Coming to Terms with America Essays on Jewish History, Religion, and Culture

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  • Jonathan D. Sarna (author)
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About the Book

Coming to Terms with America examines how Jews have long “straddled two civilizations,” endeavoring to be both Jewish and American at once, from the American Revolution to today.

In fifteen engaging essays, Jonathan D. Sarna investigates the many facets of the Jewish-American encounter—what Jews have borrowed from their surroundings, what they have resisted, what they have synthesized, and what they have subverted. Part I surveys how Jews first worked to reconcile Judaism with the country’s new democratic ethos and to reconcile their faith-based culture with local metropolitan cultures. Part II analyzes religio-cultural initiatives, many spearheaded by women, and the ongoing tensions between Jewish scholars (who pore over traditional Jewish sources) and activists (who are concerned with applying them). Part III appraises Jewish-Christian relations: “collisions” within the public square and over church-state separation.

Originally written over the span of forty years, many of these essays are considered classics in the field, and several remain fixtures of American Jewish history syllabi. Others appeared in fairly obscure venues and will be discovered here anew. Together, these essays—newly updated for this volume—cull the finest thinking of one of American Jewry’s finest historians.

“Fascinating. . . . The dualistic character of the Jewish experience in America is highlighted in fifteen carefully researched and and thoughtful chapters on American Jewish history, culture, and religion.”Reading Religion

“A tour d’horizon of a remarkable historian’s storied career, this valuable collection of essays is as much a testament to the complexity and creativity of the American Jewish experience as it is a celebration of the scholarly imagination.”—Jenna Weissman Joselit, author of Set in Stone: America’s Embrace of the Ten Commandments

“For over four decades, Jonathan Sarna has enriched our understanding of the American Jewish experience. How fortunate we are to now have in one volume so many of Sarna’s groundbreaking articles! Replete with memorable anecdotes and brilliant insights, Coming to Terms with America is a trove of riches for all who care about American Jewish culture and American religion.”—Shuly Rubin Schwartz, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary

“The breadth and depth of Jonathan D. Sarna’s work on the American Jewish experience is electrifying. This collection of the author’s most outstanding historical essays is a page-turning exploration of the dynamics of Jewish life, shedding light on American Jewry’s ongoing effort to ‘straddle two civilizations.’ Readers will discover that even as America has transformed Judaism, so too have Jews contributed to the shaping of the American nation.”—Gary P. Zola, executive director of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives

“Jonathan Sarna, the most erudite of historians of American Jewry, speaks of the past and of the present through this thought provoking and engaging volume.”—Deborah Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust History at Emory University

“As a doyen of American Jewish history, Sarna’s work has long helped define this field of study. This collection of his pathbreaking essays offers scholars and students of history alike a second look at his sterling contributions to illuminating the Jews’ and Judaism’s encounter with America’s free society.”—Jeffrey Gurock, Libby M. Klaperman Professor of Jewish History at Yeshiva University

“Bringing together a wealth of insights from Jonathan Sarna’s long scholarly engagement with American Jewish culture, Coming to Terms with America illuminates the evolution of the field of American Jewish history itself.”—Beth S. Wenger, associate dean for graduate studies and Moritz and Josephine Berg Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania

“As with all his work, Sarna, in these essays, displays both a wide topical breadth and an extraordinary analytical depth. His mastery of Hebrew language and the classical sources of Jewish tradition, his complete control of every era of Jewish history, his skill and training as an American historian, and his attention to theory make these articles unparalleled in originality, richness, and insights. His reach and influence in the academic and larger worlds are exceptional, and this book will only enhance and extend that reach and influence…. Readers will be immeasurably enriched by its contents.” American Jewish Archives Journal 

Jonathan D. Sarna

Jonathan D. Sarna is University Professor and the Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History, as well as the director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University. He is also the chief historian of the National Museum of American Jewish History. Sarna has written, edited, or coedited more than thirty books, including JPS: The Americanization of Jewish Culture 1888–1988 and American Judaism: A History, and is the winner of six awards, including the National Jewish Book Award’s Jewish Book of the Year.

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