Non­fic­tion

Being Jew­ish: The Spir­i­tu­al and Cul­tur­al Prac­tice of Judaism Today

Ari L. Goldman
  • Review
By – October 26, 2011

There are many fine vol­umes avail­able which describe the hol­i­days, life cycle events, and major rit­u­al prac­tices that punc­tu­ate the Jew­’s day and year. Ari Gold­man’s vol­ume does that and more. He traces the his­to­ry of var­i­ous obser­vances, detail­ing how they began and how they devel­oped. More dis­tinc­tive­ly, he points out anec­do­tal­ly the many diverse and some­times strange ways in which those obser­vances are kept.

Gold­man quotes (with appar­ent approval) the late Jacob Rad­er Mar­cus, the pre­em­i­nent his­to­ri­an of Amer­i­can Jew­ry: There are six mil­lion Jews in Amer­i­ca and six mil­lions Judaisms.” These idio­syn­crasies, many of which Gold­man cites, lead the author to con­clude, We are Smörgås­bord Jews. Amer­i­can Jews come to the great table of Jew­ish obser­vance take what best suits them. No two buf­fet plates are the same.”

That does­n’t both­er Gold­man. To the con­trary, he declares, I do think a lit­tle anar­chy can be healthy. Being Jew­ish is about feel­ing good. It is about find­ing meaning.”

It is quite obvi­ous that Gold­man not only feels good indeed about his Judaism, but he also finds it full of mean­ing. He does a superb job of inter­pret­ing the reli­gion: its val­ues, beliefs, and prac­tices. He has the skill of the preach­er, and the temp­ta­tion to prac­tice it is too much for the schol­ar and jour­nal­ist in him to resist. For exam­ple, he makes an impas­sioned plea on behalf of the cen­tral­i­ty of the Jew­ish home in the train­ing of a child: The way adults act and talk – towards their chil­dren and toward each oth­er – teach­es chil­dren more than any syn­a­gogue or class­room can.”

Gold­man has a pro­found under­stand­ing of Judaism and loves it pas­sion­ate­ly. That pas­sion is con­ta­gious. One who is con­tem­plat­ing con­ver­sa­tion to Judaism would do well to read this excel­lent intro­duc­tion. A born Jew will gain from it a deep­ened under­stand­ing and pride in what is already his or hers.

Stephen H. Gar­rin is a past man­ag­ing edi­tor of Jew­ish Book World and a past assis­tant to the direc­tor of the Jew­ish Book Council.

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