Religion or Ethnicity?: Jewish Identities in Evolution

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Can someone be considered Jewish if he or she never goes to synagogue, doesn't keep kosher, and for whom the only connection to his or her ancestral past is attending an annual Passover seder?

In Religion or Ethnicity? fifteen leading scholars trace the evolution of Jewish identity. The book examines Judaism from the Greco-Roman age, through medieval times, modern western and eastern Europe, to today. Jewish identity has been defined as an ethnicity, a nation, a culture, and even a race. Religion or Ethnicity? questions what it means to be Jewish. The contributors show how the Jewish people have evolved over time in different ethnic, religious, and political movements. In his closing essay, Gitelman questions the viability of secular Jewishness outside Israel but suggests that the continued interest in exploring the relationship between Judaism's secular and religious forms will keep the heritage alive for generations to come.

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About the Author:

Zvi Gitelman is a professor of comparative politics and Judaic studies at the University of Michigan. He is also a research scientist at the University's Center for Russian and East European Studies. He has written or edited numerous works on the Jews of eastern Europe, including Jewish Life After the USSR and A Century of Ambivalence: The Jews of Russia and the Soviet Union.

Review:

"This extensive array of intensive historical and contemporary analyses of Judaism and Jewishness is a valuable contribution to the understanding of what it means to be Jewish." (Chaim I. Waxman Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Jewish Studies, Rutgers University)

"We live in an age not only of fluid identities and shifting identities, but of contested identities as well. This extraordinary collection of eminently readable scholarly articles spans centuries of Jewish life, and offers an insightful, stimulating and provocative look at Jews' ongoing struggle with defining their identities. Religion? Ethnicity? Both? Neither? The answers, as we learn, depend not only on whom you ask—but when and where—and who does the asking." (Steven M. Cohen author of The Jew Within: Self, Family, and Community in America)

"A provocative and important volume. The book elucidate[s] how the definition of the Jewish people has evolved over the centuries and has changed at different times in different places. Highly recommended." (Choice)

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