Jews on the Fron­tier: Reli­gion and Mobil­i­ty in Nine­teenth-Cen­tu­ry America

  • From the Publisher
November 20, 2017

Jews on the Fron­tier offers a reli­gious his­to­ry that begins in an unex­pect­ed place: on the road. Shari Rabin recounts the jour­ney of Jew­ish peo­ple as they left East­ern cities and ven­tured into the Amer­i­can West and South dur­ing the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry. It brings to life the suc­cess­es and obsta­cles of these trav­els, from the unprece­dent­ed eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ties to the anonymi­ty and lone­li­ness that com­pli­cat­ed the many legal oblig­a­tions of tra­di­tion­al Jew­ish life. With­out gov­ern­ment-sup­port­ed com­mu­ni­ties or reli­able author­i­ties, where could one pro­cure kosher meat? Alone in the Amer­i­can wilder­ness, how could one find nine co-reli­gion­ists for a minyan (prayer quo­rum)? With­out iden­ti­ty doc­u­ments, how could one real­ly know that some­one was Jewish?

Rabin argues that Jew­ish mobil­i­ty dur­ing this time was piv­otal to the devel­op­ment of Amer­i­can Judaism. In the absence of key insti­tu­tions like syn­a­gogues or char­i­ta­ble orga­ni­za­tions which had played such a piv­otal role in assim­i­lat­ing East Coast immi­grants, ordi­nary Jews on the fron­tier cre­at­ed reli­gious life from scratch, expand­ing and trans­form­ing Jew­ish thought and practice.

Jews on the Fron­tier vivid­ly recounts the sto­ry of a neglect­ed era in Amer­i­can Jew­ish his­to­ry, offer­ing a new inter­pre­ta­tion of Amer­i­can reli­gions, root­ed not in con­gre­ga­tions or denom­i­na­tions, but in the pol­i­tics and expe­ri­ences of being on the move. This book shows that by focus­ing on every­day peo­ple, we gain a more com­plete view of how Amer­i­can reli­gion has tak­en shape. This book fol­lows a group of dynam­ic and diverse indi­vid­u­als as they searched for resources for sta­bil­i­ty, cer­tain­ty, and iden­ti­ty in a nation where there was lit­tle to be found.

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