American Jewry, Present and Future:
Part I: Present
In the flurry of assertions about the future occasioned by the tercentenary of the American Jewish community, virtually no one, it would seem, took a real look at that community before beginning to prophesy. Rabbis and scholars were prone to start with a latter-day version of the conception of the Jews as the Chosen People. Optimistic leaders pointed to synagogue attendance statistics and the growth of a new Jewish day school as heralding the end of cultural and religious assimilation.
The sociologist attempts to take a more comprehensive view, focusing on the behavior of all members of the community, before he allows himself to speculate on future trends. Also, looking for similarities with other groups rather than for distinguishing characteristics alone, the sociologist must note that the five million American Jews are primarily an ethnic group resembling other ethnic groups in America, but with a culture—I use the word in the anthropological sense—in which a distinctive religion has been dominant, and with a rather special social relationship to the non-Jewish world.
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