The Tablet reviews Contemporary American Judaism

Contemporary American JudaismInterest in Dana Evan Kaplan’s Contemporary American Judaism: Transformation and Renewal evidenced most recently by Adam Kirsch’s review in Tablet.

In the review Kirsch cites Kaplan’s discussion of the persistence and in some cases growth of Orthodox Judaism, seen in such examples as a local 7-Eleven offering kosher Slurpees, alongside the many creative ways in which Judaism has been reinvented in recent years. Integrating personal and new age spirituality, music, and traditions from other religions are just some of the ways in which Judaism has morphed to fill the spiritual needs of American Jews.

Kirsch concludes by focusing on what Kaplan sees as the potentially growing rift between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews and what it might mean for American Judaism:

At the same time, Kaplan does not gloss over what he calls, in one section heading, “the deteriorating relationship between the Orthodox and non-Orthodox.” The key issue here is the decision by the Reform movement, in 1983, to allow patrilineal descent—that is, to consider the child of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother to be Jewish. This quite clearly contradicts millennia of Jewish practice, and no Orthodox authority was willing to accept it. The result, Kaplan writes, is that “substantial and growing numbers of American Jews” are not considered Jewish at all by Orthodox criteria—including those of the rabbinate in Israel. The implications of this for the future of American Jewry, and for the America-Israel relationship, are potentially explosive. “The United Jewish Appeal,” Kaplan notes, “stopped using their slogan ‘We Are One’ because it no longer represented reality.” Yet this is not necessarily a reason for panic. Contemporary American Judaism itself points the way to a future where Judaism itself is no longer one, but many and diverse—and none the less Jewish for that.

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