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August 20th, 2009 at 9:39 am

Dana Kaplan discusses contemporary American Judaism with Religion in American History

Contemporary American JudaismIn a wide ranging interview with Paul Harvey on the blog Religion in American History Dana Eric Kaplan, author of Contemporary American Judaism: Transformation and Renewal, considers a range of issues from the impact of intermarriage to the meaning of Jack Abramoff’s black hat (was he trying to elicit the support of Orthodox Jews?)

One of the issues confronting organized religion in the United States is the increasing penchant for individual to embark upon personal spiritual quests that do not necessarily conform to traditional beliefs. As Kaplan suggests, Judaism is particularly vulnerable to this trend:

Individualized spirituality threatens institutional religion because if people can find spiritual meaning on their own, then they don’t need organized religion. American Judaism is particularly vulnerable because Judaism is so interconnected with Jewish peoplehood and also because Judaism is such a small religious group in terms of numbers. If every American Jew went on their spiritual search without regard to ancestral tradition or community influence, that would mark the end of organized Jewish religion in the United States. But that has not happened….Some of those dissatisfied with what they believe to be the lack of spirituality in Judaism may switch religions entirely but many others may seek to find alternative sources of spiritual wisdom that they can bring back with them to the synagogue.

Harvey also asked Kaplan about the relationship that has developed among conservative evangelical Christians and Jews based on their mutual support of Israel. Kaplan argues that this is relationship that should be nurtured despite the misgiving of some American Jews:

There was a recent controversy in Huntsville, Alabama where the local Reform Rabbi took a strong stand against cooperation and collaboration with fundamentalist Protestants who are very keen to support the state of Israel. Speaking personally, I feel that this is a potentially valuable relationship which should be nurtured. Of course, both sides understand that we have fundamental religious differences. But if we can agree on the importance of supporting the state of Israel, I see no reason why we cannot work together. But I am a minority voice in the Reform movement on this topic.

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