The Soul of Judaism: Jews of African Descent in America

New York Univ. Aug. 2018. 272p. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9781479811236. $39; ebk. ISBN 9781479800636. REL
Based on interviews with African American Jews along with historical research, Haynes (sociology, Univ. California-Davis; Down the up Staircase) explores how race and religion can be distinct yet overlap. Subjects fall into three broad categories: converts to Judaism, those who are Jewish by virtue of birth or heritage, and those who have appropriated a Jewish heritage but see no reason to convert. The author's historical research includes the Sephardi, African, Caribbean, and South American Jews of the diaspora, and black Hebrews. The interviews highlight the paths subjects have taken to form their identities, emphasizing that identity is a matter of praxis and community. However, part of Jewish praxis involves regulations about who can claim to be Jewish; some movements do not always recognize all black Jews, nor do all black Jews feel entirely at home in any one of the major Jewish movements. Haynes also takes care to show how being Jewish and being black often represent two different and sometimes conflicting communities.
VERDICT A considerate work that challenges the essentialist ideal of defining Jewishness.

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