Countless sociological studies and surveys present a rather bleak picture of religion and religious engagement in the United States. Attendance at worship services remains very low and approximately one quarter of Americans indicate that they are not affiliated with any religion. This trend extends to the Jewish community, and American Jews are also experiencing decreasing synagogue attendance and low levels of adherence. However, Jack Wertheimer
presents an alternative reading of American Jewish life in his new book, The New American Judaism: How Jews Practice Their Religion Today
(Princeton University Press, 2018).
Wertheimer argues that American Jews are indeed engaging with Judaism, albeit in unique and unorthodox ways. Wertheimer analyses how certain American values and phenomena, such as hyper-individualism and “do-it-yourself” religion, are impacting the ways in which American Jews practice their religion and have paved the way for new forms and expressions of Judaism. Wertheimer also demonstrates how synagogues and congregational rabbis are responding to the shifting needs of American Jews. Although many Jews do not attend synagogue on a regular basis and do not observe many traditional commandments, or mitzvot, American Jews are not necessarily abandoning Judaism; rather, they are engaging with their religion in ways that are conducive with their unique values, beliefs, and lifestyles and by extension are creating a new form of American Judaism.
Jack Wertheimer is Joseph and Martha Mendelson Professor of American Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City.
Lindsey Jackson is a PhD student at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada.