Politics, Faith, and the Making of American Judaism by Peter Adams. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 2014. x + 207 pp.
In the acknowledgments of Politics, Faith, and the Making of American Judaism, Peter Adams cites Jonathan Sarna's When Grant Expelled the Jews (2012) as a "competing study" that nonetheless strengthened his own project. These two books, in combination with Gary Zola's recent work on Lincoln and the Jews, point to renewed interest in the early political history of Jews in the United States, a welcome development in understanding its full breadth and deep roots.
Adams cites as his topic "the major events during this period [1840-1900], both in the United States and places far from American shores, that spurred the Jewish community to Americanize every facet of life, unify their fractious congregations, and engage more forcefully in partisan politics" (1). He traces shifting but persistent anti-Semitic images in American culture and describes Jewish responses to cases in which they bubbled over into anti-Semitic acts and policies. Included are antebellum international crises like the 1840 Damascus blood libel; the Swiss treaty of the 1850s, in which the applicability to American citizens of anti-Jewish policies abroad was at stake; and the 1859 Mortara Affair, as well as Civil War era controversies surrounding Jewish chaplains and Grant's Order Number 11. The heart of the book lies in the political machinations of Jews after the Civil War, particularly in the elections and administrations of President Grant. Jewish activity in the elections of 1864, 1868, and 2872 are covered, as are the ironies of the 1870s, when Jews succeeded in defeating anti-Jewish limits on political office, Sunday closing laws, and an amendment declaring the United States a Christian nation only to experience social anti-Semitism as typified by the Seligman Affair. The book ends with rising political action on behalf of Eastern European Jews, ranging from the Galveston Plan, which sought to resettle them in the American West, to efforts to intervene with the Russian tsar on their behalf. Throughout, Adams traces religious developments and conflicts, including synagogue reforms and the rise of denominationalism, which alternately hindered and aided political action.
Adams explicitly distinguishes his study from Sarna's as interested in longer-term acculturation and the role of Reform Judaism. And yet on these analytical...