Religion and State in the American Jewish Experience

Jonathan D. Sarna and David G. Dalin

A Choice Outstanding Academic Book, 1998

For the first time, Religion and State in the American Jewish Experience makes available critical documents which have shaped debate over religion and state issues throughout the course of American Jewish history. Following a comprehensive historical introduction, Professors Sarna and Dalin present a wide range of primary source materials articulating the different positions held within the American Jewish community on numerous past and present church-state issues: including former state Sunday Laws, or “blue laws”; dress code variations for Orthodox Jews in the military; kosher food for Jewish prisoners; school prayer; public displays of religious symbols; and whether all religious symbols should be removed from public arenas. Chapters proceed chronologically, from the colonial period to the present day, giving readers an understanding of the changes which have occured over several centuries.

This book recovers the divergent voices and opinions of the American Jewish community, revealing that one single voice on these issues has never been capable of accommodating the rich variety of positions within the community. By gathering these divergent outlooks in one sourcebook, Sarna and Dalin offer a unique and well-documented look at a major aspect of being Jewish in America.

Jonathan D. Sarna is the Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University. The author of numerous books and articles on the Jewish experience, Sarna’s work includes The American Jewish Experience: A Reader (1986) and The Jews of Boston (1995), which he wrote with Ellen Smith.

David G. Dalin is Associate Professor of American Jewish History at the University of Hartford and a Visiting Associate Professor of Jewish Philosophy at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. His work includes American Jews and the Separationist Faith: The New Debate on Religion in Public Life (1982) and From Marxism to Judaism: The Collected Essays of Will Herberg (1989).

ENDORSEMENTS: “A welcome, sober contribution to the wide-ranging debate over the proper relationship of church and state in America. Sarna and Dalin have done the Jewish community a great service by bringing together sources that illustrate how Jews in the past had a far more nuanced approach to these arrangements than they do today. Their reader offers rich perspectives for the rethinking that must take place for the good of America—and its Jews.” — Jack Wertheimer, Professor of American Jewish History, Jewish Theological Seminary of America

“The widespread idea that American Jews are and always have been wedded to a militantly secularist view of the public square is decisively countered by this important book. Religion and State in the American Jewish Experience holds the promise of being that rare achievement, a work of scholarship that changes the public understanding of a question that is vitally important to all of us. From their profound understanding of the Jewish past and present, the authors point the way to a future in which mutual suspicion is replaced by cooperation that respects the integrity of Jews and Christians alike.” — The Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, President, Institute on Religion and Public LIfe

“Perusing the marvelous collection of historical documents gathered by Sarna and Dalin is reliving 350 years of Jewish life in America. The volume is chock-full of heretofore buried gold nuggets—the complete text of contemporaneous expressions by Jews and non-Jews about minority religion in America, and particularly about the Jewish faith. The authors’ own essays and notes place the primary sources into a scholarly context that makes the book not only the most useful existing collection of historical documents on the subject, but also an absorbing volume for leisure reading.” — Nathan Lewin, President, International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists (American Section)

“This is a wonderful book by two leaders of the burgeoning American Jewish reconsideration of how religion (in this predominantly Christian country) is part of the common good, and so belongs in the public square. Sarna and Dalin have brought together the documents, and provided the necessary commentary to bring to life the American Jewish experience. That experience has been much more diverse, and therefore richer, on matters of church and state than we are used to believing.” — Gerard V. Bradley, Professor of Law, University of Notre Dame


Religion and State in the American Jewish Experience justifies itself as offering a fresh view on how American Jews have situated themselves on the emotional issues surrounding church-state relations in the United States.” — Journal of Church and State

“ . . . Sarna and Dalin have created a wonderful compendium of primary sources. With the boom in Jewish studies, a reader on the relationship between church and state is a most welcome addition to the literature and this book is exceptionally well-constructed. Suitable for upper-level courses, this anthology is recommended for students of history and philosophy as well as for those with an interest in political science.” — Caryn E. Neumann, Ohio State University