The Synagogue in America

Paul Harvey

And here's the second of the two promised-posts on topics too much neglected at our blog. This one is a history of synagogues in America, from the Jewish history scholar Marc Lee Raphael. Oh, and by the way, if you want a great short historiographic essay on Judaism in America, covering the basics but also in a few short pages covering more advanced topics and debates in the field of study, check out Alan Levenson's short essay "Judaism in America" shortly to come out in our work The Columbia Guide to Religion in American History, which will be out in a few short months. Yes, it's expensive, but your univ. library can purchase it.

And further, while we're at it, I'd love to have Jewish history scholars who would be interested in posting here at the blog. If you feel you have something to contribute in that area, please let us know!

Anyway, without further adieu:

Raphael, Marc Lee. The synagogue in America: a short history. New York University, 2011. 247p bibl index afp; ISBN 9780814775820, $35.00. Reviewed in 2011oct CHOICE.

Raphael (William and Mary) offers an insightful, scholarly, and comprehensive overview of the evolution and changing role of the American synagogue, spanning three centuries and incorporating the denominational movements of Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Orthodox Judaism. The book's historical perspective draws on economic, cultural, political, and sociological methodologies; and on archival records from 125 congregations, including bulletins, newsletters, sermons, unpublished papers, minutes, and more. The author looks at denominational differences across epochs in architecture, forms of worship, rabbinic life, and fund-raising, and at the impact of feminism. Chronologically arranged, the volume addresses a number of subthemes within each broad time period, taking care to acknowledge differences as they evolved among the major branches of Judaism. Raphael also notes recent trends with the shift of Orthodoxy to the right. Among topics addressed is classical Reform Judaism's emphasis on social ethical action over ritual, e.g., marshalling youth to work in soup kitchens for the homeless, care for the elderly, and protest against bigotry and discrimination. The discussion includes, among other topics, 19th-century abolitionist David Einhorn's opposition of slavery, and Reform and Conservative Judaism's involvement with the civil rights movement. Useful for all libraries, including American and Jewish history collections. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-level undergraduates and above; general readers. -- D. B. Levy, Touro College, Lander College for Women


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