What makes a Jew? This book traces the history of Jews of African descent in America and the counter-narratives they have put forward as they stake their claims to Jewishness.
The Soul of Judaism offers the first exploration of the full diversity of Black Jews, including bi-racial Jews of both matrilineal and patrilineal descent; adoptees; black converts to Judaism; and Black Hebrews and Israelites, who trace their Jewish roots to Africa and challenge the dominant western paradigm of Jews as white and of European descent.
Blending historical analysis and oral history, Haynes showcases the lives of Black Jews within the Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstruction and Reform movements, as well as the religious approaches that push the boundaries of the common forms of Judaism we know today. He illuminates how in the quest to claim whiteness, American Jews of European descent gained the freedom to express their identity fluidly while African Americans have continued to be seen as a fixed racial group. This book demonstrates that racial ascription has been shaping Jewish selfhood for centuries. Pushing us to reassess the boundaries between race and ethnicity, it offers insight into how Black Jewish individuals strive to assert their dual identities and find acceptance within their respective communities.
Putting to rest the simplistic notion that Jews are white and that Black Jews are therefore a contradiction, the volume argues that we can no longer pigeonhole Black Hebrews and Israelites as exotic, militant, and nationalistic sects outside the boundaries of mainstream Jewish thought and community life. The volume spurs us to consider the significance of the growing population of self-identified Black Jews and its implications for the future of American Jewry.
"The caliber of thought and conceptualization that has gone into this book is staggering. Haynes hasn’t just located a color line that’s segregated Jewish communities from one another and limited Jewish Studies scholarship, he’s crashed clear through it. His careful language regarding the trickiest matters of race, ethnicity, and religious identity will be tools we all utilize in the next several waves of scholarship as Jewish Studies grapples with its color issue, as it now must. After hearing the voices represented in this book there is no going back. Welcome to 21st century Judaism."
—Michael Alexander, Maimonides Chair in Jewish Studies, University of California, Riverside
"This book is a revelation. By exploring blackness in Judaism, Bruce Haynes opens up important questions about racism, antisemitism, and the immense variety of Jewish experience, both religious and racial. Jews in the US and in the diaspora have to recognize that Judaism is not white. We have to embrace the African (and Asian, and Latin@) dimensions of Jewish identity and history. Jews who see themselves as black will find The Soul of Judaism both enlightening and welcoming. Jews who consider themselves white will find their souls are more black than they realized. As rising antisemitism and negrophobia join forces once again around the world, it is immensely valuable to learn how deeply blackness and Judaism are conjoined, as they have been for millennia."
—Howard Winant, Distinguished Professor of Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara
"Haynes...surveys an underreported aspect of contemporary American Judaism in an accessible book. [The author] provides detailed information about the origins, history, culture, and differences of discrete categories of black Jews. [A] good introduction to the subject."
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