Being Jewish

Ari L. Goldman, Author
Ari L. Goldman, Author Simon & Schuster $52 (288p) ISBN 978-0-684-82389-8
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HYet another book about being Jewish? This entry stands out because of Goldman's unusual perspective as an ""Orthodox pluralist"" who asserts up front that ""there is no single way to be Jewish in America today."" Goldman, a former New York Times reporter who wrote The Search for God at Harvard, claims that being Jewish can be about ""feeling good"" as well as observing ritual, and suggests that a little idiosyncrasy in religious practice is beneficial. The book is divided into three sections: life cycle events from birth to death, the Jewish calendar and holidays, and the rhythm of the Jewish day, including prayer and keeping kosher. It explains what tradition demands, but doesn't shy away from describing the quirky ways people really observe Judaism. For instance, there's the man who recognizes it's Passover by discarding the bun from his nonkosher hotdog and eating the meat on matzoh. Goldman focuses on ritual because, he says, it is both a simple, accessible way to strengthen Jewish identity and a powerful tool to transform the mundane into the sacred. Each chapter includes basic information, biblical and rabbinic sources, historical background, conversations with rabbis of various denominations, personal recollections, anecdotes and a glossary. Goldman explores his subject with sincerity and sensitivity, accomplishing an impressive task without overwhelming the reader. (Sept.)
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