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Leaving the Jewish Fold:
Conversion and Radical Assimilation in Modern Jewish History
Todd M. Endelman

Finalist for the 2015 National Jewish Book Award in Modern Jewish Thought & Experience (Dorot Foundation Award), Jewish Book Council

Hardcover | 2015 | $42.00 | £34.95 | ISBN: 9780691004792
440 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4
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Between the French Revolution and World War II, hundreds of thousands of Jews left the Jewish fold—by becoming Christians or, in liberal states, by intermarrying. Telling the stories of both famous and obscure individuals, Leaving the Jewish Fold explores the nature of this drift and defection from Judaism in Europe and America from the eighteenth century to today. Arguing that religious conviction was rarely a motive for Jews who became Christians, Todd Endelman shows that those who severed their Jewish ties were driven above all by pragmatic concerns—especially the desire to escape the stigma of Jewishness and its social, occupational, and emotional burdens.

Through a detailed and colorful narrative, Endelman considers the social settings, national contexts, and historical circumstances that encouraged Jews to abandon Judaism, and factors that worked to the opposite effect. Demonstrating that anti-Jewish prejudice weighed more heavily on the Jews of Germany and Austria than those living in France and other liberal states as early as the first half of the nineteenth century, he reexamines how Germany's political and social development deviated from other European states. Endelman also reveals that liberal societies such as Great Britain and the United States, which tolerated Jewish integration, promoted radical assimilation and the dissolution of Jewish ties as often as hostile, illiberal societies such as Germany and Poland.

Bringing together extensive research across several languages, Leaving the Jewish Fold will be the essential work on conversion and assimilation in modern Jewish history for years to come.

Todd M. Endelman is professor emeritus of history and Judaic studies at the University of Michigan. His books include The Jews of Britain and Broadening Jewish History.


"[A]n outstanding, wide-ranging, judicious and inevitably provocative contribution to the flourishing field of Jewish history . . . supported by statistics taken from many sources and interspersed with thumbnail sketches of individual lives. . . . Vivid and absorbing."--Ritchie Robertson, Times Literary Supplement

"This is a thoughtful, convincing study of a subject--conversion and radical assimilation in modern times--that receives too little attention from Jewish historians. . . . An important and impressive study."--Choice

"This is an important book that will be of insight to every reader. Those working in Jewish education will find specific interest in the methods that the Christian missionaries used. . . . Anyone looking to understand some of the reasons for conversion and assimilation in modern Jewish history will find Leaving the Jewish Fold a most stimulating narrative."--Ben Rothke, Times of Israel

"Endelman demonstrates yet again why he is one of the leading historians of the contemporary Jewish world."--Geoffrey Alderman, Jewish Chronicle

"A superb work of scholarship."--Sheldon Kirshner, Times of Israel


"Through his broad-ranging exploration of radical assimilation and conversion away from Judaism in the modern Occident over the past three centuries, Endelman examines a topic that other Jewish historians have ignored. In so doing, Endelman provides a complete portrait of how Jews responded to the challenges first brought on by Emancipation and Enlightenment in the eighteenth century. His magisterial work will richly reward students of Jewish history and multiculturalism, as well as students of modern culture."--David Ellenson, chancellor, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

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Table of Contents:

Preface ix
Abbreviations xi
Introduction 1
1 Conversion in Medieval and Early Modern Europe 17
2 Conversion in the Age of Enlightenment and Emancipation 49
3 Conversion in the Age of Illiberalism 88
4 Defection and Drift—Early- and Mid-Twentieth Century 147
5 Integration and Intermarriage—Midcentury to the Present 190
6 Conversions of Conviction 225
7 Neither Jew nor Christian—New Religions, New Creeds 275
8 In Baptism's Wake 310
Conclusion 360
Notes 369
Index 415

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