An account of Jewish history in the United States until 1900, focusing on how a small percentage of immigrants altered a culture and how the culture of the North American continent influenced the three branches of Judaism—Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform.
A former reporter and editor for the New York Times, Weisman (The Great Tradeoff: Confronting Moral Conflicts in the Era of Globalization, 2016, etc.), who is now the vice president for publications and communications at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, clearly understands the writing techniques needed to prevent a detailed religious history from becoming too dry. Beginning with the mid-17th century, the author offers numerous illuminating anecdotes and outsized personalities to explain how and why the first Jews arrived in what became the U.S. more than a century later. (A full timeline and a glossary help nonscholarly readers keep track of the progression.) As Weisman shows, patches of hostility surrounded the new arrivals, but the author focuses more on doctrinal and behavioral schisms within Jewry than on interference from outsiders. Much of the doctrinal emphasis revolves around rabbis arriving from overseas, many of them from Germanic backgrounds. The most influential was Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, who arrived in the New World in 1846, eventually settling in Albany, New York, and later moving his base to Cincinnati. Many of the intra-Jewish battles during this time period occurred in Charleston, South Carolina. The disputes revolving around Wise included not only ancient religious doctrines, but also the insertion of sermons into the worship services, the seating of women and men separately or together, whether to conduct services in the English language, and such seemingly minor disputes about the use of organ music. As Weisman occasionally makes reference to Judaism during the 21st century, he suggests how the creation of Israel as a Jewish homeland split congregations, especially regarding war or peace with displaced Palestinians.
Religious history that should interest Jews and non-Jews alike.