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A People Divided: Judaism in Contemporary America (Brandeis Series in American Jewish History, Culture, and Life) Paperback – September 15, 1997

ISBN-13: 978-0874518481 ISBN-10: 0874518482

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Product Details

  • Series: Brandeis Series in American Jewish History, Culture, and Life
  • Paperback: 287 pages
  • Publisher: Brandeis (September 15, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0874518482
  • ISBN-13: 978-0874518481
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #623,973 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

American Jewry has become increasingly polarized, asserts Wertheimer. In his estimation, current dynamic programs for religious revival are the creations of a vocal, passionately involved minority, while for the vast majority of American Jews, religion plays a minimal role. In this searching inquiry, the author, a history professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Manhattan, looks at various innovations, from the Havurah movement, which has stressed gender equality, prayer services and intimate communal experiences, to Jewish feminism and reconstructivist congregations. Nor are the more established sectors exempt from change. At the same time that Wertheimer ( Unwelcome Strangers ) finds an eclectic openness to traditional teachings in Reform Judaism, he also notes a shift to the right among the Orthodox and deep splits in a Conservative community. This is a tough-minded corrective to more optimistic recent surveys.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

A thoughtful but short-sighted study of a precariously splintered American Jewry. Wertheimer (Unwelcome Strangers, 1987) uses his background history professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary (Conservative) to offer more than sociological insights in reading several generations' worth of statistics on American Jewish patterns of religious practice and identification. Nonetheless, with his study anchored in the 40's and 50's--boom years for the Conservative movement--there's a strong tilt toward his own denomination. Wertheimer too often positions the Conservative movement as true ``American Judaism,'' and, by not drawing the longer shadows of Reform and Orthodox Judaism, he fails to credit the Reform for initiating a Judaism for nonpracticing American Jews. Moreover, instead of wondering whether ``Orthodoxy can be viewed as a coherent and united movement,'' he should have made the point that traditional Judaism is unchanged since the days of the Pharisees. To survive suburbanization, the Conservatives in 1950 decided to allow driving to synagogue on the Sabbath--forfeiting any fealty to biblical law. Wertheimer doesn't mark this milestone as the philosophical demise of the movement, although, to his credit, he concedes that Conservative Judaism is ``caught in a cross fire...and hard pressed to justify its centrism.'' He shows the Conservative sun as setting and the inclusiveness of the Reform and Reconstructionists as instrumental in slowing rampant loss from intermarriage and assimilation. But for all of Wertheimer's statistics and trend-watching, the high birth and emigration rates of the Orthodox are ignored. The author is at his strongest when comparing the rises and falls of Jewish to Christian denominations, and when discussing how the various movements reacted to the sexual revolution, the women's movement, and the era of personal, nontraditional spiritual searching that began in the late 60's. Extensive notes and bibliography add to the value of this study for the student of religion, but it lacks the punchy thesis needed for more popular appeal. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By kaiser@physiology.pnb.sunysb.edu on December 16, 1997
Format: Paperback
In all respects, this is a wonderful study of American Jews. I urge people to study this volume carefully - and to ignore the hatchet book review from Kirkus. That review falsely claims that his study is "anchored in the 40's and 50's--boom years for the Conservative movement--there's a strong tilt toward his own denomination." This is wrong, and one wonders if they actually read the book. They also claim that "he fails to credit the Reform for initiating a Judaism for nonpracticing American Jews", which is the opposite of what Prof. Wertheimer writes. The biased Krikus review falsely claims that "he should have made the point that traditional Judaism is unchanged since the days of the Pharisees." This is nothing less than religious fundamentalism and propaganda, more suited to right wing Jewish or Christian fundamentalist tracts. Orthodox Judaism has changed a great deal since Pharasaic times, and indeed has changed very much since the 1600s, when halakhic change nearly came to an end after the publication of the Shulkhan Aruhkh. I urge any interested reader to obtain unbiased historical studies of the development of Judaism and Jewish law, such as works by Mendell Lewittes and Menachem Elon, who are respected in all quarters. Although they are Orthodox Jews, they are also objective historians. The rest of the Kirkus review on Prof. Wertheimer's fine book follows in the same angry (and factually wrong) tone, which betrays either a fanatic mindset or total ignorance of history. "A People Divided" is not a book for those who wish to deny history or objective facts, but rather is an objective study of the great challenges facing the American Jewish community today; As such it is directed towards those of any religious (or secular) background who have an open mind as well as a basic education.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By "jrw38" on December 27, 2001
Format: Paperback
Though currently JEW V. JEW is receiving all the attention in the press, Jack Wertheimer's A PEOPLE DIVIDED is probably a better account of the state of American Jewry today.
While JEW V. JEW imitates midrash in its telling of divisions among American Jews, A PEOPLE DIVIDED gives a more straightforward account and the historical perspective needed to make sense of the battles American Jews are now fighting among themselves. I read this over the summer of 2000, when I was relatively new to Judaism, and it proved an immeasurable help in understanding why the Jewish community is the way it is.
The only reason I don't give this book four stars is that Wertheimer occasionally lapses into his own (rather obvious) Conservative bias. Somehow, he seems to believe that the current wars have started because both Orthodoxy and Reform have branched off from the "true Judaism" represented by the Conservative Movement. Wertheimer also could have paid more attention to Reconstructionism, a branch of Judaism that, though it has some similarities to Reform, has its own internal philosophical battles.
All in all, though, A PEOPLE DIVIDED is an excellent introduction to its subject matter and a book I highly recommend.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on February 16, 2005
Format: Paperback
Jack Wertheimer has been for years one of the most thoughtful and concerned writers about the condition of American Jewry. His understanding of the polarization in the community, and the damage done to by assimilation is based on his strong adherence to Jewish religious tradition. The fact however that one diagnoses correctly a certain problem does not mean that one can provide a solution. Wertheimer has at times suggested that instead of worrying about those Jews who show little concern about the tradition, the community direct its resources to strengthening those that do.

In any case reading this work will provide a true understanding of the basic sociological identity of the American Jewish community.
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