JEW VS. JEW by Samuel G. Freedman


The Struggle for the Soul of American Jewry
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Jews today may not face sustained, overt anti-Semitism, but nevertheless all is not rosy for American Jewry—which is plagued, Freedman (Journalism/Columbia Univ.) claims, by infighting.

Any number of issues divides Jews in the US. Take gender: though Conservative and Reform Jews ordain women, they remain ambivalent about other feminist reforms. One California congregation Freedman profiled almost fell apart over the question of whether to incorporate the names of the matriarchs—Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah—into the section of the amidah (the centerpiece of Jewish liturgy) that refers to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jews are also divided over Israel: should land be traded for peace? Should the Palestinians have a state? And Jews disagree about tradition and assimilation. Secularists and Reform and Conservative Jews are often, according to the author, incredibly hostile to Orthodox Jews: one secular couple, for example, left their Long Island home because their neighbors had become Orthodox. Beachwood, Ohio (a largely-Jewish suburb of Cleveland), became the site of bitter fighting when local Orthodox Jews wanted to build a synagogue and day-school—the less observant Jewish residents were horrified at the prospect that their town would get a reputation as an Orthodox ghetto. And American Jews, like Israelis, are also split over the question of “Who is a Jew?” If one’s mother is not Jewish, must one undergo a formal conversion (as Orthodox law teaches), or does a Jewish father make one Jewish? Does a conversion presided over by a Reform or Conservative rabbi count?

An evenhanded and loving portrait that will prove enlightening to Jewish and non-Jewish readers alike.

Pub Date: Aug. 10th, 2000
ISBN: 0-684-85944-0
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2000


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