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Contemporary American Judaism: Transformation and Renewal

5 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0231137287
ISBN-10: 0231137281
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A Reform rabbi in Albany, Ga., Kaplan has edited a collection of essays on American Judaism and written three books on Reform Judaism. His newest contribution focuses on American Judaism since the end of WWII, emphasizing recent innovations in the religion of the Jewish people. The first chapter provides a broad overview of both religious and historical developments, including the impact of the Holocaust and Israel. Changes in religious identity are sketched. The next seven chapters flesh out the fundamentals identified in the introductory chapter. Kaplan discusses spirituality, Jewish denominationalism, intermarriage, feminism, Jewish Renewal, mysticism and synagogue revitalization. He concludes by emphasizing the need to transform Judaism, implying that a more orderly structure is needed but not necessarily achievable. He fails to mention the value of ferment and debate as guarantors of survival, an odd omission given his insightful description of radical changes in American Judaism. (July)
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Review

"Kaplan...skillfully portrays the wide variety of untraditional, often idiosyncratic, ways of 'doing Jewish.'" -- Forward --Forward newspaper review

"Enter this volume and discover the multilayered story of American Judaism since 1945." -- David Geffen, Jerusalem Post --Jerusalem Post book review

"A tour de force that covers every important development in each of the branches of American Judaism, and Kaplan does it with a deep sensitivity to the issues involved." -- Chaim I. Waxman, Rutgers University --Back cover of Book

"Contemporary American Judaism is a pioneering and exciting study. Dana Evan Kaplan should be highly commended for facing boldly and honestly the new realities of American Jewish life." -- Yaakov Ariel, UNC --Back cover of book

There is no better guide to the remarkable changes in American Jewish religion.

(Nathan Glazer, Harvard University)

A tour de force that covers every important development in each of the branches of American Judaism, and Kaplan does it with a deep sensitivity to the issues involved.

(Chaim I. Waxman, Rutgers University)

Contemporary American Judaism is a pioneering and exciting study. Dana Evan Kaplan should be highly commended for facing boldly and honestly the new realities of American Jewish life.

(Yaakov Ariel, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

Spread around the world, interacting with diverse centers of communications, politics, and culture, the Jewish community is changing quickly and often in bewildering ways. But Judaism also remains a bellwether for what may be expected in other faiths as well. Dana Evan Kaplan has his finger on these changes and writes about them fairly and eloquently. You don't have to be Jewish to savor this book and learn from it.

(Harvey Cox, author of When Jesus Came to Harvard: Making Moral Choices Today)

[Kaplan] skillfully portrays the wide variety of untraditional, often idiosyncratic ways of 'doing Jewish.

(Forward)

[An] insightful description of radical changes in American Judaism.

(Publishers Weekly)

A keen observer of the faith of his people in the U.S., Kaplan does not hesitate to underline the fact that 'the American environment has impacted Judaism.'

(David Geffen Jerusalem Post Magazine)

Kaplan is clearly breaking new ground and writing a new narrative for twenty-first-century American Judaism.

(Jewish Review of Books)

Kaplan's gallery of American-inflected Jewish innovators is entertaining and... illuminating.

(Wilson Quarterly)

Kaplan's book is an excellent starting point for anyone seeking to understand the current state of American Judaism.

(Choice)

Kaplan's book is exhaustive in detail and broad in scope, touching on the fundamental challenges to contemporary Judaism in America from intermarriage, conversion, and the end of religious denominations to questions of ethnicity, spirituality, Israel, and the Holocaust.

(Zeek)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 446 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (June 29, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231137281
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231137287
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,876,958 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dana Evan Kaplan was born in Manhattan and grew up in New York and Connecticut. He holds a PhD in Jewish history from Tel Aviv University and Rabbinic ordination from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem. Dana has lived and worked in Australia, South Africa, Israel, and the United States. He loves to travel to exotic locales where he scuba dives and hikes.

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Contemporary American Judaism: Transformation and Renewal

First, a disclaimer. I personally have known the author for many years. Although we do not keep in touch regularly, I consider Rabbi Kaplan a good friend, and we have agreed to disagree on many issues.

Rabbi Kaplan writes extremely well. His thoughts are clearly put forth, and generally he avoids editorializing in this work. He is careful to identify his own thoughts when they do appear, and mostly writes as an impartial observer on the outside looking in. I do sense, however, a pronounced feminist bent in some of the chapters. It seems that Rabbi Kaplan treats the traditional roles of the sexes in Judaism (as opposed to general, secular society) as a flaw in Judaism that has finally been fixed in our time. Many traditionally observant Jews would take issue with that approach. Similarly, Rabbi Kaplan seems quite pleased with the move to legitimize homosexuality in non-Orthodox Jewish organizations, yet he does not fully explain how controversial this issue is, and why.

The book provides readers who are unfamiliar with Judaism in America a comprehensive overview of the history, trends, and issues facing American Jews. There are times, however, when Rabbi Kaplan makes references to Jewish theology that such readers might not understand. Other times, Jewish terms and references are translated and explained, but not consistently. I do wish Rabbi Kaplan had provided more in the way of background so that the reader might understand the normative underpinnings of many of the laws and rituals referenced.

Rabbi Kaplan takes an in-depth look at the two largest branches of Judaism in America - the Conservative and Reform movements.
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I'm not Jewish, and I read this book out of curiosity about the Jewish faith. I found it to be entertaining and easy to understand. Especially interesting to me was the information about the trend towards merging rituals and celebrations from different faiths, and the attempts of society to standardize and commercialize them - for example "Chrismukkuh."
The author, Dana Kaplan, says that the intermarriage stigma of the past no longer exists, and wonders if the result of this will be positive or negative for the Jewish faith. Having several friends in mixed marriages and relationships, I found this part of the book to be intriguing.
I recommend this book especially to Jews who want to know more about the history of their religion, and what the future may hold for Judaism.
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Format: Hardcover
American Jewish communities face so many challenges today that it is hard to know where to begin. Whether you are a leader, congregant, or just someone interested in the future of American religion, Contemporary American Judaism by Dana Kaplan is one of the best places to start.

Complete candor and insight are essential to evaluating the present and to envisioning the possible futures of American Judaism. Dana Kaplan provides plenty of both in this clear and provocative work.

He places the current situation in the long view of Jewish change and evolution. He offers no quick and easy solutions. Instead he presents the many creative strategies that are being devised and tried to keep American Judaism fresh, engaging and alive--but still in balance with tradition and history. He calls the task "Herculean" and it is. This is just the right book to inform and encourage Jewish communities to take on the task and blaze adventurous new paths.
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Rabbi Dana Kaplan is first and foremost a scholar. His research and thorough understanding of the Jewish religion, its history and its culture are apparent in reading any of his works. Rabbi Kaplan's work as a spiritual leader in rural Southwest Georgia gives him a unique perspective on the various issues that small congregations deal with in their daily lives, especially if those Jews are transplanted from larger communities. Having grown up in New York, Rabbi Kaplan is the epitome of that essay and brings his wealth of experience in larger congregations and communities combined with his working knowledge of smaller communities to bear in this insightful look at contemporary Judaism. The book is well written, diverse in its subject matter and able to sustain the reader throughout. Reading it makes you want to attend one of his services or Torah study sessions or sign up for his class. This is a must have edition for any Jewish home library.
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An outstanding read for anyone seeking to learn more about the state of Judaism, and its adherents, in America today. In "Contemporary American Judaism", Rabbi Kaplan has masterfully focused a vast wealth of scholarly and exegetical knowledge through the "hearts and minds" paradigm of a pulpit rabbi. Complex issues are explained clearly and at great depth, putting this book squarely at home in the halls of academia. It is clear, however, that this is not merely a textbook written by someone who has studied a topic, but a comprehensive account (and perhaps, prognosis?) given by someone that has lived and breathed the subject matter for many years, from a perspective few others may have. I would recommend this book to the academic and lay person alike, with the expectation that both would come away the better for it.
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