In This Article New York City

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works

Jewish Studies New York City
by
Eli Lederhendler
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 July 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 August 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0058

Introduction

Cities, port cities in particular, have played a crucial role in the reconstitution of traditional Jewish culture since the 17th century. New York City has been the setting for the largest Jewish community in North America throughout most of US history, indeed the largest single urban Jewry in the history of the world. As such, it has been a premier focus of research on the American Jewish experience. New York is generally seen as a very heterogeneous city, even by American standards, and its Jewish population has, since the early 20th century, ranged from 10 to 30 percent of the city’s inhabitants. New York Jewry’s unique size—more than 2 million at its height in the mid-20th century—makes it an especially rich context for Jewish and general social and historical study.

General Overviews

Perhaps surprisingly, there is not a single, monographic overview that captures the entire range of New York Jewish history from colonial times to the early 21st century. The available literature deals with shorter chronological periods. Moreover, these works have been written over the course of several distinct generations and reflect different styles, agendas, and cultural assumptions. In view of the numerical centrality of New York Jewry in the wider American Jewish narrative, however, general histories of US Jewry are often very informative about New York, and, in lieu of single-volume treatments of New York as such, they may serve as partial alternatives. Among the more recent general survey treatments, Diner 2004 stresses social history and the formation of a hybrid American-Jewish identity. Sarna 2004 portrays the American Jewish experience through the prism of religion: voluntarism, congregationalism, denominationalism, and cycles of apathy and enthusiastic “awakenings.” Earlier works include Feingold 1974, which not only may be consulted for its reliable narrative, but also may be read as a cultural document of a time when ethnic identity critically informed scholarly discussion of social subgroups and their interactions within American society.

  • Diner, Hasia R. The Jews of the United States, 1654 to 2000. Jewish Communities in the Modern World. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.

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    Combines paradigms regnant among scholars in the late 20th century (feminism and the claims for self-expression wielded by nonhegemonic groups) and argues that American democracy fostered among Jews of both genders a sense of self-assurance, enabling them to construct their own blend of Jewish otherness and American integration.

  • Feingold, Henry L. Zion in America: The Jewish Experience from Colonial Times to the Present. New York: Twayne, 1974.

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    Traces the interconnections between the economic, social, political, and religious adaptations of Jews to American life, while raising the question of Jewish long-term survival in a secular ethnic mode. Notable for its treatment of Jews’ involvement in American domestic and foreign politics.

  • Sarna, Jonathan D. American Judaism: A History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004.

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    Asserts that American Judaism must be understood as indigenously American and that the consistencies between earlier and later forms of Jewish congregational life transcend doctrinal debates. The book incorporates earlier scholars’ view of Jewish ethnic secularism but sees it within the rubric of the Jews’ encounter with religion in America.

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