Leav­ing the Jew­ish Fold: Con­ver­sa­tion and Rad­i­cal Assim­i­la­tion in Mod­ern Jew­ish History

Todd M. Endelman
  • From the Publisher
December 22, 2015

Between the French Rev­o­lu­tion and World War II, hun­dreds of thou­sands of Jews left the Jew­ish fold – by becom­ing Chris­tians or, in lib­er­al states, by inter­mar­ry­ing. Telling the sto­ries of both famous and obscure indi­vid­u­als, Leav­ing the Jew­ish Fold explores the nature of this drift and defec­tion from Judaism in Europe and Amer­i­ca from the eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry to today. Argu­ing that reli­gious con­vic­tion was rarely a motive for Jews who became Chris­tians, Todd Endel­man shows that those who sev­ered their Jew­ish ties were dri­ven above all by prag­mat­ic con­cerns – espe­cial­ly the desire to escape the stig­ma of Jew­ish­ness and its social, occu­pa­tion­al, and emo­tion­al burdens.

Through a detailed and col­or­ful nar­ra­tive, Endel­man con­sid­ers the social set­tings, nation­al con­texts, and his­tor­i­cal cir­cum­stances that encour­aged Jews to aban­don Judaism, and fac­tors that worked to the oppo­site effect. Demon­strat­ing that anti-Jew­ish prej­u­dice weighed more heav­i­ly on the Jews of Ger­many and Aus­tria than those liv­ing in France and oth­er lib­er­al states as ear­ly as the first half of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, he reex­am­ines how Ger­many’s polit­i­cal and social devel­op­ment devi­at­ed from oth­er Euro­pean states. Endel­man also reveals that lib­er­al soci­eties such as Great Britain and the Unit­ed States, which tol­er­at­ed Jew­ish inte­gra­tion, pro­mot­ed rad­i­cal assim­i­la­tion and the dis­so­lu­tion of Jew­ish ties as often as hos­tile, illib­er­al soci­eties such as Ger­many and Poland.

Bring­ing togeth­er exten­sive research across sev­er­al lan­guages, Leav­ing the Jew­ish Fold will be the essen­tial work on con­ver­sion and assim­i­la­tion in mod­ern Jew­ish his­to­ry for years to come.

Discussion Questions