Urban Origins of American Judaism by Deborah Dash Moore

By Deborah Dash Moore

The city origins of yank Judaism started with day-by-day studies of Jews, their responses to possibilities for social and actual mobility in addition to constraints of discrimination and prejudice. Deborah sprint Moore explores Jewish participation in American towns and considers the consequences of city residing for American Jews throughout 3 centuries. taking a look at synagogues, streets, and snapshots, she contends that key positive factors of yankee Judaism will be understood as an imaginitive product grounded in city potentials.

Jews signaled their collective city presence via synagogue development, which represented Judaism at the civic level. Synagogues housed Judaism in motion, its rituals, liturgies, and group, whereas at the same time demonstrating how Jews Judaized different points in their collective lifestyles, together with examine, schooling, activity, sociability, and politics. Synagogues expressed aesthetic aspirations and translated Jewish religious wishes into brick and mortar. Their altering structure displays moving values between American Jews.

Concentrations of Jews in towns additionally allowed for improvement of public non secular practices that ranged from weekly buying the Sabbath to exuberant dancing within the streets with Torah scrolls at the vacation of Simhat Torah. Jewish engagement with urban streets additionally mirrored Jewish responses to Catholic non secular practices that quickly reworked streets into sacred areas. This job amplified an city Jewish presence and supplied important contexts for synagogue existence, as obvious within the alluring pictures Moore analyzes.

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Jews participated in buying and selling chattel slaves and articulated no critique of slavery, based on either Jewish historical experience or theology. The state’s 1790 constitution guaranteed the free exercise of religion, and Jews took part in elections, even running for office. Their slaveholding, as much as their office holding, signified their assimilation into Charleston society and culture. In 1812, when Governor Henry Middleton proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving to be observed by the state’s churches, Charleston’s kkbe objected to his exclusion of Jews.

Jewish men also responded to the demands of the day fomented by urban growth. In the process, Jews started to change their Judaism, modernizing and Americanizing it. As they turned to other means to assist and educate Jews, synagogues in- 22 s y n a g o g u es creasingly became sites devoted to religious worship rather than centers of community. Charleston’s moment as the largest Jewish city in North America lasted only a few decades. Its cosmopolitan character that so entranced Jews and to which Jews contributed gradually yielded to a narrow, selfdefined Christian society, far less accepting of religious difference or any deviation from the views of the slaveholding elite.

30 By 1827 the congregation had purchased the First Coloured Presbyterian Church on Elm Street in downtown Manhattan. Rather than build a synagogue, B’nai Yeshurun chose to remodel this large church that accommodated six hundred by adding chandeliers and four brick columns. Their decision to repurpose an African American church building marked a Jewish beginning of trading sanctuaries with other urban reli- 24 s y n a g o g u es gious groups. 31 Yet B’nai Yeshurun’s establishment did not promote stability.

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