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Rabbi/Author Dana Evan Kaplan Interview

I call Dana Evan Kaplan Wednesday morning, August 31, 2005. He wrote American Reform Judaism: An Introduction and edited Platforms and Prayer Books: Theological and Liturgical Perspectives on Reform Judaism: Theological and Liturgical Perspectives on Reform Judaism, Contemporary Debates in American Reform Judaism: Conflicting Visions, and The Cambridge Companion to American Judaism.

Here's a symposium in Judaism magazine about Dana's book American Reform Judaism.

Luke: "Rabbi, how are you?"

Dana: "Luke, you can call me Dana."

Luke: "Why are you Reform?"

Dana: "I was raised by two parents born Jewish, which at the time was the standard. They weren't really sure what they were. We lived in [Manhattan] New York and the nearest synagogue was Reform. It was kinda an accident. On the other hand, they sent me to the Orthodox Ramaz day school through sixth grade. You can still see a lot of the residual impact of that.

"I'm very Reform in that I like autonomy and pluralism. I like the religious ideals of Reform Judaism. It strikes me as more consistent with scholarship and today's spirit of the age. On the other hand, I miss the intensity of Orthodoxy. To see people who really devote themselves to it is something hard to find in the Reform movement. But I'm not drawn to Orthodox practice and I don't believe in Orthodoxy."

Luke: "Could you give me some specifics about your observance? Do you keep kosher? Count the omer? How often do you don tefillin?"

Dana: "I don't usually eat pork or shellfish. I do not usually don tefillin. I have a mezuzah on my doorpost, but only the front door."

Dana describes himself as pragmatic in ideology and left-of-center in practice.

Luke: "Why did you become a rabbi?"

Dana: "Because I wanted to learn more about Judaism and share it with others. I thought that doing a PhD in Jewish history and getting a rabbinic degree would be a good balance [he got these degrees in Israel the early 90s].

"I had some idea about staying in Israel. Within a short time, I realized the Reform movement there was under siege and was a small minority movement and highly stigmatized by the majority of Israelis. What Israel's Reform movement needed was native-born Israelis who could convince other Israelis that Reform Judaism wasn't an absurd American import. Every time I opened my mouth, I reconfirmed the prejudices that existed there that the only one who would be committed to Reform Judaism would be an American.

"I sent out letters to American congregations for summer internships but at that time, there wasn't too much interest. Someone suggested the southern hemisphere. I sent a number of letters to South Africa and Australia. I went to Australia to Brisbane to Temple Shalom (about 60 families) in the middle of 1992. It had been founded by an Australian who had intermarried and an American couple who had been Conservative in Minnesota and a guy from India. They bought a little house and put up some stained glass windows. They hadn't even had a student rabbi for several years.

"It was exciting. I was able to generate a tremendous amount of interest even from the Orthodox community. There were two other synagogues -- the Catherine Street synagogue [that I attended in 2000] in the downtown, which was a British United Synagogue-style Jewish establishment of Brisbane, and an Eastern European [Chabad] on Schoonders Street. Now there's also a liberal group on Saint Lucia near the University of Queensland called the Kadimah Progressive Jewish Congregation of South-East Queensland.

"In many ways, Australia is the furthest outpost of the Jewish world and Brisbane is the furthest outpost of Australian Judaism. There wasn't that much familiarity with some of the innovations taking place elsewhere.

"I was there for four months. Then I came back for another four months serving Temple Shalom in Surfers Paradise and Temple Shalom in Brisbane on alternate weeks. Whenever you have a congregation named Temple Shalom, which means peace, always be careful. Apparently the two congregations had gotten into quite a fight when Temple Shalom of Surfers Paradise had started and taken that name.

"The Brisbane congregation was mostly young couples and the congregation in Surfers Paradise was mostly retirees, many of whom were originally from Britain. There's virtually no cooperation between the two congregations.

"In 1994, I graduated from rabbinical school and took a job in August at Temple Israel of Cape Town, South Africa, right at the end of apartheid."

Luke: You are interested in Judaism in different parts of the world?

Dana: "Originally in my book American Reform Judaism, I had several chapters on Reform Judaism around the world. As we started editing the book, it became clear that the dynamics in these communities were very different from what would be found in the United States.

"I remember in South Africa having lunch with a member of one of the Orthodox synagogues. He looked at me and said, 'You Reform people are terrible.' He goes on and on about how Orthodoxy is the right way and Reform is the wrong way. The waitress comes over and he orders a pizza with pepperoni and shrimp and I don't even know some of the things on that pizza.

"I said, 'You've just finished lambasting me for not being Orthodox and here you are ordering such a pizza. He said, 'What I do in my private life is nobody's business, but when I go into the synagogue, I pray the way that my father prayed and my grandfather prayed. I do it the right way. You Reform change everything.'

"The whole concept of American Reform Judaism is that you try to bring Judaism into the way you live [rather than living a bifurcated life], not serving as a museum for the way Judaism may have been hundreds of years ago.

"In Reform, the idea is to do away with this hypocrisy. When intermarriage became a major issue, it was Rabbi Alexander Schindler who made some bold speeches and said we have to change. 'We've always accepted that people could convert to Judaism but now we have many non-Jews who are married to Jews and don't want to convert to Judaism. What do we do with them?' He proposed outreach which would start with conversion but would move down there so that if you don't want to convert, we'll accept your family as they are and accept your children as Jewish through patrilineal descent."

Luke: "Ordaining gay and lesbian rabbis seems to be a fait a compli in Reform?"

Dana: "Yes. I haven't heard of any problems with the non-acceptance of gay or lesbian clergy. The first transgendered rabbinics student started a couple of years ago on the Los Angeles campus -- Reuben Zellman. This is a person who started off as a woman and has now transgendered into a male identity."

Luke: Which movement represents the majority of America's Jews?

Dana: "It used to be that the Conservative movement was the broad tent that almost everybody in the American Jewish community could fit in no matter what your views or practices. That's no longer true. It's the Reform movement. It's in the interest of the URL (Union for Reform Judaism, renamed from UAHC - Union of American Hebrew Congregations) to be as inclusive as possible. There's nothing to be gained making statements attacking bisexuals, gun owners or people who oppose abortion, although in all three cases the Reform movement has a policy against that."

Luke: "There's little sense of sin being taught in Reform Judaism."

Dana: "This is not only in Reform Judaism. If you look at Alan Wolfe's recent book, The Transformation of American Religion: How We Actually Live Our Faith, he argues that American religion over the past 30 years has done away with the concept of sin. American religious leaders have found that Americans want a feel-good religion that emphasizes what religion can do for me. How can religion make me feel better? How can religion teach me how to be happy? How can religion enrich my life? They don't want to be scolded and threatened."

Luke: What is the central thesis of your book American Reform Judaism?

Dana: "For decades, the movement was dominated by Classical Reform, a form of practice that emphasized the belief in ethical monotheism and rejected most traditional practices. But over the last several decades, this rigorous if nontraditional form of Judaism became, for many, an excuse to do little and care less. The Reform movement became a "low tension" religious group, which sociologist Rodney Stark explains is a religious body whose beliefs and practices do not dramatically set it apart from its environment. In contrast, a "high tension" religious group has beliefs and practices that conflict with the surrounding ethos. The Reform movement's traditional open-door policy allowed people not only to come in without any concrete expression of commitment, but also to stay without any active participation. The book explains how the movement "rejewvenated" itself in the 1990s up until today."

Lawrence Grossman writes in Judaism magazine:

As a guide to contemporary Reform, American Reform Judaism is a worthy sequel to Response to Modernity, Michael Meyer's magisterial history of the worldwide Reform movement from its German origins two centuries ago until the late 1970s. But the two books are sharply different in tone, both because so much has changed over the past quarter-century and because Kaplan, unlike the full-time academic Meyer, has had considerable experience "in the trenches" as a congregational rabbi. The view from the pulpit is likely to be less rosy than the view from the seminar room.

Dana: "Correct. Having studied in an Orthodox school, I can't help but evaluate Reform, in part, based on my early experiences with Judaism. I continue to see a lack of real commitment and dedication outside of a small circle. If you go to the URJ Biennial, they have about 6,000 people who all know the songs and are all tripping over themselves to not come late to services. The dedication and enthusiasm is unbelievable. But these are the leaders of the congregations who, instead of taking a vacation in Nassau, go to a Biennial in some freezing place. If you look at this elite, you are very optimistic about the future of Reform Judaism.

"I do a lot of scholar-in-residence weekends across the country. I've been to all sorts of Reform synagogues and there's a consistent 5-10% of people who are interested and the vast majority of the congregants in every synagogue who are passive and uninterested other than life cycle events (such as births, bar/bat mitzvahs, weddings, deaths)."

Luke: "After you lay out the evidence, in the final paragraphs of your chapters, you always push a note of optimism in there."

Dana chuckles. "We Jews are optimists. I didn't want to be too pessimistic. I wanted the book to be read by a wide audience, including many typical congregants in Reform synagogues, and I didn't want them to come away all depressed and nihilistic.

"I take things that aren't always terribly promising and put the best spin on them that I can.

"The Reform has excellent leadership, a large laity and vital lay leadership. My book is meant to point out that underneath the superficial success there lies the potential for a meltdown, which could come suddenly, because the vast majority of Reform Jews have a superficial commitment.

"Things have changed tremendously in Reform. If you had attended a Reform service in 1930, you would've found a service that was formal with heavy organ music and people sitting stiffly and the rabbi would've been seen as a priest doing the ritual items for the congregation. The rabbi would've been the only one to speak Hebrew, the only one to lift and read from the Torah. The bimah (pulpit) would've been high up. The choir would've been in a loft where you wouldn't be able to see them.

"I remember when I was working in a synagogue in Wisconsin, a woman in her 80s was telling me about Rabbi Samuel Hirshberg, who was the rabbi there when she was a child. She always saw him way up on the bima, this man in big robes and way up high, and she thought he was God.

"One day at religious school, they didn't call it Hebrew school because they didn't speak Hebrew, she saw the rabbi walking down the hallway in the opposite direction. In those days, he wouldn't greet a little kid. Her mouth dropped open. It was like bumping into God in the hallway.

"Today we have a low bima. The division between the congregation and where the rituals are performed is minimized or eliminated. The choir has come down and is involved in participatory music. The goal is not so much to perform for the congregation but to encourage the congregation to join. Things are more casual. The way people dress reflects that. Children are more welcome. This parallels changes in American religion generally.

"For the first time in history, Judaism is in direct competition with Christianity over the same people. You have a large number of people in flux who could embrace Judaism, Reform Judaism in particular."

Luke: "There weren't big debates in Reform over patrilineal descent or ordaining gay rabbis. Those issues are settled. What are the religious disputes within Reform? They seem to be more over liturgy."

Dana: "The conflicts facing Reform have more to do with personalities and strategies and geography and finance. They're not ideological. We're in a post-ideological age."

Luke: "I think apathy is the reason we don't hear more dissent within Reform about such things as ordination of gay rabbis and patrilineal descent."

Dan: "Which, if you're part of the elite pushing a particular position, has its advantages.

"The Religious Action Center of Washington D.C. is a political lobbying group led successfully by Rabbi David Saperstein. It's been a model for other movements in Judaism and other religions. But many of the issues it pushes are very liberal and not supported by everyone in the Reform movement. But this is apparently ok. In my congregation in Georgia, we have a number of people who support gun rights. They can be loyal to the Union for Reform Judaism and ignore Rabbi Saperstein's center."

Dana agrees with this observation by Orthodox Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb in Judaism magazine:

It is natural to expect a uniformity and conformity within the Orthodox world, and diversity and heterogeneity in the non-Orthodox streams. The reality, however, is quite the reverse.

Luke: Is your book mostly about Reform rabbis or do you study the average Reform Jew?

Dana: "I'm not doing a sociological study of Reform. I'm looking at the leaders and what they're saying and what impact that has."

Luke: "I find it difficult to believe that Reform laity are going to engage in ideological battles."

Dana: "That's not necessarily a disadvantage."

Luke: I got a kick out of Jewish Renewal Rabbi Arthur Waskow's response to your book. He said you are whispering what you should be shouting.

Dana: "Rabbi Waskow sees Reform Judaism as hopelessly parve (neither meat nor milk). He's right but that's the way it is. His recommendations are not going to be helpful because his "Down-To-Earth" Judaic philosophy, attractive as it may be to the core of Aleph: Alliance for Jewish Renewal and the Shalom Center, does not resonate with amcha in the Reform movement."

Luke: Are you worried about the future of American Judaism?

Dana: "Yes. Despite my desire to be optimistic, there are troubling signs. Just look at the new demographic survey-the 2001 NJPS. The next several years will be crucial. As Rabbi Eric Yoffie stated at the 1997 biennial: 'This is the single most momentous hour in the history of our movement. We must now decide if our Reform heritage will be permitted to wither, or if it will be handed over to generations to come. We have a few years, a decade at most, to respond to the spiritual emergency that threatens to engulf us.' Our time is almost up."

American Reform Judaism By Dana Evan Kaplan

Judaism magazine's symposium on Kaplan's book.

For all its universalist rhetoric, Reform Judaism has long been as uninterested in making converts of Gentiles as any other form of Judaism. I remember in my first explorations of Judaism in the early 90s, one Reform temple secretary told me it was an ethnic club.

Yaakov Ariel writes... that there was an "astonishing gap" between the ideals of the Reform movement as expressed by its rabbinic leaders [Isaac Meyer Wise said Reform Judaism would become America's primary religion], and the attitudes held by the vast majority of members in the congregations: "The Reform movement held a character almost diametrically opposed to its universalistic aspirations. As an ethnically oriented, parochial, and tribal group, Reform Jews were concerned with Jewish matters...

An example of this startling descrepancy between Reform theological posturing and actual congregational behavior can be seen in a series of letters written by W.E. Todd of Tappahannock, Virginia, to Rabbi Edward Calisch of Richmond in 1896. Todd expresses interest in converting to Judaism and studying at HUV for the Reform rabbinate. Calisch asks a number of prominent figures in the national Reform movement, including Rabbi Emil G. Hirsch and Bernhard Bettmann, president of the Board of Governors of HUC [Hebrew Union College, the American Reform seminary], for direction. Despite their universalistic rhetoric that advocated proselytization and invited non-Jews to join the synagogue, they uniformly responded negatively to Todd'srequest. Hirsch told Calisch: "My advice to your friend would be to the Unitarian or Liberal Christian ministry...[because] it will be impossible for him to procure a position in a Jewish congregation... Theory in our congregations is, as you will know, one thing, practice another. We are liberals, until a non-Jew believes us to be in earnest." (page 17)

I remember a Gentile I was dating telling me I was not a real Jew because I had not argued, as had two of her previous Jewish boyfriends, that the Romans killed Jesus, not the Jews.

* Dana writes why Reform Judaism has had such little success outside of America:

Americans take pride in being pragmatic and want to connect ideals to reality to avoid hypocrisy. Optimists by nature, Americans are convinced that abstract ideals and concrete reality can be synthesized successfully. ...[P]eople in most of the rest of the world are more pessimistic about human nature and have lower expectations of reality. Therefore, they see it as natural to believe that ideals will differ from how life is actually lived.

This general attitude carries over to the religious sphere. Many non-Americans consider it perfectly proper to view a strict form of religion as the ideal, even if they fall far short of its standards and may have no intention of becoming more devout. The public recognition of these standards provides them and their children with an ideal to which they can aspire, a public standard for behavior, and the norm for communal events. Orthodoxy thus should be and must remain the public standard for Jewish attitudes and behavior, althought this conviction does not obligate them to personally believe in or practice such a Judaism. (page 115)

American Reform Judaism By Dana Evan Kaplan

Rabbi Kaplan covers every angle I thought of, including sexual harassment:

The scandal that shocked many and changed the way sexual harassment issues were dealt with was the Robert Kirschner affair.

"I climbed too far, too fast, and seemed to develop a certain form of narcissism, arrogance and obliviousness to the feelings of others.

"When you are elevated -- literally -- on this pulpit with the light on your face, kind of the way I remember thinking in my youth of Jesus, you get that look from people...of admiration and even more. It can be very seductive; it can be toxic for someone like me... I didn't have the most important attributes needed to serve in that capacity; that is self-knowledge, humility, experience."

...[T]he resignation of HUC-JIR (Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institue of Religion) president Sheldon Zimmerman due to a "sexual boundary violation."

It appears that Zimmerman had an affair with an adult congregant while working at the Central Synagogue in New York City a decade and a half earlier. Interviewers asked him why the woman had waited more than 15 years to file an accusation against him with the CCAR. Zimmerman explained that the woman, now a rabbi, had asked him to write a reference for her. Zimmerman refused, and shef iled the ethics charges.

...Susannah Heschel of Dartmouth College...connected the inequity [of tenured female professors to male] indirectly to the type of scandal Zimmerman had apparently been involved in. "Gender inequalities unfortunately foster an atmosphere of male dominance that carries over from the rabbinical school to the rabbinic profession."

...The Women's Rabbinic Network (WRN) initiating the gay and lesbian same-sex resolution is one manifestation of the special role that women rabbis play, as a group, in the contemporary Reform movement.

That role appears to some critics to stress compassion over intellectual rigor, sensitivity over historical precedent, and egalitarianism over halachic (Jewish law) obligation. Anecdotal evidence suggests to these critics that women rabbis have less grounding in traditional sources than men and less concern with traditional Judaic precedents...

Watching the decision by the CCAR (Central Conference of American [Reform] Rabbis) supporting rabbinic officiation at same-sex marriages, journalist E.J. Kessler wrote: "Those of us watching this battle knew that the gay vows struggle would clothe itself in the prestige of...feminism and that any discussion of law, tradition and precedent would likely be thrown out in favor of appeals to compassion and mercy."

Congregational leader Davi Cheng is probably the first Chinese-American lesbian Jew by choice to be a synagogue president [of Beth Chayim Chadishim, a Los Angeles Reform temple on Pico Blvd which has a strong gay slant].

Rabbi Camille Angel of the San Francisco Reform homosexual-outreach synagogue Sha'ar Zahav says about their school: "Not only are we teaching Jewish values, but we are bringing the experience of lesbian, gay bisexual and transgendered people to bear on Jewish values." She says that "the experience of coming out, the experience of being on the margins, if not altogether invisible, helps us to identify with the stranger and the oppressed. For so many LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered) Jews, we feel that we ha vecome out of Mitzrayim [Egypt]."

What's next? Rabbi Ron Jeremy of Valley Torah, which has a special outreach to industry workers in the San Fernando Valley, says about their school: "Not only are we teaching Jewish values, but we are bringing the experience of porn people to bear on Jewish values." He says that "the experience of coming out, the experience of being on the margins, if not altogether invisible, helps us to identify with the stranger and the oppressed. For so many Jewish smut peddlers, we feel that we have come out of Mitzrayim [Egypt]."

Bisexual Women Reembrace Their Jewish Heritage

This important essay is found in Dana Kaplan's Contemporary Debates In American Reform Judaism:

"...[B]isexuals and Jews occupy a middle ground in the spectrum of oppression... But because bisexuals sometimes have different-sex partners, or because many Jews have white skin, we are not as visible in sharing ...oppression..."

...Queer Minyan was founded by Aliza, a lesbian-identified bisexual woman, and a "fag-identified" bisexual man. It is a social and prayer group that meets monthly on Friday night to celebrate Shabbat; while most of its members are Jewish bisexuals, it welcomes people who identify as Jewish "queers" and their friends...

"We pray together, we're sexual together, we do spiritual stuff together..."

In 1995 Pardes Rimonim ("orchard of pomegranates" in Hebrew), an earth-based, feminist Jewish ritual group also dominated by Jewish bisexuals, conducted its first High Holy Days services.

"Walk into room and look around and see all these guys in skirts and these pierced body parts and... women kissing each other in the corners."

Tone, a student in her early thirties, explains that as a person with a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother, s/he barely identified as Jewish until s/he encountered queer Jewish community... S/he is an intersexual activist who is usually assumed to be a butch female by strangers.

Gay Synagogue Architecture

Dana Evan Kaplan writes about West Hollywood's Reform temple Kol Ami (I once went there by mistake, thinking that as it would be a good place to meet a woman, boy was I wrong, though everyone was friendly, frankly, a little too friendly):

Kol Ami wanted to distinguish its synagogue from the suburban congregational architecture of the post-World War II period that many congregants associated with superficiality and heterosexual centrism. They wanted their temple building to reflect their values, which stress simplicity as well as beauty.

...Los Angeles architect Joshua Schweitzer included in the building's design from features of his popular designs for the Border Grill restaurants. He wanted the space to be sunny and open so that gays and lesbians who had often felt excluded would feel welcomed.

Rabbi Richard N. Levy (who does not drive on Shabbos, is a terrible public speaker, and uses words such as 'actualize') wrote in 1969:

The American Reform synagogue is in trouble. It has generally defaulted on all three of its traditional functions -- as a house of prayer (Bet Tefillah); as a house of study (Bet Midrash); and as a house of meeting (Bet Knesset).

At least it's gay archicture is tops.

Jewish Music - Reform, Conservative And Orthodox

Mark Kligman writes an essay on trends in American Jewish music in the new Cambridge Companion to American Judaism, edited by Rabbi Dana Evan Kaplan:

One of the most interesting features of new popular music in the Orthodox community is the sheer volume of it, which represents at least half of all the music available. The Orthodox music industry, based predominantly in Brooklyn, has grown significantly over the past 25 years. This growth is attributed to the limited involvement and participation of right-wing members in secular culture. As a result, they have developed their own type of popular music, whose sources include the Bible, liturgy, and a genre of English songs, which delivers a powerful message of faith and devotion. This new music satisfies the need for religiously appropriate entertainment...

...Currently, the most influential performer and creator of new Reform liturgical music is Debbie Friedman. Finding Reform worship nonparticipatory and thus lacking in excitement, Friedman has committed herself expressions of the liturgical text in order to make the congregant's worship experience accessible. Her first recording was a youth service she wrote for high school students entitled Sing Unto God (1972). ...Influenced by Peter, Paul and Mary, as well as Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and Melissa Manchester, Friedman sought to make prayers and melodies accessible for Reform congregants.

Performer Craig Taubman, who grew up in the Conservative movement, performs in Reform synagogues and other venues. Taubman's songs, which are in Hebrew and English, are responses to events in his life such as the birth of a child and the death of a relative. The style of his songs ranges from rock-and-roll and pop to adult contemporary music; a contemporary style and high production quality in his recordings are evident. He feels that music communicates a powerful and magical message and that some things are better left untranslated, since meaning is conveyed through music...

P. Nagy writes on Amazon.com:

American Jews understand Jewish tradition as cosmopolitan and universalistic. They see Judaism as pragmatic rather than ideological, utilitarian rather than theological, and rational rather than mystical. Many in this group see their practice of Judaism as an all-encompassing pursuit, determining not only religious ritual but also ethical behavior. Another sizable group sees the specifics of Judaism as playing a crucial but more limited role in their lives, believing that their commitment to universal ethical causes derives from their core Judaic values - even if they do not frequently articulate these values in a synagogue or temple. These Jews see liberalism as applied Judaism, identifying Judaism with liberal social causes. However, in recent years, even among this group there has been a pronounced move toward greater ritualism as well. The essays in this collection attempt to analyze various aspects of this American Judaism, a term that - as we shall see - does offer some tentative unity to a religious people with tremendous diversity. There are a variety of perspectives in the American Jewish community that are reflected in attitudes toward specific questions dealing with personal and communal Jewish identity today, such as patrilineal descent, Outreach, the role of the non-Jew in the synagogue, rabbinic officiation at mixed-marriage ceremonies, the ordainment of women, and gay and lesbian participation in the synagogue. All of these issues are being heatedly debated within and across the different denominations (also referred to as movements, streams, or even wings). In addition to these strictly "religious issues," there are also debates on social and political issues that affect American society as a whole. It is not possible to say that American Judaism has a particular position on abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, or homosexual rights. Many of the denominations have taken official stands on some of these issues, but in most cases there are minorities even within those streams who believe that their religion holds a different view.

The most passionately debated question is whether Judaism can survive in an open American society that has, since the 1950s, become increasingly tolerant toward Jews. Since the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS) found that American Jews were intermarrying at a rate of 52 percent, there has been a frantic debate in the American Jewish community: Is Judaism in danger of disappearing in the United States? Some of the optimistic contributors to this volume support the transformation argument: Contemporary American Judaism is not vanishing but is rather transforming itself. These individuals believe that it is essential to look at what is happening in a more sophisticated way and not restrict one's perspective to outdated criteria. Many American Jews are creating new ways of "doing Jewish," blending their own traditions with non-Jewish family rituals favored by spouses or embracing a syncretic creation of American culture and Judaism. Because of all of these changes, one must look in new places to find new approaches.

The pessimists feel that the majority of American Jews have lost all interest in Judaism, and many others have only nominal links. These individuals believe that their future as a people is threatened and only a "return to tradition" can reverse the radical decline. These pessimists argue that low levels of synagogue affiliation, high rates of intermarriage, low levels of Jewish literacy, and weak commitments to ritual observance are undermining Jewish continuity. Another debate centers on the future makeup of the American Jewish community.

Some contributors accept the polarization argument that there will be two completely separate Jewish communities in the near future - the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox. The two groups have less in common and have less contact with one another than ever before. They disagree not only on how Judaism should be practiced but also on the very definition of who is a Jew. Without some consensus on such a basic question, the pessimists believe that American Judaism will split into two separate sects. The optimists hope that some common ground can still be found.

So that we can better understand and contextualize these questions and issues that occupy the American Jewish community, this book is divided into two sections. Part I provides three historical overviews of American Judaism. Eli Faber deals with the period from 1654, when the first Jews arrived in New Amsterdam, up to 1880, when the mass immigration from Eastern Europe was about to begin. Faber reports that some colonial Jews posed for portraits without head coverings, violated the Sabbath laws, and even ate pork, partic¬ularly when they were traveling. A small percentage even married out of the faith. Others were highly observant and followed Jewish law scrupulously. The main difference between then and now was that all five synagogues founded before the Revolution followed Orthodox Sephardic custom. How-ever, American Judaism changed dramatically in the years during and immediately after the Civil War. Faber writes that "the impulse to change Judaism in America surged between 1860 and 1870." Reforms were introduced, in¬cluding mixed seating, the elimination of the head covering for men, and the use of an organ. New prayer books were edited that eliminated certain theological concepts that were now found objectionable.

Lloyd P. Gartner describes the "reshaping" of American Judaism from the late nineteenth century until after World War II. The large-scale Eastern European immigration completely changed American Judaism. Hundreds of small Orthodox synagogues were created in mostly urban neighborhoods. Many people attended Orthodox synagogues because that was what they were comfortable with, but they refused to follow the Halacha strictly, despite the many sermons preached by Orthodox rabbis. Gartner reports that the immigrant congregations reached their peak during the World War I period and then began to decline slowly. New, larger, and more affluent congregations were established. English replaced Yiddish, and American ways replaced European Jewish customs and practices. In the postwar period, large numbers left the urban neighborhoods for the suburbs.

As I describe in my chapter, a Jewish civil religion developed that stressed loyalty to both the United States and to the Jewish people. Levels of anti-Semitism declined, and Jews became fully integrated into American society. They felt a great deal of pressure to express their Jewishness religiously rather than ethnically, and hundreds of suburban synagogues were soon built. The Conservative movement became the largest American Jewish de-nomination, and the Orthodox denomination continued to decline. However, this pattern began to reverse in the 1970s. Orthodoxy began a remarkable revival, spurred on by the missionizing done by the Baal Teshuva movement among other Jews. Lubavitch (also called Chabad) sent emissaries to hun¬dreds of Jewish communities around the country and the world. Among the non-Orthodox, the Reform movement grew, which was due in large measure to the joining of many intermarried couples.

Part II, the bulk of the volume, deals with essential topics in contemporary American Judaism. This Themes and Concepts section is subdivided into Religious Culture and Institutional Practice, Identity and Community, Living in America, and Jewish Art in America. It has essays on religious belief and behavior, structures and institutions, and patterns and stages. Consider-able attention is devoted to the Jewish civil religion, Judaism and democracy, and the essence of American Judaism, as protean as it may be. Other writers focus on gender roles, life-cycle rituals, interfaith dialogue, and religious economics. Particularly innovative are the essays that focus on American Judaism broadly conceived. Mark Kligman explains the role that music plays in American Judaism and Matthew Baigell describes the visual arts. Murray Baumgarten talks about "American Midrash," by which he means the new American Jewish literature that focuses on Judaic story lines. The final essay by Bruce Phillips is a separate subsection entitled "Present and Future Tense: American Judaism in the Twenty-First Century." The volume then concludes with an afterword written by Jonathan Sarna.

I agree with Dr. Jonathan Sarna that this book is a summary of what we know. I didn't learn much by reading it.