The Chosen Wars: How Judaism Became an American Religion

In This Review

The Chosen Wars: How Judaism Became an American Religion
By Steven R. Weisman
Simon & Schuster, 2018
368 pp.

Weisman makes a convincing case that the cultural and theological beliefs of the nineteenth-century American Jewish community continue to shape American Jewish life today. American Jews of that era, like many of their neighbors, tended to be anticlerical, suspicious of institutions, and independent-minded with respect to religion. Enthusiastically embracing the rational, liberal theology and biblical criticism then coming out of Germany, they worked to adapt an ancient religion to what they saw as a new era of enlightenment. Change was not always smooth: at the 1883 grad-uation of the first new rabbis from the Hebrew Union College of Cincinnati, guests were horrified when waiters served crab, shrimp, and frogs’ legs. After 1880, the largely German American Jewish community would be overwhelmed by a great wave of Jews from central and eastern Europe. But their ideas about Judaism, including their complicated responses to Zionism, endured.

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