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Publishers Weekly Review of JEW VS. JEW by Samuel G. Freedman
July 10, 2000
Though it almost always presents a united front to the world, the American Jewish community, according to acclaimed journalist Freedman (The Inheritance; Upon This Rock; etc.), is a house divided against itself. With the small continugent of Orthodox on one side, and predominant Reform and Conservative Jews on the other, the fault lines are threatening to break into yawning fissures. Even the Orthodox are divided between the centrist Modern Orthodox of Yeshiva University and the ultra-Orthodox Agudath Israel and the Hasidim falling further to the right.
In sharply pointed tableaux, Freedman shows that American Jews cannot agree among themselves on who is a Jew, how far women's equality should go or even whether to build a synagogue complex in a Cleveland suburb.
The depth and excellence of Freedman's reporting shines in his nuanced portraits of individualism on both sides of each debate he outlines: David Gottesman, a Modern Orthodox Jew who wants to build an Orthodox synagogue in the largely Reform suburb of Beachwood, Ohio; Rachel Adler, the feminist theologian who divided a progressive congregation when she tried to introduce gender balance into the central part of the prayer service; Harry Shapiro, a good-hearted loner but ultra-Orthodox hawk regarding the PLO who placed a bomb (supposedly rigged not to go off) in a Conservative synagogue where Israeli leader and peace negotiator Shimon Peres was scheduled to speak.
All the portraits are objective, even sympathetic, and yet Freedman doesn't mask how ugly the battles can become: in Ohio, one Orthodox Jew calls his opponents Nazis. This outstanding report is sure to fuel the flames on all sides of the debate.