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Jew Vs Jew: The Struggle For The Soul Of American Jewry Paperback – September 21, 2007


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Jew vs. Jew is Samuel G. Freedman's passionate story of the "struggle for the soul of American Jewry." Freedman believes that three fundamental questions are rending the American Jewish community today: "What is the definition of Jewish identity? Who decides what is authentic and legitimate Judaism? And what is the Jewish compact with America?" Exploring these questions leads Freedman down a number of wild paths. He listens patiently to the fierce neighborly squabbles in Great Neck, New York; he reconstructs the tension-filled final days of a labor Zionist summer camp in the Catskills; he witnesses orthodox Jews attacking American conservative Jews worshiping at the foot of the Western Wall. Freedman expertly sketches the major conflicts in American Judaism--"secularist against believer, denomination against denomination, gender against gender, liberal against conservative, traditionalist against modernist even within each branch." The book's conclusions (such as "America without Jews is unimaginable, and the brave assimilationists made that possible, even if the price was much of their own distinctiveness as Jews") are not particularly groundbreaking. But Jew vs. Jew is a thoughtful and beautifully written assessment of the precarious situation of Jewish identity in America today. --Michael Joseph Gross --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Though it almost always presents a united front to the world, the American Jewish community, according to acclaimed journalist Freedman (The Inheritance; Upon This Rock; etc.), is a house divided against itself. With the small contingent of the Orthodox on one side, and predominant Reform and Conservative Jews on the other, the fault lines are threatening to break into yawning fissures. Even the Orthodox are divided between the centrist Modern Orthodox of Yeshiva University and the ultra-Orthodox of Agudath Israel and the Hasidim falling further to the right. In sharply pointed tableaux, Freedman shows that American Jews cannot agree among themselves on who is a Jew, how far women's equality should go or even whether to build a new synagogue complex in a Cleveland suburb. The depth and excellence of Freedman's reporting shines in his nuanced portraits of individuals on both sides of each debate he outlines: David Gottesman, a Modern Orthodox Jew who wants to build an Orthodox synagogue in the largely Reform suburb of Beachwood, Ohio; Rachel Adler, the feminist theologian who divided a progressive congregation when she tried to introduce gender balance into the central part of the prayer service; Harry Shapiro, a good-hearted loner but ultra-Orthodox hawk regarding the PLO man who placed a bomb (supposedly rigged not to go off) in a Conservative synagogue where Israeli leader and peace negotiator Shimon Peres was scheduled to speak. All the portraits are objective, even sympathetic, and yet Freedman doesn't mask how ugly the battles can become: in Ohio, one Orthodox Jew calls his opponents Nazis. This outstanding report is sure to fuel the flames on all sides of the debate. Agent, Barney Karpfinger. (Aug.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (September 21, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416578005
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416578000
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #958,210 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 39 people found the following review helpful By L. Feld on April 17, 2001
Format: Hardcover
In "Jew vs, Jew," Samuel Freedman has something to say, and overall says it well, but still I recommend that you take this book with a large grain (maybe even a pillar!) of salt. For instance, Freedman argues that the "Orthodox model" has "triumphed," but at the same time there is evidence (which he doesn't cite) that enrollment of non-orthodox Jewish children at Jewish Day Schools is booming. Also, as Freedman himself acknowledges (in the last line of the book -- "the only ones fighting are the only ones left who care"), the vast majority of Jewish-Americans (especially the "just Jews" group, as Freedman calls them) are NOT involved in this "struggle for the soul of American Jewry." What about all those people? And what are the implications of the fact that most of these people are proceeding with their lives regardless of what the Orthodox "establishment" thinks about them? Is Freedman writing off half (or more) of the American Jewish population, or is he just not interested? Examples like this make me feel that although "Jew vs. Jew" is well-written (in a journalistic style), it somehow is missing the forest for the trees, and also that it lacks rigor - i.e., hard evidence and an analytical framework to put all the anecdotes (interesting though they may be) in some sort of intellectual context.
Three other criticisms of "Jew vs. Jew." First, Freedman claims (ambitiously) to be painting a picture of "the soul of American Jewry" today. But does Freedman really believe that there IS one "soul" and one "American Jewry" - or should be -- in such a large, diverse population? Second, Freedman argues that, in America, Jews are being "loved to death," and that this is a bad thing. But wait a second...isn't it GOOD that anti-Semitism has declined to the lunatic fringe?
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41 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Larry Mark MyJewishBooksDotCom on August 9, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I started to read this book the day after an Orthodox neighbor of mine said to me that the vandalization of the Liberal (HUC) yeshiva in Jerusalem was probably the work of Reform Jews seeking sympathy. I completed this book the day the major media organizations focused on Gore's pick for a VP candidate, Joseph Lieberman, as an Orthodox Jew. How ironic that a country can rally behind him as a candidate, but in a synagogue, his policies might cause strife. Freedman, a former reporter at the NYT and a journalism Professor at Columbia, was attending his local synagogue and saw a conflict among its members. He observed very PUBLIC disagreements among various Jewish denominations, among types of Diaspora Zionists, among adherents to the various levels of observance and Jewish parentage. These OBSERVATIONS led to this book on how the Jewish community in America has become fragmented since 1960. At a time when America's 6 million Jews should feel more secure and cohesive than ever, a CIVIL (civil as in calm most of the time) WAR is tearing the community participants apart (well at least Jewish leaders, the rank and file is probably not as concerned with the issues). Congregations, neighborhoods, even families are taking sides in battles about Jewish identity and Jewish authenticity. The conflict pits fundamentalist against secularist, denomination against denomination, even egalitarian, and liberal against conservative within each branch of Jewry. Even the Orthodox are fragmented by levels of authenticity and belief. Has American Jewry terminally become unstitched in the last forty years? Was it actually ever cohesive?Read more ›
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31 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Mark J. Mills on August 31, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Having just suffered through this book, I feel as though the encomnia showered on the author must be tempered somewhat. Given the author's credentials -- former NYT reporter, professor of journalism -- one would be excused for thinking that he might have the barest inkling how to write engagingly, or, if not, at least interestingly. Unfortunately, freed from a newspaper's space constraints, Mr Freedman does nothing but blather endlessly and leadenly, making sand from the rocks he tirelessly pounds. Each of the topics he essays to examine is, in itself, of interest; however, by the time he finishes describing the provenance of, e.g., the dog's veterinarian's psychiatrist's rebbe's education and dining habits (well, perhaps the slightest exaggeration), one feels like screaming, "Get to the point if you have one!" "Jew vs. Jew" joined that exceedingly short list of books I've had to force myself to finish, a rare occurrence for this compulsive reader. The author has blown up a perfectly reasonable NYT Magazine-length article into an over-long, misshapen mess. If you think you absolutely must read this, begin skimming from the very beginning; you'll still glean Mr Freedman's meager and rather self-evident points, while frustrating and exhausting yourself less.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By "shimong" on April 15, 2004
Format: Paperback
Freedman presents a very interesting, worthwhile study of modern American Jewish development. His style is clear and the book is beautifully structured. Attempts are made to analyse the prevailing and underlying issues surrounding topical issues in the Jewish USA, many of which have interesting parallels in the UK community. I found this book easy to read, and very enjoyable for its humour, clarity and unbiased scholarship.
Some reviews have called this book a "definitive study", which cannot be the case, since huge areas of Jewish life are left alone by this one volume; however, there is surely room for expansion, and a sequel of sorts would certainly be received graciously by me! There are areas where greater depth may have been appropriate, but for the most part, a sensible level of thought has been articulated.
Perhaps most importantly, this book will serve as an insight to both Jews and non-Jews into the challenges and conflicts which have faced and doubtless will face the Jewish community, both in the USA and in the rest of the world, in the last few years and in the next few. Particularly interesting are Freedman's "predictions", specifically his prediction of the demise of "modern orthodoxy" into Conservatism.
In short, read the book, and see if you agree.
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