New Book

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The New Reform Judaism: Challenges and Reflections

Dana Evan Kaplan

In light of profound demographic, social, and technological developments, it has become increasingly clear that the Reform movement will need to make major changes to meet the needs of a quickly evolving American Jewish population. Younger Americans in particular differ from previous generations in how they relate to organized religion, often preferring to network through virtual groups or gather in informal settings of their own choosing.

Dana Evan Kaplan, an American Reform Jew and pulpit rabbi, argues that rather than focusing on the importance of loyalty to community, Reform Judaism must determine how to engage the individual in a search for existential meaning. It should move us toward a critical, scholarly understanding of the Hebrew Bible, that we may emerge with the perspectives required by a postmodern world. Such a Reform Judaism can at once help us understand how the ancient world molded our most cherished religious traditions and guide us in addressing the increasingly complex social problems of our day.

Rabbi Dana Kaplan traces the ways in which Reform Judaism has met the challenges of living in a secular society and sets forth his view of what it must do moving forward. He argues that a tent so big it includes every point of view is too vague to win the souls of today’s young people. Kaplan’s book is a warning that, despite its expensive buildings and trained professional staffs, the Reform movement may not be able to sustain itself unless it can articulate a reason for its existence.

Rabbi Jack Reimer

J Weekly of Northern California

BOOKLIST REVIEW

Rabbi Kaplan’s accessible and compelling exploration of the makings, markings, and current state of Reform Judaism provides an informative, comprehensive tour for both those new to the subject and those familiar with it. Kaplan surveys contemporary scholars, American Reform leaders, and "everyday" people who have come to Reform Judaism from other traditions or have become more aware of their identities as Reform Jews to personalize his presentation of history, social anthropology, and theology. Kaplan also does a fine job of explaining facts and discussing experiences. With a focus on individuals who reside elsewhere than the Northeastern U.S. seaboard and his own current association with a synagogue in Jamaica, the often exaggerated points of geographic and cultural connections fall away and give this book a feeling of broadness. An ideal candidate for those who find intellectual nurture in books like Martin Gilbert’s Jews in the Twentieth Century (2001) or simply wonder what exactly is this thing called being Jewish means for many in the twenty-first century.