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American Judaism: A History Paperback – October 24, 2005
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
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From Publishers Weekly
Such scholars as Howard M. Sachar, Henry L. Feingold and Jacob R. Marcus, among others, have produced complete histories of American Jewry. Sarna, a Brandeis University professor who has published on various aspects of American Jewish history, now joins the ranks of his distinguished predecessors. Marking the 350th anniversary of Jewish settlement in New Amsterdam (now New York), this outstanding survey emphasizes the religious history of Jews in America. Since it is difficult to disentangle religious history from the entire story of how Jews fared generally in the United States, the book provides a sweeping overview of the trials, tribulations and triumphs of American Jews from 1654 to the present. Sarna writes in sprightly prose, usefully presenting anecdotes about some unfamiliar people and events: for example, he introduces Rachel "Ray" Frank, an obscure late-19th-century "charismatic woman Jewish revivalist." Full attention is also paid to the great rabbinical leaders, the movements they led and the problems they encountered. Sarna's fact-filled presentation demonstrates that American Jews have always worried about intermarriage, assimilation and continuity. At various times, they have found answers in regeneration, revitalization and renewal. Concluding with a consideration of contemporary dilemmas, Sarna draws from history the possibility that "American Jews will find creative ways to maintain and revitalize American Judaism."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Sarna's detailed history of Jewish life in the U.S. spans 350 years, from its colonial beginnings in 1654 to the present. Sarna points out that already in the late colonial period American Judaism had begun to diverge from religious patterns that existed in Europe and the Caribbean. The American Revolution, the ratification of the Constitution, the passage of the Bill of Rights, and the nationwide democratization of religion further transformed Jewish religious life. Fear for American Judaism's future underlies many aspects of its history, but Sarna believes that the many creative responses to this fear, the innovations and revivals promoted by those determined to ensure that American Jewish life continues and thrives, seem of far greater historical significance. This comprehensive and insightful study of the American Jewish experience is much more than just a record of events. It is an account of how people shaped events: establishing and maintaining communities, responding to challenges, and working for change. It is compelling reading for Jews and non-Jews alike. George Cohen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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His utilization of a documentary approach fits in well with the Jewish tradition of text study. It's quite remarkable how much information seems new even to those previously well versed in the subject.
While his writing style is accessible, it is dense and fact-filled. With careful culling, I have been able to use portions as a base text for high school students, although it would be more appropriate for a college (or even graduate school) survey course.
This is probably not the kind of book one sits down and reads through. On the other hand, it is a valuable for "fact checking" other writers' more opinion-laden efforts, because Sarna is meticulous in his footnotes and citation of authorities.
The author spends too much time on the early American experience. While the role of Jews in Ameerica friom the 1650's to the 1820's is interesting, at no time in that period did Jews represent more than a tiny fraction of the population. Further, their descendants either assimiliated into American culture or was overwhelmed by the subsequent immigration from Eastern Europe. In short, they had little lasting impact on subsequent Jewish life in America, and spending that much effort on a description of them is unwarrented.
Perhaps the best aspect of this work is Sarna's demonstration of the impact of American culture of the development of the unique "American" styles of Judaism, with its congregationalism, denominationalism, and focus on "rights" as well as responsibilities.
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.
Wrote a message wishing me luck on my classes!
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.