The Columbia History of Jews and Judaism in America

The Columbia History of Jews and Judaism in America

Edited by Marc Lee Raphael
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 504
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/raph13222
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  • Book Info
    The Columbia History of Jews and Judaism in America
    Book Description:

    This is the first anthology in more than half a century to offer fresh insight into the history of Jews and Judaism in America. Beginning with six chronological survey essays, the collection builds with twelve topical essays focusing on a variety of important themes in the American Jewish and Judaic experience.

    The volume opens with early Jewish settlers (1654-1820), the expansion of Jewish life in America (1820-1901), the great wave of eastern European Jewish immigrants (1880-1924), the character of American Judaism between the two world wars, American Jewish life from the end of World War II to the Six-Day War, and the growth of Jews' influence and affluence. The second half of the book includes essays on the community of Orthodox Jews, the history of Jewish education in America, the rise of Jewish social clubs at the turn of the century, the history of southern and western Jewry, Jewish responses to Nazism and the Holocaust; feminism's confrontation with Judaism, and the eternal question of what defines American Jewish culture.

    The contributions of distinguished scholars seamlessly integrate recent scholarship. Endnotes provide the reader with access to the authors' research and sources. Comprehensive, original, and elegantly crafted, The Columbia History of Jews and Judaism in America not only introduces the student to this thrilling history but also provides new perspectives for the scholar.

    Contributors: Dianne Ashton (Rowan University), Mark K. Bauman (Atlanta Metropolitan College), Kimmy Caplan (Bar-Ilan University, Israel), Eli Faber (City University of New York), Eric L. Goldstein (University of Michigan), Jeffrey S. Gurock (Yeshiva University), Jenna Weissman Joselit (Princeton University), Melissa Klapper (Rowan University), Alan T. Levenson (Siegal College of Judaic Studies), Rafael Medoff (David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies), Pamela S. Nadell (American University), Riv-Ellen Prell (University of Minnesota), Linda S. Raphael (George Washington University), Jeffrey Shandler (Rutgers University), Michael E. Staub (City University of New York), William Toll (University of Oregon), Beth S. Wenger (University of Pennsylvania), Stephen J. Whitfield (Brandeis University)

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50706-6
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-18)
    MARC LEE RAPHAEL

    In the past twenty years, six distinguished historians have written single-volume histories of either the “Jews” or “Judaism” in the United States. Five have done the former—Arthur Hertzberg (The Jews in America: Four Centuries of an Uneasy Encounter, a History, 1989), Howard M. Sachar (A History of the Jews in America, 1992); Jacob Rader Marcus (The American Jew, 1585–1990: A History, 1995), Gerald Sorin (Tradition Transformed: The Jewish Experience in America, 1997), Hasia R. Diner (The Jews of the United States, 1654–2000, 2004)—and one, Jonathan D. Sarna (American Judaism: A History, 2004), has used the term...

  4. Chronological Essays
    • 1 AMERICA’S EARLIEST JEWISH SETTLERS, 1654–1820
      (pp. 21-46)
      ELI FABER

      The history of the Jewish people in America is dated by common agreement to early September 1654, when a small French vessel arrived in the harbor of New Amsterdam at the southern tip of Manhattan Island, carrying among its passengers twenty-three Jewish men, women, and children who were fleeing from Brazil. They were primarily Sephardic, tracing their origins to ancestors who had resided on the Iberian peninsula, but there may also have been several Ashkenazim from central and eastern Europe.¹

      The quest for the origins of a Jewish presence in colonial America leads back to Holland in the late 1500s,...

    • 2 EXPANDING JEWISH LIFE IN AMERICA, 1826–1901
      (pp. 47-69)
      DIANNE ASHTON

      “If thou art one . . . whose pilgrimage from Palestine we trace, Brave the Atlantic . . . a Western Sun will gild thy future day,” wrote Charleston, South Carolina’s Penina Moise in 1826.¹ Her poem expressed the promise of freedom and good fortune in America that convinced over 250,000 European Jews to leave their towns and villages for the United States between 1820 and 1880.² Few of those who left could have read her work, written in English and published in a periodical in South Carolina, but many of Europe’s Jews had already heard promises of a better...

    • 3 THE GREAT WAVE: EASTERN EUROPEAN JEWISH IMMIGRATION TO THE UNITED STATES, 1880–1924
      (pp. 70-92)
      ERIC L. GOLDSTEIN

      Jewish life in the United States was constantly reshaped by the flow of immigrants from 1654 until Congress all but closed the doors to foreign immigration in 1924. No group of arrivals, however, altered the face of American Jewry quite as dramatically as those who came from eastern Europe after 1880 as part of what Yiddish journalist Peter Wiernik called “the greatest Jewish migration since the exodus from Egypt.”¹ Encompassing nearly 2.5 million immigrants from the Russian Pale of Settlement, the Kingdom of Poland, Hapsburg Galicia and Romania, the post-1880 immigration transformed a middle-class, acculturated, and politically conservative Jewish community...

    • 4 AMERICAN JUDAISM BETWEEN THE TWO WORLD WARS
      (pp. 93-113)
      JEFFREY S. GUROCK

      In 1924 the editors of the American Hebrew, a “National Jewish Weekly,” were very worried about the impact upon their community of the congressional legislation passed that year, which effectively ended a century or more of constant Jewish immigration to this country. “Up to this time,” these journalists observed, the “accretion of our numbers has been like a river which fructifies and blesses the land.” But now, the “landlocked” Jews of America, “virtually isolated from the Jews of the rest of the world” and no longer the beneficiaries of “diverse infiltration of European Jewish culture, religion or language,” were on...

    • 5 TRIUMPH, ACCOMMODATION, AND RESISTANCE: AMERICAN JEWISH LIFE FROM THE END OF WORLD WAR II TO THE SIX-DAY WAR
      (pp. 114-141)
      RIV-ELLEN PRELL

      Following World War II, American culture was strikingly different from the one in which Americans lived during the 1930s and the war years of the early 1940s. This emerging culture was both more urban and suburban than in previous decades. New media, television in particular, shaped Americans’ understanding of the world around them. The parents of baby boom children turned increasingly to “experts” in magazines and on television to learn how to live happier lives, and how to raise better “adjusted” boys and girls. Religion and spirituality became a matter of far greater concern to adults than in the previous...

    • 6 INFLUENCE AND AFFLUENCE, 1967–2000
      (pp. 142-164)
      STEPHEN J. WHITFIELD

      In the nineteenth century a “whig interpretation” of the national experience was the fashion among American historians. They claimed that the present was better than the past and that the future would be even better than the present. The line of ascent was presumed to be straight and progressive. Change was a synonym for improvement; historical study would justify a spirit of optimism. A poet put it most succinctly: “America was promises,” according Archibald MacLeish,¹ and in this country pledges were honored and dreams realized. From the chastened perspective of the early twenty-first century, the whig paradigm has ceased to...

  5. Topical Essays
    • 7 THE EVER DYING DENOMINATION: American Jewish Orthodoxy, 1824–1965
      (pp. 167-188)
      KIMMY CAPLAN

      In a newspaper interview in 1912, Rabbi Leon Harrison (1866–1928) of the Reform congregation Temple Israel in St. Louis, declared that “Reform Judaism holds the future of American Judaism in its hands. . . . Under the conditions that prevail, orthodoxy [in America] is impossible.”¹ Several Orthodox rabbis and lay leaders of the mass immigration period, such as Rabbi Zalman J. Friederman (1865/66–1936) of Boston, shared a similar grim view regarding the future of Orthodoxy in America, although for different reasons.² This pessimistic outlook prevailed over several decades. For example, in a sermon published in 1946, Orthodox Rabbi...

    • 8 THE HISTORY OF JEWISH EDUCATION IN AMERICA, 1700–2000
      (pp. 189-216)
      MELISSA R. KLAPPER

      From the earliest days of Jewish settlement in the Atlantic colonies to the modern-day presence of Jews in every corner of the United States, religious education has been a communal concern. No single model of American Jewish education ever cohered, and, indeed, at any given moment, many Jews in America probably did not have access to or even interest in sustained religious education. Still, Jewish education in one form or another has existed in America for centuries and deserves closer examination. This essay will focus on three major themes in the history of Jewish education in America: the debates about...

    • 9 A REGIONAL CONTEXT FOR PACIFIC JEWRY, 1880–1930
      (pp. 217-245)
      WILLIAM TOLL

      American Jewish historical writing includes many carefully researched studies of communities in specific cities. But Jewish communities may also acquire a social status, and political legacy, and their cohesiveness may be augmented because of their regional location. Regionalism has provided a major theme for describing the affects of geography and environmental influences on economic and political rivalries in nineteenth-century America. It has also been properly criticized because of the often vague definitions of region and because of the similarities that marked America’s people as they migrated to bring newly settled territory into a national market economy.¹ For the concept of...

    • 10 FUN AND GAMES: The American Jewish Social Club
      (pp. 246-262)
      JENNA WEISSMAN JOSELIT

      American Jews, the latter-day descendants of the people of the book, are no strangers to pleasure. Some have found it in Torah study, others in cooking and eating, and still others in pursuit of what William James called the gospel of relaxation. From the lavish Purim balls of the 1880s to the modest dance halls of the 1900s, from Chicago’s stately Standard Club to its more humble cousin, the Aleph Beth Gymal Doled Club of Minneapolis, from lodges to landsmanshaftn, America’s Jews made ample room in their lives for the social whirl of things—for card playing, convivial conversation, a...

    • 11 A MULTITHEMATIC APPROACH TO SOUTHERN JEWISH HISTORY
      (pp. 263-290)
      MARK K. BAUMAN

      Various interpretations have been employed to explicate immigration and ethnic history, and American Jewish history in particular, many of which underwent challenge or modification. Oscar Handlin’s The Uprooted, which emphasized the wrenching immigration experience with its destruction of Old World culture, has been replaced by John Bodnar’s The Transplanted, with its greater recognition of continuity as well as change. Jacob Rader Marcus organized American Jewish history in terms of waves of immigration dominated by specific groups that placed their mark on an era. Now historians, particularly Hasia Diner, recognize overlap across waves, variations within them, and greater diversity. Did Jews...

    • 12 AMERICAN JEWISH RESPONSES TO NAZISM AND THE HOLOCAUST
      (pp. 291-312)
      RAFAEL MEDOFF

      “President [Roosevelt] has not by a single word or act intimated the faintest interest in what is going on” regarding the Jews in Germany, American Jewish Congress president Stephen Wise confided to a friend in April 1933, a month after Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany. Despite numerous reports of Nazi mistreatment of German Jews, FDR had refrained from any public comment on their plight. Six months later, in another letter to the same friend, Wise again bemoaned Roosevelt’s silence: “FDR has not lifted a finger on behalf of the Jews of Germany,” he wrote. “We have had nothing...

    • 13 HOLOCAUST CONSCIOUSNESS AND AMERICAN JEWISH POLITICS
      (pp. 313-336)
      MICHAEL E. STAUB

      How has American Jews’ sense of the meaning and implications of the Holocaust changed from the end of World War II to the present? It is a deceptively simple question. In the fields of American literature and popular culture, extensive scholarship has focused on representations of the Holocaust (including on television and in film).¹ Others have charted the impact of the Holocaust on theological debates.² But the role of Holocaust consciousness in American Jewish politics—and particularly the political battles over the Holocaust’s meaning within the American Jewish community—has received far less attention. And what little scrutiny there has...

    • 14 WHAT IS AMERICAN JEWISH CULTURE?
      (pp. 337-365)
      JEFFREY SHANDLER

      In the six decades since the end of World War II, much ink has been spilled trying to characterize, analyze, or simply define American Jewish culture. Once discussed much less extensively or publicly, it has become an ongoing topic among American Jews in both scholarly and popular writing. This extensive public discussion reveals that conceptualizing American Jewish culture is anything but a straightforward or self-evident enterprise. What prompted this rise in attention to American Jewish culture after the war, and why, at the same time, has this proved to be a problematic subject—so much so that some even question...

    • 15 RITES OF CITIZENSHIP: Jewish Celebrations of the Nation
      (pp. 366-384)
      BETH S. WENGER

      As the nation celebrated the centennial in July of 1876, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations gathered in Washington, DC for its third annual convention. To mark the occasion, the delegates scheduled a break from conference business and traveled to George Washington’s grave site in Mount Vernon.¹ The pilgrimage began as they boarded the ship where a flag welcomed the party with the Hebrew words shalom aleichem. The group disembarked to musical accompaniment and listened to speeches praising Washington’s heroic deeds and passionate commitment to liberty and democracy. Like many others who made the pilgrimage to the site, the Jewish...

    • 16 A BRIGHT NEW CONSTELLATION: Feminism and American Judaism
      (pp. 385-405)
      PAMELA S. NADELL

      More than a century passed between Polish Jewish immigrant Ernestine Rose’s demand of woman’s rights for all and the call for women’s full participation in Jewish life issued by the feminist, college-educated, Jewishly learned women of Ezrat Nashim. In the interim America’s Jewish women had benefited from the new opportunities opened up by the nineteenth-century woman’s rights movement and by the waves of American feminism that followed.

      The woman’s rights movement, one of the great reform movements of the nineteenth century, was launched in the summer of 1848 at Seneca Falls, New York, where some three hundred women and men...

    • 17 CONTEMPORARY JEWISH THOUGHT
      (pp. 406-432)
      ALAN T. LEVENSON

      What is the reader to conclude from such seemingly incompatible verdicts on the state of Jewish theology, rendered by two prominent and astute observers, looking at similar evidence in exactly the same period? Before adjudicating this matter, some historical and intellectual context for understanding contemporary Jewish thought is essential. It is a truism that ideas do not form in a vacuum, but one cannot overestimate how much events of the last century have shaped the agenda of Jewish thinkers. The Holocaust, the creation of the state of Israel, the successful integration of American Jews, the feminist movement and the recent...

    • 18 THERE’S NO SPACE LIKE HOME: The Representation of Jewish American Life in Abraham Cahan, Anzia Yezierska, Philip Roth, and Cynthia Ozick
      (pp. 433-458)
      LINDA S. RAPHAEL

      To understand a culture, one must study its literature. There one finds the cultural memory that pertains to a particular people at a particular time in a particular place and that relates to the world as human beings have always related to the world, in terms of their passions.¹ The passions that philosophers have studied since ancient times find vivid expression in the Hebrew Bible and are abundantly evident in Jewish writing since those ancient days. As in antiquity, when the problem of “Jewish” identity first emerged, there has always been some difficulty in identifying the people. No one doubts...

  6. CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. 459-462)
  7. INDEX
    (pp. 463-490)