A thorough survey of the innovations introduced into the American
synagogue in the 19th century by the Reform movement, focusing on
the Jewish womans gradual religious emancipation.Traditional
Judaism delineates the womans specific place in public worship, in
particular prescribing the separation of the sexes during the
service, proscribing female voices from joining in prayer, and,
with a few exceptions, omitting any requirement that women attend
the synagogue at all. These centuries-old arrangements did not jibe
with the progressive ideas of gender equality espoused by the
nascent Reform movement. Legitimizing a female presence in the
synagogue was part of a larger project of the Reformist Jews, who
wished to acquire a new American identity by making their public
religious observance conform externally to the ways of their
Protestant neighbors. Separate womens galleries were first replaced
by mixed seating in 1851 (in an Albany synagogue), and a decade
later many other temples introduced family pews, mirroring the
custom of Christian churches. Men were relieved of the obligation
to wear a prayer shawl and head covering, and a mixed choir and
organ music were brought in, ostensibly for the sake of decorum.
Other aspects of the reform included the use of vernacular instead
of Hebrew, omission of the prayer for a messianic return to Zion,
and even moving the holy day from Saturday to Sunday. By the end of
the century, women were admitted as full members of the
congregation, which first allowed their participation in synagogue
administration and then in leading the worship itself. This process
eventually led to the ordination of the first woman rabbi in 1972.
Goldmans well-researched book highlights one important premise:
that the original steps on the road to womens religious liberation
were initially taken by acculturated male Jews, who often
indiscriminately copied Christian politics and aesthetics.An
interesting and well-written study. . (Kirkus Reviews)
"Beyond the Synagogue Gallery" recounts the emergence of new
roles for American Jewish women in public worship and synagogue
life. Karla Goldman's study of changing patterns of female
religiosity is a story of acculturation, of adjustments made to fit
Jewish worship into American society.
Goldman focuses on the nineteenth century. This was an era in
which immigrant communities strove for middle-class respectability
for themselves and their religion, even while fearing a loss of
traditions and identity. For acculturating Jews some practices,
like the ritual bath, quickly disappeared. Women's traditional
segregation from the service in screened women's galleries was
gradually replaced by family pews and mixed choirs. By the end of
the century, with the rising tide of Jewish immigration from Russia
and Eastern Europe, the spread of women's social and religious
activism within a network of organizations brought collective
strength to the nation's established Jewish community. Throughout
these changing times, though, Goldman notes persistent ambiguous
feelings about the appropriate place of women in Judaism, even
This account of the evolving religious identities of American
Jewish women expands our understanding of women's religious roles
and of the Americanization of Judaism in the nineteenth century; it
makes an essential contribution to the history of religion in
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