In The Jewish American Paradox, Robert Mnookin puts effective lawyerly reasoning and compelling personal experience to work in service of sketching the situation of 21st-century American Jews. He plays and wrestles with large questions regarding the elements of Jewish identity and how the power of these elements has changed over time ... This strategy proves to be intellectually stimulating and colorful. Having grabbed the reader’s attention, Mnookin holds onto it with an accessible presentation about how to make both the 'American Jewish community' and the various American Jewish communities thrive ... his arguments are well shaped and compelling ... Mnookin provides a lot of information and opinion derived from surveys that attempt to measure the pulse of Jewish identity. His analyses and projections based on these surveys are particularly useful in gauging trends that Jewish leaders need to understand and build upon. Indeed, on all the issues that he pursues, the author goes far beyond the stage of worrying. His pages are filled with common-sense suggestions, and the extensive chapter notes open windows for further contemplation.
The book is strongest when Mnookin uses his legal mind to place elements of Jewish identity on trial ... Utilizing his expertise in the art of negotiation, Mnookin makes his case for a definition of Jewish identity that is wide and inclusive, knowing full well that many will disagree. In this respect, Mnookin is brave; while many writers have unpacked the challenges and questions of modern Jewry, few have the courage to try to answer those questions. While the book at time reads like an insider conversation among people who are already invested in the Jewish community, at others it seems like a primer on Judaism itself ... Though not a memoir, the book is deeply personal. This is not an impartial look at American Jewry. Mnookin reveals throughout how he has reconciled issues regarding his and his family’s Jewish identity, and one sees how those personal experiences clearly inform his analysis, from his examination of intermarriage to his discussion of Israel. Readers will appreciate walking alongside one of our generation’s great legal minds as he thoughtfully struggles to find his place in the 3,000-year-old Jewish conversation.
Mnookin offers qualified answers while providing helpful guidelines on such matters as raising interfaith children ... A wide-ranging, wise, and liberal perspective—perhaps enough so to excite controversy.