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American Judaism: A History Paperback – October 24, 2005
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Top Customer Reviews
While the book is very readable and lively, I found his sense of optimism and his analysis of the challenges facing American Judaism in the future to be the greatest contributions of this monumental work. Sarna observes that the age-old fear that Judaism would not survive here provided an important stimulus for creative innovations. Time and again, concern for the future of Judaism inspired religious renewal. And he is equally surprised by the quickening pace of change.
Sarna has already won the National Jewish Book Award's 2004 Book of the Year and has traveled the country speaking to large and enthusiastic audiences. I think this is a book that will stand the test of time, and one that you will be coming back to as a reference for many, many years. What an excellent choice for gift-giving at this holiday time.
This book is particularly appealing because Sarna, unlike many academics, has a clear prose style that occasionally even displays a bit of flair.
"Since the demand for first-rate rabbis greatly outstripped the supply, the marketplace soon restored substantial power to the rabbinate," he writes, discussing America in the 1840s.
Or: "East European Jews looked to Reform Jews: sometimes they quietly emulated them, sometimes they explicitly rejected them, but never could they totally ignore them."
Sarna's book is not a full account of all aspects of American Jewish history. That would be well nigh impossible in only 375 pages. Rather, it is a history of the Jewish religion in America-what American Jews have believed about God and about their traditions, which religious rituals they have practiced (or stayed away from), and how they have organized themselves religiously.
There has been much discussion in the past decades about the "disappearing American Jew," the decline in religious observance in an ever-modernizing community, and the rapid onset of "assimilation," a term that Sarna generally shuns in this book as "virtually meaningless." Sarna reminds us that the predictors of gloom and doom have been predicting gloom and doom for generations and that the community has somehow survived the predictions.Read more ›
In case Dr. Sarna reads this -- here are my gripes: Personalities, such as Zalman Schachter-Shalomi merit too much of Sarna's attention. Similarly, Rebbetzin Jungreis is interesting but not far reaching in impact. Hadassah, and the extent to which it went hand in hand with Sisterhood's domination of suburban women's lives, barely gets passing mention. So too with the Soviet Jewry movement.
While Sarna does a beautiful job tracing the origins and sequelae of Orthodoxy's shift "to the right," he makes a few important omissions in describing other movements, such as Conservative Judaism. For example, he neglects to point out that the Movement's Law Committee had already approved Women's ordination before the Rabbinical Assembly voted to include women or the JTS faculty put it to a vote. Sarna suggests that the JTS faculty decision was purely expedient and not based on halachic considerations, which at least institutionally if not to the lay people, remains crucial. Similarly, at one point, Sarna notes that there is little distance today between left-wing Conservative and right-wing Reform. Quite true. But also worthy of note is the little distance between left-wing Orthodox "Modern orthodox" and right -wing Conservative, both of those last groups a vanishing breed.
Note too, Dr. Sarna, that Joe Leiberman carefully avoided describing himself as "Orthodox," preferring the word "observant."
All in all, an absolutely magnificent work.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Jonathan Sarna gives an insightful, comprehensive and fascinating overview of American Jewish history in "American Judaism" I really developed a great sense of how each... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Amazon Fan MD
Excellent book that helps one to understand the history, key players and general zeitgeist of the major Jewish movements in the USA. Read morePublished 17 months ago by Rabbi Beth
Sarna goes into detail about Jews who played a part in American history. Often the history or personalities he describes is not well-known by the average reader. Read morePublished on July 13, 2013 by Lee Haas
Trying to cover the breadth and depth of American Jewish history is a difficult task. Sarna does an effective job at hitting both the highlights as well as treating important... Read morePublished on February 1, 2013 by Steve Fisch
I have not completed reading all of it but it seems very comprehensive and informative. An excellent source of information.Published on January 12, 2013 by Mary A. Satlin
I really enjoyed this book. It covers Jewish history in America since the Pilgrims (I didn't know there where any Jews in America in the 1600's) to the present. Read morePublished on October 13, 2011 by David Bland
Professor Sarna is to be congratulated for an outstanding scholarly contribution to the canon of historical works describing the American Jewish experience. Read morePublished on February 2, 2011 by G. Simms