In A PEOPLE DIVIDED, Jack Werthheimer presents a richly detailed yet easily accessible introduction to the vibrancy, fragmentation and tumultuousness of contemporary American Judaism. A professor of history at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS), Werthheimer returns to the post World War II period in order to track the often-conflicting paths and proclamations of Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist Judaism. Wertheimer also attempts to put American Judaism into the larger context of American religion in general, comparing the religious observances and affiliations of American Jews with those of American Christians and the conflicts within Judaism in the context of “culture war” proclaimed by some right-wing politicians and ministers.
Throughout this analysis, Wertheimer manages to treat the divergencies and conflicts between (and within) different schools of Judaism with great clarity and objectivity. Though (or perhaps because) the JTS is affiliated with “Conservative” Judaism, occupying a centrist position among the schools of Judaism noted above, Wertheimer presents a balanced view of the different schools of Judaism as they deal with such problems as mixed marriages, gender equality, sexual preference and the overall task of adapting an ancient religion to modern conditions in a subversively open society. Wertheimer spends remarkably little time preaching in this book. He does suggest, however, that the current level of divisiveness among American Jews threatens to erode the unity required if Jews are to survive and thrive as a people.