American Judaism

A History

Jonathan D. Sarna

View Inside Price: $40.00


March 11, 2004
512 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
44 b/w illus.
ISBN: 9780300101973
Cloth

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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 revitalization, 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.

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. Author or editor of more than twenty books on American Jewish history and life, he is also the chief historian of the National Museum of American Jewish History and of the 350th commemoration of Jewish life in America, 1654-2004.

Selected by the American Jewish Committee as part of its "Canon of Jewish Literacy."

"This astonishingly comprehensive and detailed history of American Jewish life offers a fascinating analysis of the complex effects of pluralism upon Jewish continuity. A major contribution to American religious history."—Albert J. Raboteau, Princeton University

"Jonathan Sarna has written, what I personally believe, will be seen as the definitive book on American Judaism as we prepare to celebrate our 350th year in residence on these shores. We are at a point in this history when the American Jewish community is turning inward. We have come to realize it is time to reinvigorate and replenish our own community while still maintaining interest and support of our people throughout the world. In order to do this effectively we must know our story here in America, know how our vibrant and successful community was born and grew to its current heights. Dr. Sarna has given us the tool we need."—Carolyn Hessel, The Jewish Book Council

"Jonathan Sarna has concisely and brilliantly interpreted the history of Judaism in America from its marginal beginnings in the seventeenth century to its central mission of preserving Jewish faith and traditions during the era of the European Holocaust and on to the postwar challenge of intermarriage and assimilation. With great sensitivity and open-mindedness, Sarna traces the effects of Judaism on the larger society as well as the revolutionary transformations within Judaism itself—on spiritual as well as worldly levels."—David Brion Davis, author of Challenging the Boundaries of Slavery, Harvard University Press

"American Judaism providesa comprehensive and insightful portrait of the American Jewish experience. Sarna is magisterial as well as accessible in this work, and American Judaism willserve as the standard book in the field. American Judaism indicates why Sarna has earned his reputation as the premiere American Jewish historian of his generation!"—David Ellenson, President Hebrew Union College, Jewish Institute of Religion

"This book is long overdue. There is no person more qualified than Jonathan Sarna to give us a fresh, important, and provocative perspective on American Judaism. In American Judaism: A New History hehas given us precisely that. We are the better for it."—Deborah E. Lipstadt, Ph.D., Emory University

"A masterfully contextualized synthesis with exactly the right focus, full of elegance, empathy and insight."—Ismar Schorsch, Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America

"Informed by a sophisticated awareness of trends in American social and religious history, this magisterial study demonstrates how Jews in different eras have actively shaped distinctively American versions of Judaism during their 350 year sojourn on these shores."—Jack Wertheimer, Provost, Jewish Theological Seminary

"I am considering assigning sections of Sarna’s American Judaism forcourses I teach on American Jews and the Media, and I will certainly keep it in mind as a text for other courses that I might teach in the future dealing, in whole or in part, with American Jewish life. It offers an invaluable large-scale view of the dynamics of American Jewry, centered on religiosity, and presents a compelling appreciation of American Jewish life, both from Jewish and from Americanist perspectives."—Jeffrey Shandler

"Jonathan Sarna’s American Judaism:  A New History notonly is the best we’ve ever had—smart, sophisticated, learned, even witty—but eloquently testifies to Judaism’s importance to American religion, as well as American Judaism’s critically important role for Judaism throughout the world. It is hard to imagine a finer, more sweeping history to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the Jews’ prescient arrival in America."—Jon Butler, Yale University

"In American Judaism, Brandeis University scholar Jonathan Sarna has produced a marvelous survey that masterfully recounts the history of Jewish religious life in America and in the process provides much insight into other aspects of American Jewish history as well. . . . This reviewer has had the instructive experience of participating in a havurah (a friendship circle cum studygroup) that chose to base its discussion sessions on American Judaism for several months. Taking part in these sessions has made it clear to me that Sarna’s book is being seen as a splendid success not only by scholars in Jewish Studies, but also by lay readers of many stripes. Members of my havurah havepraised Sarna for his judicious interpretive approach, for his resistance to oversimplification, and for his presentation of history in such a way as to stimulate thinking about current issues in Jewish life. Ultimately, the havurah paidSarna’s text its ultimate complement: in some twenty-five years of book discussions, American Judaism is the first volume for which all members of the group have expressed admiration."—Lee Shai Weissbach, University of Louisville

"As the distillation of Jonathan Sarna’s lifetime of careful scholarship on Judaism and American Jews, this volume offers compelling reading for general readers as well as university students. It is hardly possible to imagine a more satisfying interweaving of four compelling narratives: of the Jewish people as an ethnic story, of Judaism as a religious story, of the Jewish people as contributors to American history, and of American Jewish experiences in relation to the experience of Jews in Europe and the Middle East. This is a landmark book."—Mark A. Noll, professor of history at Wheaton College, author of America’s God, from Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (2002)

"American Judaism byJonathan D. Sarna is without question the most distinctive and important contribution to the field of American Jewish studies in recent decades. Sarna’s erudite and pathbreaking treatment of the history of Ameican Jewish life and culture overturns past wisdom and sets a new standard for the scholarly study of the American Jewish experience. This volume surely ranks among the two or three most significant works of scholarship on American Judaism ever produced."—Mark A. Raider, Chair, Department of Judaic Studies and Director, Center for Jewish Studies, State University of New York at Albany

"Jonathan Sarna’s American Judaism: A New History will confirm his reputation as the doyen of American Jewish historians. He has written brilliantly and compelling of the struggles of American Jews from Colonial times onward to import, sustain, adapt and enhance the religion of their ancestors in the soil of the New World. Sarna examines in a way that no other history of American Jews and of American Judaism does the religious life of the Jews in America. He knows so well the inner dynamics of the American Jewish community and of Judaism but is equally well versed in the religious history of the American people. The challenges that confront contemporary Jews from the drawing of boundaries to the question of authority to the clash and/or synthesis of values between American identity and Jewish identity and the deep divisions between Jews are all shown to have deep roots in the American Jewish experience. Sarna’s knowledge is deep, his understanding mature, his research comprehensive and his findings are up-to-date. This work should emerge as the single best description of American Judaism during its 350 years on American soil. It will eclipse earlier work even as it sensitizes us to the shape that our religious life will take in the opening decades of the third millennium."—Michael Berenbaum, Director, Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of the Holocaust; Professor of Theology [Adjunct], The University of Judaism

"Jonathan Sarna’s history of American Jewry is a wonderful read—and at the same time an informative and subtle analysis of the formation of something radically new in Jewish history: a diaspora community that is, for most of its members, not an exilic community. The accommodation of Judaism and American democracy is brilliantly described, and the problems produced by the accommodation are clearly and realistically confronted."—Michael Walzer, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ

"That the major themes of American religion—revivalism, challenges to authority, and democratization—course through 350 years of American Judaism are among the stunning insights of Jonathan D. Sarna’s new history of American Judaism. American Judaism will become the essentialtext for teaching American Jewish religious history in religion, history, and modern Jewish studies classrooms."—Pamela A. Nadell, author of Women Who Would Be Rabbis: A History of Women’s Ordination, 1889-1985

"Historians no longer believe in 'definitive works,' but there is no doubt that this synthesis of a lifetime of learning, by America’s leading historian of American Jewry, will for many years be the most authoritative treatment of its subject."—Peter Novick

"Those who know a great deal about the subject will discover how much they didn’t know; those who know little or nothing will find American Judaism an inviting and accessible introduction."—Peter Novick

"Historical writing about American Jewry has long been rich at the (social and cultural) margins and impoverished at the (religious) center. No Longer: in a work which crowns a lifetime of scholarship, Jonathan Sarna has produced a highly readable book rewarding to scholars and neophytes alike."—Peter Novick

"Drawing on a lifetime of scholarship, Sarna, on every subject, comes up with the anecdote which 'says it all.'"—Peter Novick

"A massively researched and brilliantly written social and cultural history of American Jewish religious life which is sure to be the authoritative work on the subject for many years to come."—Peter Novick

"A brilliant account of the centuries-old tension between a vision of Judaic faith and a vision of Jewish peoplehood. I can think of no work which sheds greater historical light on American Jewry’s contemporary situation."—Peter Novick

"A masterly synthesis of the development and interaction of the varied strands of American Judaism."—Peter Novick

"In American Judaism Jonathan Sarna distills a lifetime of learning into a brilliant and provocative narrative."—Peter Novick

"An eminently readable blend of fact and interpretation, objectivity and optimism."—Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People

"Jonathan Sarna has given us a rich, comprehensive history of Judaism’s story in America. It is a lucid, insightful, engaging narrative of Judaism’s journey through the American experience. Professor Sarna dispassionately relates the development of a passionate people’s struggle to adapt a timeless tradition to a bold new world. Even as he chronicles an array of challenges confronting Judaism in America, he points to successes and opportunities as we continue building an enduring history into the future."—Richard M. Joel, President, Yeshiva University

"What a prodigious feat. Jonathan Sarna has captured, in one small book, 350 years of the trends and challenges which confronted American Jewry and confront us yet today. He presents the communal responses as a prelude to today’s diversity and fragmentation and encourages us to be optimistic about the future of American Jewry. Very informative and illuminating."—Shoshana S. Cardin, Chairman, JTA—The Global News Service of the Jewish People

"This outstanding book represents a major contribution to the historiography of American Judaism. The book is comprehensive, thorough, and a delight to read."—Steven Bayme, Director, Contemporary Jewish Life, the American Jewish Committee

"As far as I know, it is the only comprehensive scholarly history of American Judaism in existence. It is perfect for any number of courses on American Jews or religion in America."—Tony Michels, University of Wisconsin, Madison

"The best available history of American Judaism—judicious, discerning and accessible."—Deborah Dash Moore, William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Religion, Vassar College

"The first stop for scholars and students interested in exploring the religious dimensions of Jewish life in America. . . . A masterful overview."—Jeffrey S. Gurock, American Historical Review

"The field of American Jewish history has long needed an up-to-date and comprehensive one-volume treatment of that group's religious experience in America, and Jonathan D. Sarna is uncommonly qualified to compose such a work. . . . The first stop for scholars and students interested in exploring the religious dimensions of Jewish life in America. . . . This is a work that scholars will applaud for its depth of research and conceptualization.  General readers of all religious persuasions will be attracted to the book for what it tells about a minority group's struggles to maintain its identity in a host society.  Jewish readers will resonate particularly to its survivalist message."—Jeffrey S. Gurock, American Historical Review

". . . flows easily; readers don't need to be academics to enjoy this remarkable book…full of fascinating people and movements."—Ruth F. Brin, American Jewish World

"American Judaism isvitally important for anyone interested in the future of American Judaism. . . . The story flows easily; readers don’t need to be academics to enjoy this remarkable book. . . . This book is full of fascinating people and movements."—Ruth F. Brin, American Jewish World

"This book . . . belongs on the small shelf of outstanding books on American religion that have appeared over the past 15 years. . . . The breadth of scholarship displayed here is immense, yet the prose is accessible. The sources used, both literary and quantitative, are extensive."—Ronald Wells, Books & Culture

"From its colonial beginnings in New Amsterdam through the periods of the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Great Awakening, the Great War, and World War II to the present, Sarna richly details the diverse elements that have come together to chronicle and shape American Judaism. . . . Highly recommended."—Choice

"American Judaism is a masterpiece, the product of decades of study and writing. It will be indispensable to anyone who cares about the topic."—David Gelernter, Commentary

Winner of the 2004 National Jewish Book Award, offered by the Jewish Book Council

Won Honorable Mention for the 2004 Professional/Scholarly Publishing Division Annual Award Competition in the Religion category

Selected as a finalist for the 2005 Koret Jewish Book Awards in the History category

Selected by Publishers Weekly as a Best Book of 2004 in the Religion category

Co-winner of the American Jewish Historical Society's Saul Viener Prize for the Outstanding Book in American Jewish History, 2003-2004

Winner of the Weinberg Judaic Studies Institute 2005 Prize for Best Book in American Jewish Studies

Named a (2004) Los Angeles Times bestseller

Won Honorable Mention for the 2005 Independent Publisher Book Awards in the Religion Category

Received rating of "Outstanding" from members of the 2005 University Press Books Committee

Selected by Choice Magazine as an Outstanding Academic Title for 2005