Synopses & Reviews
"Cohen and Eisen have written that rare work, a book that really matters! With clarity and grace, The Jew Within tells the story of how American Jews live and understand their Judaism over the span of their lives, in their families, and among their friends." --Riv-Ellen Prell
"... a marvelous book. The authors have succeeded in conveying in a very convincing manner the meaning of Jewish identity, Jewish belief, and Jewish practice among a most... important sector of American Jews: the baby-boomer generation." --Charles S. Liebman
Rocked by reports of soaring intermarriage rates, rampant assimilation, and diminishing population, the American Jewish community has been concerned with issues of Jewish identification and continuity. What factors shape, nourish, and sustain Jewish commitment? What leads some Jews to place Jewish commitment at the center of their lives, while others consign it to the margins? What matters most to American Jews and why? Through in-depth interviews with Jews across the country, Arnold M. Eisen and Steven M. Cohen, two of the keenest observers and analysts of American Jewish life, probe beneath the surface to explore the foundations of belief and behavior among moderately affiliated American Jews. Among their thought-provoking conclusions are that the construction of Jewish meaning in America is personal and private and that communal loyalties and norms no longer shape Jewish identity as they did several decades ago. The rich and moving personal narratives presented by the authors, accompanied by insightful analysis, raise important questions for all those concerned with the meaning and future of Judaism in American life.
Based on quantitative data from national statistical surveys and qualitative data teased out from 45 in-depth interviews, social scientists Cohen and Eisen present the most up-to-date analysis of what being Jewish means to moderately affiliated American Jews, who comprise approximately 50-60 percent of the US Jewish population. The authors conclude that these Jews are engaged in a journey whose guidepost is individual autonomy, whose basic thrust is the quest for a personalized, family-centered, nontheological spirituality, and whose fundamental mode of expression is selective ritual behavior. But the interviewees are inconsistent; notwithstanding their smug, self-satisfied affirmation of total independence, they nevertheless seem desperate to envelop themselves somehow with a sense of Jewish family, past and present, and to link themselves to the tribe. The authors explore both the similarities and discontinuities in Jewish identity between this generation of Jews and those of prior decades, and between the identity formation of these Jews and contemporary US Christians; they ruminate about the implications of these Jewish self-definitions for the Jewish future. Furnishing the survey's questionnaire and the interviewers' personal questions, this book constitutes an intelligent, learned, and engaging start for what is sure to be the next generation of assessments of American Jewish identity. All collections.B. Kraut, CUNY Queens College, Choice, May 2001
"This is an important book... It illustrates the fact that ideas and perceptions of American society and indeed, the entire postmodern world have seeped into and been embedded into the feelings and expression of being Jewish in America. I strongly recommend this book for all persons interested in contemporary religion and certainly, for all interested in the present and future of American Jewry." --American Jewish History Indiana University Press
"... [S]ocial scientists Cohen and Eisen present the most up-to-date analysis of what being Jewish means to moderately affiliated American Jews... [T]his book constitutes an intelligent, learned, and engaging start for what is sure to be the next generation of assessments of American Jewish identity." --Choice Indiana University Press
About the Author
Steven M. Cohen is Associate Professor of Sociology at the Melton Center for Jewish Education, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is author of American Assimilation or Jewish Revival? (Indiana University Press) and co-author (with Charles Liebman) of Two Worlds of Judaism: The Israeli and American Experiences.
Arnold M. Eisen is Professor of Religious Studies at Stanford University, a frequent speaker on issues related to contemporary Jewish life before lay and scholarly audiences throughout North America, and an active participant in communal discussions concerning the future of American Judaism. He is the author ofThe Chosen People in America (Indiana University Press), Galut: Modern Jewish Reflection on Homelessness and Homecoming, Taking Hold of Torah: Jewish Commitment and Community in America (Indiana University Press), and winner of a Koret Jewish Book Award.
Table of Contents
Preliminary Table of Contents:
2. The Sovereign Self
3. All in the Family
4. Ritual Options
5. Echoes of Tribalism
6. The Retreat of Public Judaism
7. God and the Synagogue
Appendix A: The Interview Guide
Appendix B: The Survey