Selected for list of Essential Readings in American Jewish History, American Jewish Historical Society, 2010
Judaism’s Encounter with American Sports examines how sports entered the lives of American Jewish men and women and how the secular values of sports threatened religious identification and observance. What do Jews do when a society—in this case, a team—“chooses them in,” but demands commitments that clash with ancestral ties and practices?
Jeffrey S. Gurock uses the experience of sports to illuminate an important mode of modern Jewish religious conflict and accommodation to America. He considers the defensive strategies American Jewish leaders have employed in response to sports’ challenges to identity, such as using temple and synagogue centers, complete with gymnasiums and swimming pools, to attract the athletically inclined to Jewish life. Within the suburban frontiers of post–World War II America, sports-minded modern Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform rabbis competed against one another for the allegiances of Jewish athletes and all other Americanized Jews. In the present day, tensions among Jewish movements are still played out in the sports arena.
Today, in a mostly accepting American society, it is easy for sports-minded Jews to assimilate completely, losing all regard for Jewish ties. At the same time, a very tolerant America has enabled Jews to succeed in the sports world, while keeping faith with Jewish traditions. Gurock foregrounds his engaging book against his own experiences as a basketball player, coach, and marathon runner. By using the metaphor of sports, Judaism’s Encounter with American Sports underscores the basic religious dilemmas of our day.
|"This exceptionally well-researched book sheds new light on a timelessly old question: how can a smaller group assimilate itself into a broader culture without misplacing its identity in the process? As Jeffrey Gurock skillfully shows, Judaism's Encounter with American Sports is the rare 'contest' that yields two winners." —L. Jon Wertheim, Senior Writer Sports Illustrated
"Sports would seem to be an uncomplicated way to encourage the goal of a society of equals, except that in Judaism, athletics reveals basic social values and may conflict with traditional beliefs. Gurock frames the problem in a well-researched, provocative, balanced way. He conveys how sports provide a vehicle for understanding society's changes and how these changes impact not only the Jewish community, internally, but its relations within the larger society, as well." —Jewish Book World
"Taking a broad historical approach, Gurock (history, Yeshiva Univ.) examines the intertwining of sports and Jews but ranges far beyond the typical recounting of Benny Leonard, Hank Greenberg, Sid Luckman, and Sandy Koufax. Drawing on a vast array of research materials, the author explores the antipathy, ambivalence, or exultation concerning athletic competition that has long characterized Jews. Gurock discusses the reactions of Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative rabbis to social clubs, student societies, synagogues, and community centers that offered sports activities. Parents, Gurock notes, desired that their sons work with their minds and not with their muscles. Nevertheless, inside and outside the Jewish shtetl, the ba'al guf (Jewish tough guy) emerged but hardly served as the model archetype. Still, immigrant children considered physicality a fundamental American trait. By the early 20th century, Jews participated more regularly in sports programs, notwithstanding continued opposition by their parents. Eventually, leading religious as well as secular Jewish figures supported such involvement, albeit in the face of embittered criticisms from other noted Jews. Gurock's largest contribution involves this very examination of the internecine battles in the Jewish community pertaining to the Young Men's Hebrew Association, physical education, and athletics. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers and up." —R. C. Cottrell, California State University, Chico , Choice , July 2006
". . . Jeffrey Gurock has produced an important work that cuts across a range of topics in American culture including sport and class, sport and religion, and sport and immigration." —Florida October 2006
"Gurock has provided a useful correction for scholars of sport who focus on Jewish ethnicity rather than Jewish religiosity." —AMERICAN JEWISH HISTORY
"This illuminating study uses sports as a prism through which to examine internecine and intergenerational conflict within the American Jewish community since the late nineteenth century." —JOURNAL OF AMERICAN HISTORY
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Table of Contents
Prologue: Within the Wide Tent of a Bronx Orthodox Congregation, circa 1960
1. All Alone and Out of Control
2. American Challenges and Jewish Challengers
3. Religious Dilemmas of a Treif Land
4. Strategies of New York's Orthodox Activists
5. Crisis and Compromise
6. Brooklyn's Committed Communities
7. A More Faithful Following
8. Comfortable and Courted
9. Orthodox vs. Orthodox
10. Open and Closed to Feminism
Epilogue: The Tentative Orthodox of the Twenty-First Century