American Judaism

American Judaism: A History

Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 512
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  • Book Info
    American Judaism
    Book Description:

    This magisterial work chronicles the 350-year history of the Jewish religion in America. Tracing American Judaism from its origins in the colonial era through the present day, Jonathan Sarna explores the ways in which Judaism adapted in this new context. How did American culture-predominantly Protestant and overwhelmingly capitalist-affect Jewish religion and culture? And how did American Jews shape their own communities and faith in the new world?Jonathan Sarna, a preeminent scholar of American Judaism, tells the story of individuals struggling to remain Jewish while also becoming American. He offers a dynamic and timely history of assimilation and revitalization, of faith lost and faith regained.

    The first comprehensive history of American Judaism in over fifty years, this book is both a celebration of 350 years of Jewish life in America and essential reading for anyone interested in American religion and life.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12910-6
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xx)

    Thirty years ago, when I first became interested in American Jewish history, I mentioned my interest to a scholar at a distinguished rabbinical seminary, and he was absolutely appalled. “American Jewish history,” he growled, “I’ll tell you all that you need to know about American Jewish history: the Jews came to America, they abandoned their faith, they began to live likegoyim[Gentiles], and after a generation or two they intermarried and disappeared.” “That,” he said, “is American Jewish history; all the rest is commentary. Don’t waste your time. Go and study Talmud.”

    I did not take this great sage’s...

  5. 1 Colonial Beginnings
    (pp. 1-30)

    New Amsterdam, part of the remote Dutch colony of New Netherland in present-day New York State, was among the New World’s most diverse and pluralistic towns. A French Jesuit missionary in 1643 reported that “eighteen different languages” were spoken by local inhabitants of different sects or nations. In addition to the legally protected Calvinist faith, he encountered Catholics, English Puritans, Lutherans, and Anabaptists. A large supplementary influx of dissenting Protestants (including Lutherans, Quakers, and Anabaptists) subsequently arrived from Europe. Then, on a late summer day in September 1654, a small French frigate named theSte. Catherinesailed into the port.¹...

  6. 2 The Revolution in American Judaism
    (pp. 31-61)

    “O Lord . . . may it please thee, to put it in the heart of our Sovereign Lord, George the Third, and in the hearts of his Councellors, Princes and Servants, to turn away their fierce Wrath from against North America,” pleaded Congregation Shearith Israel on May 17, 1776, the “day of humiliation, fasting and prayer” called by the Second Continental Congress. More than a year after the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the congregation prayed for “an everlasting peace” between Great Britain and her colonies, “that . . . no more blood be shed in these Countries.”¹


  7. 3 Union and Disunion
    (pp. 62-134)

    St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Buffalo must have seemed an unlikely setting for the dedication of a Jewish colony. But it was the city’s only house of worship and the only hall large enough for the huge anticipated crowd. So on September 15, 1825, the day after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, crowds of (mostly non-Jewish) spectators, many of them women, gathered at St. Paul’s to witness an “impressive and unique” ceremony. Musicians, soldiers, politicians, Masons, and clergymen marched up from the Masonic lodge in a long procession at whose center stood Mordecai Noah, then America’s best-known Jew and...

  8. 4 Two Worlds of American Judaism
    (pp. 135-207)

    On the “fateful . . . night” of October 5, 1879, a group of earnest young Jews from Philadelphia and New York met at an undisclosed Philadelphia location and bound themselves together in a solemn covenant “for God and Judaism.” They called themselves Keyam Dishmaya, an Aramaic term signifying their goal to uphold the dictates of heaven, and they pledged to do all in their power to bring Jews back “to the ancient faith.” “The great question for contemporary Judaism,” twenty-six-year-old Max Cohen, later librarian of New York’s Maimonides Library, exclaimed in a letter to a friend, “is whether it...

  9. 5 An Anxious Subculture
    (pp. 208-271)

    “The campaign to raise $5 million in New York for Jewish war relief and welfare work in the army and navy came to a triumphant close yesterday,” theNew York Timesreported on December 16, 1917. Led by American Jewry’s premier lay leader and philanthropist, Jacob Schiff, the campaign united the city’s Jews as never before. “Jews of all ranks and classes; Jews from Wall Street banking houses and Fifth Avenue mansions . . . Jews from the East Side sweat shops and East Side tenements”; Orthodox, Reform, secular, and socialist Jews; men, women, children, even the indigents of the...

  10. 6 Renewal
    (pp. 272-355)

    Rabbi Joshua Loth Liebman (1907–1948) understood, in 1946, how strange some would find it that he had written a book entitledPeace of Mind.Inspirational books in English aimed at a mass audience had always before been written by Christians. Would readers trust a Boston Reform rabbi to distill for them the “helpful insights about human nature that psychology has discovered” and to correlate these “with the truest religious insights and goals of the ages?” Would they heed one who drew upon the sources of his own “healthy-minded” faith, critiqued the Catholic confessional, and promoted a therapeutic culture of...

  11. Conclusion: American Judaism at a Crossroads
    (pp. 356-374)

    Enter a traditional Jewish worship service just as prayers are commencing, and you may behold a curious sight. The people in charge will be searching for a minyan, a prayer quorum. Counting up those in attendance, they will pretendnotto count them, calling out “not one, not two, not three, not four.” When “not ten” finally arrives, the service may begin.¹

    Rooted in a Talmudic teaching (“Whoever counts the people of Israel transgresses a negative commandment”), this practice also reflects an ancient taboo, exemplified in the Bible, against communal censuses, so often the portents of taxation and conscription. Throughout...

  12. Appendix: American Jewish Population Estimates, 1660–2000
    (pp. 375-376)
  13. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 377-378)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 379-422)
  15. Glossary
    (pp. 423-428)
  16. Critical Dates in the History of American Judaism
    (pp. 429-440)
  17. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 441-465)
  18. Index
    (pp. 466-490)