From Publishers Weekly
Raphael, the chair of the religion department at the College of William and Mary, explores the history, theology and practices of American Jews in this accessible and absorbing survey. After a brief introductory chapter outlining Jewish diversity, Raphael discusses festivals and life-cycle events, which are the building blocks of Judaism in practice. Other chapters consider the history of Judaism in America, the changing role of the synagogue and the rise of the many para-synagogue organizations and institutions that help define Jewish life. Raphael's study is greatly enriched by his primary ethnographic research; he attended more than 100 services in the four major branches of Judaism, and also interviewed people formally and informally about their beliefs and practices. While he acknowledges the usual grim statistics (declining numbers, increasing intermarriage and a low birth rate), he doesn't dwell on them, insisting instead that "what strikes the contemporary observer of the synagogue is its vitality." One particularly fascinating chapter explores the increase of interest in spirituality and Jewish renewal, the emergence of homosexual congregations, the "surge" in Jewish day schools and the gradual decline of identification with Israel compared to 50 years ago. Another chapter examines the return to traditional observance that has marked all sectors of Judaism in recent years. Newcomers will find this an engaging introduction to American Judaism, and even experts may learn something new.
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A fine contribution to the Columbia Contemporary American Religion series, Raphael's book is an apt portrait of contemporary Judaism in America.
Raphael makes an enlightening contribution to the history, development, and future of Judaism... A most pleasurable read. Recommended.
This is an excellent addition to all collections because it provides a focused overview of American Jewish life today.
(Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter
Accessible and absorbing... newcomers will find this an engaging introduction to American Judaism, and even experts may learn something new.
Raphael's study is not merely a collected analysis of texts, as is clear from his research throughout Jewish communities, but rather an attempt to capture the true nature of the American Jewish community's history: past, present and future.
(Jewish Book World
Raphael gives detailed accounts of Judaism being affected by particularities of society in America.... As the title of this excellent study suggests, the book concerns the religion rather than the people.
(Daniel Crewe The Times Literary Supplement
A valuable contribution to the teaching of modern Judaism and of religion in America.
(George R. Wilkes The Journal of Jewish Studies
An excellent overview of the transformation of Judaism in the United States.
(Shira Kohn Levy H-Amstdy