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Our book is entitled The Cambridge Guide to Jewish History, Religion, and Culture. The wordiness of the title indicates the difficulty of identifying the exact nature of the Jewish experience and the proper perspective from which to view Jews and Judaism. Readers may ask: Are Jews a national entity with a common history based on collective experiences? Are they best understood as a religious community with shared beliefs and rituals? Or are Jews an ethnic group with common cultural traditions? The truth is that no one category is entirely accurate. Jews are citizens of the many nations in which they live. Some live in countries where they are a small minority of the population; others live in Israel, a state built on the idea of Jewish nationhood. Some Jews are devoutly observant of the traditional beliefs and practices of Judaism. Many Jews have found intellectual and spiritual meaning in modernized approaches to Jewish convictions and customs. Others, who have abandoned religious ritual and live secular lives, define themselves by their Jewish ethnic origins and shared social values and mores. However, there is no single Jewish ethnicity or point of view. Contemporary Jews come from many parts of Europe, the Americas, Asia, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. These diverse communities have been shaped by the variety of majority cultures in which they developed.
The Cambridge Guide to Jewish History, Religion, and Culture is a comprehensive and engaging overview of Jewish life, from its origins in the ancient Near East to its impact on contemporary popular culture. The twenty-one essays, arranged historically and thematically, and written specially for this volume by leading scholars, examine the development of Judaism and the evolution of Jewish history and culture over many centuries and in a range of locales. They emphasize the ongoing diversity and creativity of the Jewish experience. Unlike previous anthologies, which concentrate on elite groups and expressions of a male-oriented rabbinic culture, this volume also includes the range of experiences of ordinary people and looks at the lives and achievements of women in every place and era. The many illustrations, maps, timeline, and glossary of important terms enhance this book's accessibility to students and general readers.