Cover image for American Judaism : a history
American Judaism : a history
Sarna, Jonathan D.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New Haven : Yale University Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
xx, 490 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Colonial beginnings -- The revolution in American Judaism -- Union and disunion -- Two worlds of American Judaism -- An anxious subculture -- Renewal -- Conclusion: American Judaism at a crossroads.
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BM205 .S26 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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This magisterial work chronicles the 350-year history of the Jewish religion in America. Tracing American Judaism from its origins in the colonial era through the present day, Jonathan Sarna explores the ways in which Judaism adapted in this new context. How did American culture - predominantly Protestant and overwhelmingly capitalist - affect Jewish religion and culture? And how did American Jews shape their own communities and faith in the new world? Jonathan Sarna, a preeminent scholar of American Judaism, tells the story of individuals struggling to remain Jewish while also becoming American. He offers a dynamic and timely history of assimilation and revitalisation, of faith lost and faith regained. The first comprehensive history of American Judaism in over fifty years, this book is both a celebration of 350 years of Jewish life in America and essential reading for anyone interested in American religion and life.

Author Notes

Jonathan Sarna is Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University, and chairs the Academic Board of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

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 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

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." (Apr.) Forecast: Sarna, one of the great deans of American Judaism and the chief historian of the National Museum of American Jewish History, will promote this book at many lectures this spring in cities such as New York, Saint Paul, Providence, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Washington, D.C. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Sarna (American Jewish history, Brandeis Univ.) is one of the foremost scholars in a field that has developed only during the last generation or so. He gives full credit to the scholarly pioneer who launched the field of American Jewish history, his teacher and mentor Jacob Rader Marcus. Sarna's work is both a study of the development of American Judaism and a history of the Jewish people in America. The author breaks new ground by arguing for new paradigms, such as suggesting the latter 20th century be considered a time of Jewish renewal. He shows how each generation in America has had profound challenges. For instance, he tries to resurrect the tensions for Jews during earlier periods before the mass eastern European immigration movement of the latter 1800s. These tensions provide a mirror to our own times, as Jews have always struggled with the challenges presented by a rich assimilative American culture. This book, which succeeds as both scholarship and as a popular title, is highly recommended for most libraries.-Paul Kaplan, Lake Villa Dist. Lib., IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

"American Judaism seems to be experiencing both revitalization and assimilation." From its colonial beginnings in New Amsterdam (1654) through the periods of the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Great Awakening, the Great War, and World War II to the present, Sarna (Brandeis) richly details the diverse elements that have come together to chronicle and shape American Judaism. He demonstrates that throughout its 350-year history in America, the Jewish faith has presented cycles of loss and rediscovery of faith, of adaptation, of assimilation, and ultimately of revitalization. By drawing attention to the legacy of individual figures as much as to major events, Sarna emphasizes that this history is "a much more dynamic story of people struggling to be Americans and Jews." Faced with challenges within American Judaism, from Old World Judaism, and from the cultural, social, political, and non-Jewish religious arenas, Sarna demonstrates that Judaism has not responded to the "haunting fear" that "in the New World it will wither away." Exceptional notes, glossary, time line, and bibliography. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. Lower-level undergraduates through faculty/researchers. H. M. Szpek Central Washington University

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introductionp. xiii
1 Colonial Beginningsp. 1
2 The Revolution in American Judaismp. 31
3 Union and Disunionp. 62
4 Two Worlds of American Judaismp. 135
5 An Anxious Subculturep. 208
6 Renewalp. 272
Conclusion: American Judaism at a Crossroadsp. 356
Appendix American Jewish Population Estimates, 1660-2000p. 375
List of Abbreviationsp. 377
Notesp. 379
Glossaryp. 423
Critical Dates in the History of American Judaismp. 429
Selected Bibliographyp. 441
Indexp. 466