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How Judaism Became a Religion:
An Introduction to Modern Jewish Thought
Leora Batnitzky

Honorable Mention for the 2011 PROSE Award in Theology & Religious Studies, Association of American Publishers

Paperback | 2013 | $21.95 | £17.95 | ISBN: 9780691160139
208 pp. | 6 x 9
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400839711 |
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Is Judaism a religion, a culture, a nationality--or a mixture of all of these? In How Judaism Became a Religion, Leora Batnitzky boldly argues that this question more than any other has driven modern Jewish thought since the eighteenth century. This wide-ranging and lucid introduction tells the story of how Judaism came to be defined as a religion in the modern period--and why Jewish thinkers have fought as well as championed this idea.

Ever since the Enlightenment, Jewish thinkers have debated whether and how Judaism--largely a religion of practice and public adherence to law--can fit into a modern, Protestant conception of religion as an individual and private matter of belief or faith. Batnitzky makes the novel argument that it is this clash between the modern category of religion and Judaism that is responsible for much of the creative tension in modern Jewish thought. Tracing how the idea of Jewish religion has been defended and resisted from the eighteenth century to today, the book discusses many of the major Jewish thinkers of the past three centuries, including Moses Mendelssohn, Abraham Geiger, Hermann Cohen, Martin Buber, Zvi Yehuda Kook, Theodor Herzl, and Mordecai Kaplan. At the same time, it tells the story of modern orthodoxy, the German-Jewish renaissance, Jewish religion after the Holocaust, the emergence of the Jewish individual, the birth of Jewish nationalism, and Jewish religion in America.

More than an introduction, How Judaism Became a Religion presents a compelling new perspective on the history of modern Jewish thought.


"As Batnitzky points out, Judaism doesn't fit any modern mold especially well. Her book adds both shrewdness and humility to the search for modern Jewish identity and the claims often made about the purity of these identities."--Edward Ruehle, Jewish Voice and Herald

"Superb and thought-provoking."--Adam Kirsch, Tablet Magazine

"An excellent introduction to the key philosophers and writers who influenced modern Jewish thought."--Wallace Greene, Jewish Book World

"It has been decades since a broad, synthetic volume addressing the major issues and thinkers in modern Jewish thought has been published. How Judaism Became a Religion fills a lacuna in the field, and this book will no doubt serve as the authoritative secondary source on the topic for some time. Leora Batnitzky offers an eminently readable overview of a large number of complicated, even esoteric thinkers in terms that are manageable, indeed inviting, for nonspecialists and lay readers alike. (Helpfully, she also offers such readers a well-chosen list of suggested readings at the end of each chapter.) In doing so, she renders an invaluable service to the field."--Mara Benjamin, H-Net Reviews

"Leora Batnitzky's How Judaism Became a Religion is a bold new interpretation of modern Jewish thought by one of the leading scholars in the field."--Micah Gottlieb, Jewish Review of Books

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Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments ix
Introduction 1

Part I: Judaism as Religion 11
Chapter 1: Modern Judaism and the Invention of Jewish Religion 13
Chapter 2: Religion as History: Religious Reform and the Invention of Modern Orthodoxy 32
Chapter 3: Religion as Reason and the Separation of Religion from Politics 52
Chapter 4: Religion as Experience: The German Jewish Renaissance 73
Chapter 5: Jewish Religion after the Holocaust 91

Part II: Detaching Judaism from Religion 109
Chapter 6: The Irrelevance of Religion and the Emergence of the Jewish Individual 111
Chapter 7: The Transformation of Tradition and the Invention of Jewish Culture 130
Chapter 8: The Rejection of Jewish Religion and the Birth of Jewish Nationalism 147
Chapter 9: Jewish Religion in the United States 166
Conclusion 183

Notes 193
Index 203

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