation in France by over a century—they began in the 1500s and 1600s to establish themselves in the Dutch and English colonies in the New World. These included Curaçao, New Amsterdam, Recife, and Surinam...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Institutions, Organizations and American Jewish Religious Activity
    (pp. 75-96)

    Like so many Protestant demoninations, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, and Reform synagogues are each linked to a denominational “umbrella” organization that coordinates the movements. In some branches this organization establishes policy; in others it merely coordinates the multiple programs of the members institutions, but in each case the national organization has a strong presence within the American Judaic community. From time to time its leaders (e.g., Rabbi Alexander Schindler) have been among the most well-known American Jews.

    The Conservative and Orthodox synagogue organizations established policy for the hundreds of congregations affiliated with those movements. By joining the United Synagogue, all Conservative...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE The Synagogue
    (pp. 97-114)

    There is a reading found in some Sabbath evening prayer books that begins, “The synagogue is the sanctuary of Israel, born of Israel’s longing for God. Throughout our wanderings it has endured as a stronghold of hope and inspiration, teaching us the holiness of life and inspiring in us a love of all humanity.” Israel, of course, is a term used from biblical days to the present for the Jewish people, and this text nicely sums up much of the historic vitality of the synagogue.

    At least since the diaspora experience in the Greek and Roman worlds, where it was...

  9. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  10. CHAPTER SIX The Future of American Judaism
    (pp. 115-134)

    If I were writing about the future of American Catholicism in 2002 I would, of course, have to start with the fact that “there will be a new pope.”¹ But there is nothing comparable in American Judaism; it will make little difference who heads the rabbinic organization of each of the branches or who assumes the leadership of the national synagogue organizations. For sure, someone could push Orthodox synagogues and Orthodox rabbis toward greater ecumenical activity with their non-Orthodox fellow Jews, and a different Reform or Conservative leader could initiate discussions that might one day merge the two movements. But...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Select Profiles of Judaic Thinkers in America
    (pp. 135-152)

    It is not easy to choose eight women and men who are representative of the many thinkers that have made significant contributions to Judaism in America, as there are obviously a large number who might have been included. Having discussed briefly two seminal Modern Orthodox thinkers in chapter 3 (Rabbi Leo Jung and the Rav, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik), I thus chose two persons from Conservative Judaism (Abraham Joshua Heschel and Solomon Schechter), arguably the branch that has made the most profound contributions to Judaic thought in America; one each from Reconstructionist (Mordecai M. Kaplan), Reform (Isaac Mayer Wise), and ultra-Orthodox...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT The Retrieval of Tradition
    (pp. 153-170)

    It is axiomatic among students of American religion to note that increased amounts of tradition have found their way into Christianity in the past three decades. In some churches there has been a developing liturgical interest or liturgical revival; the Catholic Church has even moved vigorously to halt experimental liturgical practices.¹ With the accession of John Paul II to the papacy (1979)—and his insistence on priestly celibacy, refusal to consider the ordaining of women, vigorous rejection of birth control and homosexual relations, and rebuking or censuring of liberal theologians—numerous Catholic churches restored the Holy Week Liturgy, encouraged daily...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 171-198)
    (pp. 199-206)
    (pp. 207-216)
    (pp. 217-218)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 219-234)