Judaisms: A Twenty-First-Century Introduction to Jews and Jewish Identities

University of California Press  2016


Judaisms: A Twenty-First-Century Introduction to Jews and Jewish Identitiesby Aaron J. Hahn Tapper is a lively and comprehensive college textbook on the Jewish experience in the United States and Israel. The puzzling use of the word “Judaisms” in the title of the book is an indicator of the author’s approach to the subject matter; he states that there has never been a “single way to practice Judaism.” Rather, Jews live in diverse communities with multiple and evolving beliefs, practices, and identities that are influenced by culture and historical experiences. To best understand the Jewish community, Tapper writes, an analyst needs to view it through an “interdisciplinary lens”—by which he means that explanations of Jewish practice and beliefs should draw from traditional biblical and rabbinic writings as well as the extensive literature on the Jewish experience in the fields of sociology, anthropology, popular culture, feminism, and history. This approach ensures that the reader will encounter “historical ambiguity and relativism.” That is all to the good, since one of Tapper’s objectives is to encourage readers to “reexamine dominant Jewish narratives and rituals.”

This book is intended to serve as a text for a one-semester, fourteen-week college course on Judaism. In keeping with that objective, it offers highly readable and even-handed discussions of a wide range of topics coupled with eye-catching graphics and page layouts and informative inserts. Supplementary teaching resources are available on the publisher’s website. Each chapter is comprehensive and begins with a list of the topics and “key ideas.” For example, in the chapter “Cultures,” Tapper provides an overview of Jewish history and culture beginning with the Greco-Roman Jews and the Judeans. He then moves on to discuss the Babylonian and Persian Jewish experience. The author also covers more contemporary Jewish experiences and includes compelling details about the experiences of Jews living in Muslim countries such as Yemen and Egypt, and Jews among Christians in Ethiopia and China.

Judaisms: A Twenty-First-Century Introduction to Jews and Jewish Identities is a visually attractive book that will appeal to Jew and non-Jew alike. It is filled with fascinating information and can be used as a reference book or read in its entirety.

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