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Lauren F. Winner

Living by Law, Looking for Intimacy

What Christians can learn from the debates that divide American Jews. This is the first installment in a five-part series.

This is the first installment in a five-part series.

Next, part 2 [January/February 2001], "God of Abraham—and Saint Paul," will focus on the pathbreaking "Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity" published last fall in the New York Times and the book of essays it occasioned, Christianity in Jewish Terms, edited by Tikva Frymer-Kensky, David Novak, Peter Ochs, David Fox Sandmel, and Michael A. Signer.

Part 3 will consider medieval anti-Semitism and the Eucharist (via Miri Rubin's Gentile Tales).

Part 4 will discuss German Jews, Edith Stein in particular.

Part 5 will conclude the series with Messianic Judiaism.

Jew vs. Jew: The Struggle for the Soul of American Jewry, by Samuel G. Freedman, Simon & Schuster, 397 pp.; $26

American Jews appear to have it pretty good. An observant Jew nominated for vice-president! But according to Samuel Freedman in his new book Jew vs. Jew, with the persecution Jews suffered in the past—the anti-Semitic slurs, the pogroms, the exclusion—came a sort of unity. Jews stuck together because they had to. Nowadays, they don't have to—and dissension is threatening the newly factious and fissiparous Jews at every turn. They are divided over Israel, over pluralism, over conversion. The Orthodox sneer at the Reform, and the Reform sneer back. Conservative congregations crack apart over what to call God: He or She. Parents are affronted when their rabbi won't perform their son's wedding because he's marrying someone whose mother isn't Jewish. It's a bad time for American Jewry.

Freedman's thickly researched, elegantly written book surveys these fissures among American Jews. The book is bracketed by two especially dramatic episodes. It opens with a snapshot of Janet and David Marcus, who recently moved from their long-time home in Great Neck, Long Island, "largely to escape their neighbors." The Marcuses belonged to a Reform temple, their sons celebrated their bar mitzvahs, and they were friendly with their ...

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