Contemporary American Judaism
Transformation and Renewal
By Dana Evan Kaplan
Columbia University Press, Hardcover, 9780231137287, 446pp.
Publication Date: June 2009
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No longer controlled by a handful of institutional leaders based in remote headquarters and rabbinical seminaries, American Judaism is being transformed by the spiritual decisions of tens of thousands of Jews living all over the United States. A pulpit rabbi and himself an American Jew, Dana Evan Kaplan follows this religious individualism from its postwar suburban roots to the hippie revolution of the 1960s and the multiple postmodern identities of today. From Hebrew tattooing to Jewish Buddhist meditation, Kaplan describes the remaking of historical tradition in ways that channel multiple ethnic and national identities.
While pessimists worry about the vanishing American Jew, Kaplan focuses on creative responses to contemporary spiritual trends that have made a Jewish religious renaissance possible. He believes that the reorientation of American Judaism has been a "bottom up" process, resisted by elites who have reluctantly responded to the demands of the "spiritual marketplace." The American Jewish denominational structure is therefore weakening at the same time that religious experimentation is rising, leading to the innovative approaches supplanting existing institutions. The result is an exciting transformation of what it means to be a religious American Jew in the twenty-first century.