What makes a Jew? This book traces the history of Jews of African descent in America and the counter-narratives they have put forward as they stake their claims to Jerusalem.
The Soul of Judaism offers the first exploration of the full diversity of Black Jews, including bi-racial Jews of both matrilineal and patrilineal descent; adoptees; black converts to Judaism; and Black Hebrews and Israelites, who trace their Jewish roots to Africa and challenge the dominant western paradigm of Jews as white and of European descent.
Blending historical analysis and oral history, Haynes showcases the lives of Black Jews within the Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstruction and Reform movements, as well as the religious approaches that push the boundaries of the common forms of Judaism we know today. He illuminates how in the quest to claim whiteness, American Jews of European descent gained the freedom to express their identity fluidly while African Americans have continued to be seen as a fixed racial group. This book demonstrates that racial ascription has been shaping Jewish selfhood for centuries. Pushing us to reassess the boundaries between race and ethnicity, it offers insight into how Black Jewish individuals strive to assert their dual identities and find acceptance within their respective communities.
Putting to rest the simplistic notion that Jews are white and that Black Jews are therefore a contradiction, the volume argues that we can no longer pigeonhole Black Hebrews and Israelites as exotic, militant, and nationalistic sects outside the boundaries of mainstream Jewish thought and community life. The volume spurs us to consider the significance of the growing population of self-identified Black Jews and its implications for the future of American Jewry.