Judaism in America

Judaism in America

Judaism in America

Judaism in America

Synopsis

Jews have been a religious and cultural presence in America since the colonial era, and the community of Jews in the United States today -- some six million people -- continues to make a significant contribution to the American religious landscape. Emphasizing developments in American Judaism in the last quarter century among active participants in Jewish worship, this book provides both a look back into the 350-year history of Judaic life and a well-crafted portrait of a multifaceted tradition today. Combining extensive research into synagogue archival records and secondary sources as well as interviews and observations of worship services at more than a hundred Jewish congregations across the country, Raphael's study distinguishes itself as both a history of the Judaic tradition and a witness to the vitality and variety of contemporary American Judaic life. Beginning with a chapter on beliefs, festivals, and life-cycle events, both traditional and non-traditional, and an explanation of the enormous variation in practice, Raphael then explores Jewish history in America, from the arrival of the first Jews to the present, highlighting the emergence and development of the four branches: Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Reform. After documenting the considerable variety among the branches, the book addresses issues of some controversy, notably spirituality, conversion, homosexuality, Jewish education, synagogue architecture, and the relationship to Israel. Raphael turns next to a discussion of eight American Jews whose thoughts and/or activities made a huge impact on American Judaism. The final chapter focuses on the return to tradition in every branch of Judaism and examines prospects for the future.

Excerpt

There are about six million Jews in the United States today, and the population projections by most demographers are for an “expected long-term decline in numbers.” Three commonly discussed reasons for this projection are lack of new immigrants, low reproduction, and high intermarriage rates. There does not seem to be any likelihood of large-scale Jewish immigration to the United States in the near future. Jews have been notorious, at least since the 1950s, for residing in the lowest ecological fertility category, or being unable to even reproduce the parental generation. And, Jewish intermarriage rates are high, with a concomitant dilution of each generation. Thus their absolute numbers have continually declined, and, since the American population has continually increased, they are a steadily declining percentage of the general population. When the author began his academic career, Jews were 3 percent of the American population; in 2000 they were 2 percent.

And these Jews live overwhelmingly in the suburbs of the largest American cities, and (secondarily) in those same cities. They are, by every measure, among the highest socioeconomic groupings in the United States, and they tend (no matter to which of the four branches of American Judaism they belong) to share many of the characteristics of upper-middle-class urban Americans. Whether Orthodox or Reform, their wedding receptions and bar mitzvah parties, the clothing they wear on special occasions at the synagogue, and their occupations, are quite . . .

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