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

Aaron J. Hahn Tapper
  • Review
By – October 14, 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.

Relat­ed Content:

Car­ol Poll, Ph.D., is the retired Chair of the Social Sci­ences Depart­ment and Pro­fes­sor of Soci­ol­o­gy at the Fash­ion Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy of the State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York. Her areas of inter­est include the soci­ol­o­gy of race and eth­nic rela­tions, the soci­ol­o­gy of mar­riage, fam­i­ly and gen­der roles and the soci­ol­o­gy of Jews.

Discussion Questions