THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE JEWS by Calvin & Alan S. Zuckerman Goldscheider


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The modernization of the Jews, during the past two centuries, has ordinarily been associated with community dissolution and ethnic assimilation. Not so, say sociologist/demographer Goldscheider and political scientist Zuckerman (colleagues at Brown, and both affiliated with Israeli universities); rather, they maintain, ""modernization processes""--political, economic, and social--""have reshaped and strengthened levels of Jewish cohesion."" And they point, finally, to the United States and Israel. This is a social-science argument, positing the primacy of structural over cultural and geographic factors: i.e., Jews were affected by modernization the way non-Jews were, variations among them parallel variations among non-Jews; thus, the high economic and educational levels among West European Jews reflect their concentration in cities, where economic growth occurred and educational opportunities proliferated, not a Jewish bent-for-eapitalism or emphasis-on-learning. Similarly, changes in modes of worship, in Eastern and Western Europe (the decline of personal observance, the institution of Reform), were politically conditioned--responses, first, to the removal of restraints (""Religious ideologies are elite responses. . . There is also no correlation between economic expansion and the growth of Reform temples. . .""). In neither realm, in neither locale, is it proper to speak of assimilation or ""the erosion of the Jewish community""--there arose instead new Jewish institutions, ""alternative forms of being Jewish and interacting within the Jewish community."" The import of this argument, which also rules out both political anti-Semitism and Jewish political movements as determinants, is large and apparent: the authors themselves apply it to the continuity of other ethnic groups. And their comparative analysis, beginning with pre-modern Jewish communities, has merit as a corrective to the exclusive focus on Jewish ""traits,"" ""preferences,"" or currents-of-thought. But it also breaks down empirically when they speak of the absence of class, ethnic, or political conflicts among American Jews (each can be documented historically), and to American Jewish ""social class homogeneity"" as a guarantor of cohesion; it breaks down when they recognize the existence of such conflicts among Israeli Jews, yet deny ""overlap among ethnic, class, and political divisions in Israel."" (Not between Ashkenazi-and-Sephardim/ middle-class and working class/Labor-and-Likud?) Still, the book's value rests in challenging and testing received truths: whether as regards shtetl religiosity, German-Jewish integration (in Germany, the US), or present-day American intermarriage.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago Press