Urban Origins of American Judaism

Title Details

Pages: 208

Illustrations: 33 b&w photos

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 02/01/2017

ISBN: 9-780-8203-5057-8

List Price: $24.95


Pub Date: 10/15/2014

ISBN: 9-780-8203-4682-3

List Price: $34.95

Urban Origins of American Judaism

On the urban experience of America’s Jews

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  • Description
  • Reviews

The urban origins of American Judaism began with daily experiences of Jews, their responses to opportunities for social and physical mobility as well as constraints of discrimination and prejudice. Deborah Dash Moore explores Jewish participation in American cities and considers the implications of urban living for American Jews across three centuries. Looking at synagogues, streets, and snapshots, she contends that key features of American Judaism can be understood as an imaginative product grounded in urban potentials.

Jews signaled their collective urban presence through synagogue construction, which represented Judaism on the civic stage. Synagogues housed Judaism in action, its rituals, liturgies, and community, while simultaneously demonstrating how Jews Judaized other aspects of their collective life, including study, education, recreation, sociability, and politics. Synagogues expressed aesthetic aspirations and translated Jewish spiritual desires into brick and mortar. Their changing architecture reflects shifting values among American Jews.

Concentrations of Jews in cities also allowed for development of public religious practices that ranged from weekly shopping for the Sabbath to exuberant dancing in the streets with Torah scrolls on the holiday of Simhat Torah. Jewish engagement with city streets also reflected Jewish responses to Catholic religious practices that temporarily transformed streets into sacred spaces. This activity amplified an urban Jewish presence and provided vital contexts for synagogue life, as seen in the captivating photographs Moore analyzes.

This fascinating study of urbanism and American Judaism offers an insightful portrait of the ways that the rhythms of city life shaped the religious practices of American Jews. Examining synagogues, city streets, and photographs, Deborah Dash Moore has changed our understanding of the evolution of American Judaism. Moore demonstrates brilliantly that the distinct features of American Judaism must be interpreted through the lens of urban experience.

—Beth S. Wenger, author of History Lessons: The Creation of American Jewish Heritage

In this elegantly argued and impressively expansive history, Deborah Dash Moore shows us how American Jews’ engagement with the changing urban environment created a distinctive American Judaism, in all its diversity, and contributed to the making of the American city itself. Moore takes readers inside the great urban synagogues and shuls and then out into city streets and neighborhoods to show how deeply entwined Judaism has been with the American urban landscape, from colonial towns to contemporary global cities. Building on a lifetime of distinguished scholarship, Urban Origins of American Judaism makes an essential contribution to U.S. religious history, to urban history, and to the history of American Jews.

—Robert A. Orsi, author of The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, 1880-1950 and editor of The Gods of the City: Religion and the American Urban Landscape

While it is hardly news that U.S. Judaism has ‘urban origins,’ Moore rightly focuses on why it made a difference. . . . Recommended. For all readers.

—J. D. Sarna, Choice

Moore efficiently recasts over three centuries of American Jewish history using the lenses of religious life, public venues and behavior, and iconic photographs to argue for urbanism as a defining facet of, and influence on, American Judaism.

—Karen S. Wilson, Journal of American History

For much of American Jewish history, Jews’ urbanism brought to mind their miserable poverty and purportedly dishonest business practices. Yet, writing at a time when urban living represents progressive and ecological values, Moore’s study expresses contemporary support for urbanism. In Urban Origins, cities are presented far less as ghettos than as centers of opportunity. . . . Although Jews living in cities prior to the mid-twentieth century did not experience urban living as a choice they determined by actively weighing pros and cons, Moore’s book recalls that cities have often been beneficial for Jews and Judaism.

—Rachel Gordan, American Jewish Archives Journal

Moore offers a fine narrative and astute observations on urban influence on American Judaism, more selective than comprehensive, but nonetheless a value.

—Abraham Hoffman, Western States Jewish History

About the Author/Editor

DEBORAH DASH MOORE is the Frederick G. L. Huetwell Professor of History and director of the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan.