Podcast: Jack Wertheimer on the New American Synagogue

In the third and final episode of our podcast series, the eminent scholar of American Jewish life brings us into the typical synagogue to show how deeply it’s changing.

Scaffolding covering the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles on March 6, 2012. Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images.

Scaffolding covering the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles on March 6, 2012. Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images.

Sept. 12 2019
About the authors

A weekly podcast, produced in partnership with the Tikvah Fund, offering up the best thinking on Jewish thought and culture.

Jack Wertheimer is professor of American Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary. His latest book, The New American Judaism: How Jews Practice their Religion Today, has been issued recently as a paperback.

This Week’s Guest: Jack Wertheimer


In the first two episodes of our three-part podcast series with Jack Wertheimer, the eminent historian of American Jewish life has spoken about a Judaism of “peak moments.” Most American Jews, as we’ve seen, connect to their faith at a small number of important dates and life transitions—the High Holy Days, bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings, funerals, and the like. In this week’s final episode, Wertheimer zooms in on the place where so many of these peak moments take place: the synagogue.

American synagogues are right now going through major changes, from the liturgy used within them, to the choreography of synagogue services, to the nature and preferences of attendees. Liberal Jewish shuls are working hard to engage congregants on a more regular basis, from hosting musical “rock shabbat” services to creating a more informal atmosphere in the sanctuary. On the other end of the religious spectrum, the Orthodox, even as they remain fastidiously observant of Jewish law, are doing their part to link up with the unengaged non-Orthodox through a massive network of outreach organizations.

In this episode, Wertheimer and Tikvah’s Jonathan Silver discuss where these efforts have been successful and where they have failed, the goals of Orthodox outreach, and how committed Jews can do their part to secure the Jewish future.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble, as well as the original Broadway cast recording of Fiddler on the Roof and “Above the Ocean” by Evan MacDonald.



Every Thursday, the Tikvah Podcast at Mosaic will bring to your car/earbuds/home stereo/Alexa the latest in our efforts to advance Jewish thought. For more on the new podcast, check out our inaugural post here.

If you have thoughts about the podcast that you’d like to share, ideas for future guests and topics, or any other form of feedback, just send us an email at [email protected]. We’re grateful for your support, and we look forward to a new year of great conversations on Jewish essays and ideas.

More about: American Judaism, Jack Wertheimer, Tikvah Podcast at Mosaic