Contemporary Jewry

, 23:14

Refraiming the study of contemporary American Jewish Identity

  • Bethamie Horowitz

DOI: 10.1007/BF02967927

Cite this article as:
Horowitz, B. Cont Jewry (2002) 23: 14. doi:10.1007/BF02967927


The 30-year enterprise of studying American Jewish identification and involvement in Jewish life has been based mainly on sociodemographic surveys. These surveys have tracked the activity levels of Jewish individuals in terms of ritual practice, cultural and educational involvements and institutional affiliations, philanthropic giving, and friendship networks, but they have not looked directly at Jewish identity as understood in the psychological sense. The bulk of the research about American Jewish identity during this period has centered on the question, How Jewish are American Jews, whether in comparison to other American ethnic groups (in terms of structural distinctiveness), in comparison to Jews of prior generations, or in comparison to an idealized way of being Jewish.

Yet it is more apparent than ever that the important issues about the nature of contemporary American Jewishness fall along a different frontier. A new question has emerged. How are American Jews Jewish? In what ways, if any do they connect to Jewishness and Judaism? American Jewry is more diverse and dispersed than before, and the Jewish group in America today is characterized by a degree of integration and social acceptance that contrasts sharply to the situation 50 years ago or to Europe in the 18 century. In this new environment no one is either forced to be Jewish or to escape from being Jewish. The dynamic of acceptance versus rejection or belligerence regarding one’s Jewishness has been replaced by a dynamic of finding Jewishness to be meaningful or remaining indifferent to it. Jewish continuity of the group as a whole has come to depend on the individual’s commitments and decision-making. For this reason, in addition to looking at Jewish practices and involvements in Jewish life, it is essential to examine the subjective, inner experience of being Jewish.

Copyright information

© Springer 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bethamie Horowitz
    • 1
  1. 1.New York

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