The Chosen People in America
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252 pages

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Arnold Eisen explores what it means to be a Jew in America.

"This is a book of extraordinary quality and importance. In tracing the encounter of Jews (the chosen people) and America (the chosen nation) . . Eisen has given the American Jewish community a new understanding of itself." —American Jewish Archives

". . . one of the most significant books on American Jewish thought written in recent years." —Choice

What does it mean to be a Jew in America? What opportunities and what threats does the great melting pot represent for a group that has traditionally defined itself as "a people that must dwell alone"? Although for centuries the notion of "The Chosen People" sustained Jewish identity, America, by offering Jewish immigrants an unprecedented degree of participation in the larger society, threatened to erode their Jewish identity and sense of separateness.
Arnold M. Eisen charts the attempts of American Jewish thinkers to adapt the notion of chosenness to an American context. Through an examination of sermons, essays, debates, prayer-book revisions, and theological literature, Eisen traces the ways in which American rabbis and theologians—Reconstructionist, Conservative, and Orthodox thinkers—effected a compromise between exclusivity and participation that allowed Jews to adapt to American life while simultaneously enhancing Jewish tradition and identity.


Part One: Introduction
I. A Part and Apart

Part Two: The Second Generation (1930-1955)
II. Nation, People, Religion-What Are We?
III. Reform Judaism and the Mission unto the Nations
IV. Mordecai Kaplan and the New Jewish Vocation
V. Conservatism, Orthodoxy, and th Affirmation of Election

Part Three: The Third Generation (1955-1980)
VI. Ambassadors at Home
VII. Children of the Halfway Covenant

Part Four: Conclusion
VIII. The Lessons of Choseness in America




Publié par
Date de parution 22 novembre 1983
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9780253114129
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0500€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.


The Modern Jewish Experience
Paula Hyman and Deborah Dash Moore, editors
A Study in Jewish Religious Ideology
Arnold M. Eisen
Bloomington and Indianapolis
Acknowledgment is made to The Johns Hopkins University Press for kind permission to reprint material originally published in its journal Modern Judaism .
Copyright 1983 by Arnold M. Eisen
All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. The Association of American University Presses Resolution on Permissions constitutes the only exception to this prohibition.
Manufactured in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Eisen, Arnold M., 1951-
The Chosen People in America.
(The Modern Jewish experience)
Bibliography: p.
Includes index.
1. Jews-Election, Doctrine of-History of doctrines-20th century. 2. Judaism-United States-History-20th century. I. Title. II. Series: Modern Jewish experience (Indiana University Press)
BM613.E37 1983 296.3 11 82-49296
ISBN 0-253-31365-1
ISBN 0-253-20961-7 (pbk.)
2 3 4 5 6 00 99 98 97 96 95
For my parents

PART ONE: Introduction
A Part and Apart
PART TWO: The Second Generation (1930-1955)
Nation, People, Religion-What Are We?
Reform Judaism and the Mission unto the Nations
Mordecai Kaplan and the New Jewish Vocation
Conservatism, Orthodoxy, and the Affirmation of Election
PART THREE: The Third Generation (1955-1980)
Ambassadors at Home
Children of the Halfway Covenant
PART FOUR: Conclusion
The Lessons of Chosenness in America



This study was prompted by three sets of questions. First, several years work on secularization had piqued my curiosity as to whether we could actually see a religious belief changing before our very eyes under the impact of social and intellectual forces. Second, my life as an American Jew had caused me to wonder how American Judaism came to assume the character-all too often vacuous-presented to view in its synagogues and publications. Third, Martin Meyerson one day asked what I thought of the chosen people idea and whether anyone had recently written about the subject. A year or two later I decided on this response to his query, because it promised to help with answers to my own two questions as well.
I am grateful to Martin Meyerson for ten years of provocative questioning; to Professors Moshe Davis, Ben Halpern, Paul Mendes-Flohr, and Uriel Tal for directing my research into chosenness and criticizing the resultant dissertation; and, most of all, to my supervisor at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Professor R. J. Zwi Werblowsky. His erudition in the history of religions helped to make my research intellectually exciting, and his insights sustained me more than once as I worked through a seemingly endless succession of sermons.
The research was supported by the Lady Davis Fellowship Trust and the Danforth Foundation, to whom I stand indebted, as I do to the librarians of The Hebrew University Judaica Reading Room; Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York and Jerusalem; the Jewish Theological Seminary; and Columbia and Yeshiva universities. Rabbis Bernard Bamberger, Solomon Freehof, and Mordecai M. Kaplan received me graciously and helped me to understand the events in which they figured. Drafts of the book were read by many friends and colleagues, including Janet Aviad, Hannah Cotton, Michael Heyd, Paula Hyman, Gillian Lindt, Paula Newberg, Ari Paltiel, Wayne Proudfoot, Michael Rosenak, Michael and Ilana Silver, Robert Somerville, Michael Stanislawski, and the members of the Joshua Lipschitz Society. I thank them all. I am also grateful to Deborah Dash Moore for editing the final manuscript with care and sensitivity, to John O Keefe for proofreading it diligently, and to Vivian Shaw for typing it valiantly. The chosen of my heart. Adriane Leveen, bore with the final overhaul of the book without complaint. For this and much else besides, my gratitude.
Finally, the whole bears the imprint of three teachers who taught me-or tried-to read religious thought attentively and consider it with a sociologist s eye: Van Harvey, Philip Rieff, and Bryan Wilson. I hope I have applied their lessons well.
The work is dedicated to my parents, who enabled me to understand more than any theology, sociology, or ideology could what it means to live with the blessing and obligation of chosenness.
New York City
Thanksgiving 1982
A Part and Apart
J OSEPH J ONAS , one of the first American Jews to journey west of the Alleghenies, has left us a tale from his travels that precisely captures the several dilemmas with which this study is concerned. One day in 1817, Jonas reports, he encountered an elderly Quaker woman who had never before laid eyes on a Jew, and was rather excited by the prospect. Art thou a Jew? Thou art one of God s chosen people. She turned him round and round and at last exclaimed, with evident disappointment, Well, thou art no different to other people. 1
The Quaker woman was right, of course: Jonas was not appreciably different from other people-far less different, in all likelihood, than the Quakers themselves. Doors to Gentile society long closed to the Jews in Europe had opened early to the Jews of America, and opened widely; Jews like Jonas could and would rush through happily, to a degree of opportunity and participation never before theirs in all the centuries of wandering. America was different, its Jews would soon proclaim, because, for the first time really, they were not. Yet, if that truly was the case, who were they? A people no longer set apart essentially from its surroundings could not invoke the self-definition of election which had served it for two millennia. It was one thing to call oneself a chosen people when religious barriers or ghetto walls reinforced the collective sense of being a people that must dwell alone. But it was quite another to claim chosenness in the new chosen land of America, where Jews wanted nothing so much as the chance to be a part of the larger society. To describe oneself as the Lord s special treasure seemed absurd in such a context, and yet-here is the essential dilemma facing American Jews-what sense could Jewishness make without that inherited self-definition? To abandon the claim to chosenness would be to discard the raison d etre that had sustained Jewish identity and Jewish faith through the ages, while to make the claim was to question or perhaps even to threaten America s precious offer of acceptance. This study is concerned with the ways in which American Jewish thinkers of the past two generations have coped with that dilemma, fashioning a new self-definition for their community through the reinterpretation of the idea of Jewish chosenness. It is this new understanding of self which continues to guide American Jewry in the 1980s.
While the history of that reinterpretation has until now not been charted, the dilemma which prompted it has been amply documented. Sociologists of American Jewry have made the Jews adjustment to America the principal focus of their researches, 2 and more popular works have also treated the problem at some length. 3 Charles Liebman, in formulations particularly relevant to our own inquiry, has pointed to the conflicting desires of the ambivalent American Jew for integration into American society on the one hand and group survival on the other. Refusing to acknowledge that these values are in conflict, the typical Jew seeks an ideological position which denies the existence of any tension, and, to attain it, must blur reality, obscuring the real referents for those concepts which [Jews] find most attractive. 4
Chosenness, the traditional vehicle for self-definition among Jews, became in America the single concept most often blurred and denied real referents. In reflecting on American Jewish reinterpretation of the doctrine over the past half-century, I will flesh out, enrich with data, and in some cases call into question, the generalizations advanced by sociologists and other concerning American Jewry s attempt to balance integration and survival. Detailed analysis of the ways in which Jewish thinkers have affirmed, denied, interpreted, and transformed the traditional concept of Israel s chosenness, against the background of identifiable social and intellectual pressures, will teach us a great deal about the character of American Jewish religious thought as a whole. It will also illumine the manner in which the community has been affected by the cluster of forces normally grouped under the umbrella of secularization.
Chosenness, then, particularly as interpreted by the generation before our own, affords a lens for viewing these wider issues of American Jewish adaptation to a newly chosen land. It was during that second generation (ca. 1930-1955) that American Jewry and Judaism as we know them took shape, and a survey of Jewish religious thought in the period reveals chosenness to have been the single most popular theme of discussion. The literary critic R. W. B. Lewis has noted that
every culture seems, as it advances toward maturity, to produce its own determinin

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