Contemporary American Judaism

Transformation and Renewal

Dana Evan Kaplan

Columbia University Press

Contemporary American Judaism

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Pub Date: March 2011

ISBN: 9780231137294

446 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $30.00£25.00

Pub Date: June 2009

ISBN: 9780231137287

446 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $90.00£75.00

Pub Date: June 2009

ISBN: 9780231510417

446 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $29.99£25.00

Contemporary American Judaism

Transformation and Renewal

Dana Evan Kaplan

Columbia University Press

No longer controlled by a handful of institutional leaders based in remote headquarters and rabbinical seminaries, American Judaism is being transformed by the spiritual decisions of tens of thousands of Jews living all over the United States. A pulpit rabbi and himself an American Jew, Dana Evan Kaplan follows this religious individualism from its postwar suburban roots to the hippie revolution of the 1960s and the multiple postmodern identities of today. From Hebrew tattooing to Jewish Buddhist meditation, Kaplan describes the remaking of historical tradition in ways that channel multiple ethnic and national identities.

While pessimists worry about the vanishing American Jew, Kaplan focuses on creative responses to contemporary spiritual trends that have made a Jewish religious renaissance possible. He believes that the reorientation of American Judaism has been a "bottom up" process, resisted by elites who have reluctantly responded to the demands of the "spiritual marketplace." The American Jewish denominational structure is therefore weakening at the same time that religious experimentation is rising, leading to the innovative approaches supplanting existing institutions. The result is an exciting transformation of what it means to be a religious American Jew in the twenty-first century.

There is no better guide to the remarkable changes in American Jewish religion.

Nathan Glazer, Harvard University

A tour de force that covers every important development in each of the branches of American Judaism, and Kaplan does it with a deep sensitivity to the issues involved.

Chaim I. Waxman, Rutgers University

Contemporary American Judaism is a pioneering and exciting study. Dana Evan Kaplan should be highly commended for facing boldly and honestly the new realities of American Jewish life.

Yaakov Ariel, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Spread around the world, interacting with diverse centers of communications, politics, and culture, the Jewish community is changing quickly and often in bewildering ways. But Judaism also remains a bellwether for what may be expected in other faiths as well. Dana Evan Kaplan has his finger on these changes and writes about them fairly and eloquently. You don't have to be Jewish to savor this book and learn from it.

Harvey Cox, author of When Jesus Came to Harvard: Making Moral Choices Today

[Kaplan] skillfully portrays the wide variety of untraditional, often idiosyncratic ways of 'doing Jewish.


[An] insightful description of radical changes in American Judaism.

Publishers Weekly

A keen observer of the faith of his people in the U.S., Kaplan does not hesitate to underline the fact that 'the American environment has impacted Judaism.'

David Geffen, Jerusalem Post Magazine

Kaplan is clearly breaking new ground and writing a new narrative for twenty-first-century American Judaism.

Jewish Review of Books

Kaplan's gallery of American-inflected Jewish innovators is entertaining and... illuminating.

Wilson Quarterly

Kaplan's book is an excellent starting point for anyone seeking to understand the current state of American Judaism.


Kaplan's book is exhaustive in detail and broad in scope, touching on the fundamental challenges to contemporary Judaism in America from intermarriage, conversion, and the end of religious denominations to questions of ethnicity, spirituality, Israel, and the Holocaust.

Foreword, by Rabbi David Ellenson
Chronology of Events
1. A Historical Overview from 1945
2. The Reengagement with Spirituality
3. The Rise and Fall of American Jewish Denominationalism
4. Facing the Collapse of the Intermarriage Stigma
5. Inclusivity as a Social Value
6. Radical Responses to the Suburban Experience
7. The Popularization of Jewish Mystical Outreach
8. Herculean Efforts at Synagogue Renewal
Conclusion: The Future of Judaism in America
Afterword, by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
Web Features:

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About the Author

Dana Evan Kaplan is the rabbi of Temple B'nai Israel in Albany, Georgia, and adjunct professor of Jewish Studies at Gratz College. His books include The Cambridge Companion to American Judaism, American Reform Judaism: An Introduction, Platforms and Prayer Books: Theological and Liturgical Perspectives on Reform Judaismand Contemporary Debates on Reform Judaism: Conflicting Visions. Many of his publications can be found at