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Urban Origins of American Judaism

Deborah Dash Moore

Publication Year: 2014

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.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Series: George H. Shriver Lecture Series in Religion in American History

Title Page, Series Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xiv

The substance of the chapters of this book composed a series of lectures delivered by Dr. Deborah Dash Moore at Stetson University in February 2012 as a part of the George H. Shriver Lectures: Religion in American History. The Shriver Lectures, inaugurated in 2000, were established...

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pp. xv-xx

Jews have lived in cities for many centuries. Scholars of Talmud, of medieval walled cities, and of Mediterranean cities often point to the influence on Jewish religious practices of diversity and pluralism in cities, as well as their economic and political structures. Yet Jews also possessed a...

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pp. 1 -7

Looking back over several centuries, American Jewish historians point to a number of central themes. They see both migration and freedom as keys to understanding American Judaism. After all, as Jews came to U.S. shores from abroad, some immediately picked up and moved inland...

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Chapter 1. Synagogues

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pp. 8-70

Synagogues announced a Jewish presence in a city. While they represent the most visible manifestation of Judaism, their changing architecture articulates shifting visions of Jewish religious practice and Jewish understandings of American urbanism. American cities left their imprint...

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Chapter 2. Streets

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pp. 71-111

On June 12, 1994, thousands of Jews gathered on the streets of Crown Heights to mourn the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson. They came to Brooklyn from across the United States, from Israel, and from all over the world for his funeral. A huge crowd of men...

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Chapter 3. Snapshots

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pp. 112-150

In 1966 Allon Schoener curated a powerful and wildly popular exhibit at the Jewish Museum in New York City—the exhibit was so popular, in fact, that officials extended it for several months, an unprecedented decision. The Lower East Side: Portal to American Life chronicled the world...

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pp. 151-154

The departure of Jews for the suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s coincided with a burst of historical writing on Jews and American cities. These histories of the Jews of Baltimore, Cleveland, Rochester, Atlanta, Portland, Chicago, Buffalo, Columbus, and Los Angeles all shared common...


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pp. 155-164


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pp. 165-176


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pp. 177-186

Series Page

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E-ISBN-13: 9780820347929
E-ISBN-10: 0820347922

Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 33 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: George H. Shriver Lecture Series in Religion in American History