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Jews on the FrontierReligion and Mobility in Nineteenth-Century America$
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Shari Rabin

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781479830473

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479830473.001.0001

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’Tis in the Spirit Not in the Form

’Tis in the Spirit Not in the Form

Material Culture and Popular Theology

(p.78) 4 ’Tis in the Spirit Not in the Form
Jews on the Frontier

Shari Rabin

NYU Press

This chapter describes material culture, popular theology, and the new ideologies that they informed. Without established communities to procure authentic Jewish objects or religious authorities to offer orthodox theological positions, mobile Jews improvised, drawing together diverse material and intellectual resources. As they did so, emerging Judaica markets struggled with the growing pains of free-market capitalism, including inefficiencies, mismatches between supply and demand, and threats of fraud. Although they still invoked the communal God of Israel at some moments, Jews also embraced a more expansive and personal theological orientation that interpreted and explained both the possibility and uncertainty of Jews’ mobile lives. This combined with the increasing eclecticism of Jewish practice to foster new ideologies—including but not limited to American Reform Judaism—which were concerned less with legal obligation and communal participation than with personal intent as a marker of Jewish authenticity.

Keywords:   material culture, capitalism, authenticity, theology, Reform

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