...well-documented and compelling ... As much as I admire this book, I’ll say this: I didn’t understand Weisman’s title ... While the deep-seated arguments coursing through his narrative did once result in violence (see below), what he describes is more of a raucous, disputatious evolution than an all-out battle among Jews ... a series of visionary, courageous, often problematic and egotistical men propel Weisman’s story ... a story that is both sobering and inspirational. This history reminds us that we Jews are not a settled people and that we have turned our deep arguments about core precepts and values into a capacity for reinvention, which continues to find fertile soil in America.
The same ideological struggles that galvanized and polarized Jews in 1841 continue to do so in 2018 ... It’s an insight that infuses his book with a fresh sense of poignancy found lacking in other volumes of history. Drawing on a wide array of sources, he elegantly pulls out the occasional detail, using his seasoned reporter’s eye to jolt aged quarrels back to life ... This same journalist’s instinct, however, keeps Mr. Weisman from addressing questions that might have given his account additional layers of meaning ... Still, in giving us an account of how Jews became a part of America, even as they remained a people apart, Mr. Weisman’s meticulously researched and fluently argued book is a compelling story of a glorious past. It is also a guide to the foreseeable future.
The Chosen Wars is peppered with colorful and important figures in the history of early American Judaism. One of the most interesting is Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, a German immigrant who played a significant and polarizing role in the rise of Reform Judaism (he was at the center of the Albany Rosh Hashanah melee). His lifelong dream, which would prove impossible to realize, was to unite all American Jews under one distinctly American Jewish denomination ... As Weisman notes, that vision of unity couldn’t survive the late-19th-century influx of Russian and Eastern European immigrants, which saw two million Jews land on American shores between 1881 and 1914. Today’s Jewish community, about two percent of the US population, continues to be divided over issues related to assimilation and secularization; the fiercest disagreements among American Jews relate to the policies of Israel. In uncovering the conflicts of the past, Weisman deepens our understanding of the ongoing conflicts of the present.
Steven Weisman’s The Chosen Wars offers a nuanced analysis of how this American Judaism arose and how it came to define Jews in the United States ... The story that Weisman tells is familiar to scholars of American Jewish history, and he is generous in acknowledging the spadework done by these historians. His is a work of synthesis and popular history in the best sense of the word. And he tells his story with verve and insight. What sets off his book is a striking argument about the way American Judaism came into existence and what it tells us about the character of American Jews.
Author Steven R. Weisman begins The Chosen Wars with the first ordination of rabbis on American soil, on July 11, 1883. Persons from across the country believed that Judaism 'was marking another significant step in the arrival of American Jews as equal to Christians in the Gilded Age.' It actually 'marked another step toward the unraveling of Jewish unity in the United States.' ... Weisman here gives a solid outline of the history of Jewish divisiveness that anyone can follow, an important beginning to understanding the truth over myth about Judaism in American history.
...The North-South polarity of the two aggregations eventually contributed to bitter conflict among American Jews over slavery, as Weisman discusses within the context of the overarching challenges for an old religion in a new world ... That story, of nineteenth-century heroes, such as reformer Isaac Mayer Wise and traditionalist Isaac Leeser, predominates in Weisman’s often...account, which always keeps one eye on how encounters with American freedoms and egalitarianism shaped the quest for overall unity that faced new but not more vital challenges in the twentieth century. Though sometimes clumsily written, especially toward the end, a keenly interesting chapter of American and Jewish history.
...Beginning with the mid-17th century, the author offers numerous illuminating anecdotes and outsized personalities to explain how and why the first Jews arrived in what became the U.S. more than a century later ... The most influential was Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, who arrived in the New World in 1846, eventually settling in Albany, New York, and later moving his base to Cincinnati ... The disputes revolving around Wise included not only ancient religious doctrines, but also the insertion of sermons into the worship services, the seating of women and men separately or together, whether to conduct services in the English language, and such seemingly minor disputes about the use of organ music ... Religious history that should interest Jews and non-Jews alike.
Focusing mainly on the 19th century, this expertly told history from Weisman explores conflicts between tradition and modernity within Judaism that first played out in Charleston, S.C., and still resonate today ... For Weisman, the lesson of the history is that 'Jews should be unafraid to stand up for how they want to pursue their varied religious paths towards meaning' and that the 'courageous examples' of those who did so in the past should give hope to the present generation. Anyone interested in American Judaism will be enlightened by this lucid and entertaining history