An Ethnographic Study of an American Conservative Synagogue

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“Dr. Laskin has produced an eminently readable as well as thoughtful ethnographic analysis of a Conservative Jewish synagogue in a southern New England suburb. His work follows the participant-observer model of such other studies of American religious groups as Laurence Palinkas’ and Nancy Ammerman’s. At the same time it is a contribution to the field in that it is a study of a ‘mainstream’ Jewish congregation with a pluralistic orientation. . . . Dr. Laskin’s account of the ways in which his congregation seeks to minister to members with a wide variety of interests and concerns indicates that Conservative Judaism faces the same set of pressures from the secular world as mainstream Christian bodies, and uses similar strategies of response. . . . will also be of interest to specialists in religious education and women’s studies. . . traces the evolution of gender egalitarianism in Conservative Judaism from its early adoption of mixed seating during worship to his more recent admission of women to equal participation in public prayer and Scripture reading, not to mention ordination to the rabbinate. . . . identity issues are even more complicated for Conservative Jews because of their tendency to define themselves by what they are not – i.e., neither Orthodox nor Reform. The task for members of the synagogue in this study, then, is to forge an understanding of Jewish identity that is positive and constructive. . . and then to affirm their Jewishness within the context of an increasingly secularized as well as pluralistic society.” – Rebecca J. Frey

“References to the older synagogues, expressed in a few well-selected interviews, are both interesting and informative. The opening chapters describe the sociological and economic forces that led to urban expansion and migration to the suburbs…..Subject matter is discussed in the context of extensive quotations from classic authorities such as Emile Durkheim, Isaac Klein, Cecil Roth, Marshall Sklare and others. The bibliography reflects a broad area of study….His description of the observance of the festivals could well serve as a primer on Jewish holidays and festivals.” – American Jewish History

“Laskin’s book works as a superb guide for professionals who are training to serve as staff in conservative Synagogues. The book provides a realistic depiction of the range of participation spiritual leaders can expect from their congregation. . . . Laskin’s portrayal of the role of intermarriage in the Conservative Synagogue he studies is striking. . . . should add a new dimension to the debate regarding the perils of intermarriage to Judaism in the United States. . . . Laskin’s book, in a sociological fashion, continues the literary tradition of the study of American life at its communal best.” – Cherni Gillman

Table of Contents

Table of contents:
Preface; Foreword, Introduction
1. History of the Conservative Movement and Synagogue
2. Social History of the Jews of New Haven, Hamden, and Temple Beth Shalom
3. Inclusion and the Prayer Ritual: A Job for Everyone
4. Alternative Involvements at the Worship Service; Bringing the Outsiders in
5. Innovation and Tradition at the Bar/Bat Mitzvah: A Model for and a Model of Future Adult Temple Involvement
6. Multiple Identities at Temple Beth Shalom
Conclusions; Bibliography; Index

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