An authority on American Judaism returns with a comprehensive report—descriptive, analytical, predictive—on today’s Jewish religious practices.
Wertheimer (American Jewish History/Jewish Theological Seminary; The New Jewish Leaders: Reshaping the American Jewish Landscape, 2011, etc.) bases this work on numerous interviews with practicing rabbis, members of synagogues, and others, as well as his comprehensive scholarship in the field (he includes more than 90 pages of notes at the end of the book). Maintaining a neutral tone throughout—he neither attacks nor excessively praises—Wertheimer surveys the broad range of practice currently available, from Orthodox to Conservative to Reform to just about every other form (some of the less conventional he calls “Pop Ups”). He also notes troubling trends: declining attendance, an aging population of those who do attend, the fierce competition of cultural clutter (the internet, social media, etc.). He describes how some synagogues are modifying their approaches, trying to accommodate the young and the uncertain, offering more music, bountiful offerings of food, and “looser” behavior in the services. He examines the difficulties of inclusion of interfaith married families, of the LGBTQ community, and of women, who, of course, were long denied principal roles in synagogue activities. The author also shows how Orthodox groups, especially, are working hard to attract more people to the synagogue, and he shows us what is a surprising Jewish presence at such cultural events as Burning Man. In a similar vein, he points out the struggles that Christian congregations are having with many of the same issues. As membership in the traditional denominations declines, Christians have turned in ever greater numbers to less conventional congregations. Wertheimer’s style is straightforward and highly organized (bullet lists are common), and he ends with some glances into an uncertain future as our culture becomes increasingly secular and self-absorbed.
A frank and grave analysis that at times trembles with concern and worry.