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The Boundaries of Judaism

Publication Year


The factionalism and denominationalism of modern Jewry makes it supremely difficult to create a definition of the Jewish people. Instead of serving as a uniting force around which community is formed, Judaism has itself become a source of divisions. Consequently, attempts to identify beliefs or practices essential for membership in the Jewish people are almost doomed to failure. Aiming to take readers beyond the divisions that characterize modern Jewry, this book explores the ever contentious question of “who is a Jew.” Through a historical survey of the shifting boundaries of Jewish identity and deviance over time, the book provides new insights into how Jewish law over the centuries has erected boundaries to govern and maintain the collective identity of the Jewish people. Drawing on these historical strategies the book identifies the causes and reasons that underlie them, and employs these in order to help construct a guide for creating a structure of boundaries relevant for contemporary Jewish existence.

About the Author

Donniel Hartman is the Co-Director of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and is one of the leading innovators in contemporary Jewish thought and education.


“With great learning and high intelligence, Donniel Hartman wrestles with the hardest questions about Jewish identity: Whose identity is this? Who is a Jew? He gives us the most inclusive and generous answers that a boldly reconceived Orthodox tradition allows. And for that, all of us who are included (but might not have been) will be grateful.”Michael Walzer, Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey, USA

The Boundaries of Judaism is a brilliant book, rich in scholarly erudition and contemporary insight… No discussion of the contemporary state of Jewish unity and community can afford to ignore this book. It will be a treasure for scholars, Jewish professionals and laypeople alike that should inform and enrich present-day Jewish communal dialogue.’Professor David Ellenson, President, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion


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