Kaplan, Dana Evan 1960-

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KAPLAN, Dana Evan 1960-


Born October 29, 1960. Education: Yeshiva University, B.A. (magna cum laude); State University of New York—Albany, M.A. (medieval Jewish history); University System of New Hampshire—Plymouth, M.Ed.; Tel Aviv University, Ph.D. (modern Jewish history).


Agent—Sandy Choron, March Tenth, Inc., 4 Myrtle St., Haworth, New Jersey 07641. E-mail—[email protected].


Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies and Research, University of Cape Town, South Africa, research associate and lecturer, 1994-97; Center for Jewish Studies, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, research scholar, 1997-2000; University of Missouri, Kansas City, Oppenstein Brothers Assistant Professor of Judaic and Religious Studies, 2000-03; visiting research scholar at the University of Miami's Sue and Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Jewish Studies and Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, 2002—. Congregation B'nai Israel, Albany, GA, rabbi, 2001—.


Association for Jewish Studies, American Academy of Religion, American Historical Association, American Studies Association, Latin American Jewish Studies Association, Latin American Studies Association, American Association of University Professors, Semitics Society (Jewish Studies Division; South Africa), South African Academy of Religion, Southern Jewish Historical Society, Midwest Jewish Studies Association.


State University of New York—Albany fellowship, 1984-86; Tel Aviv University research fellow, 1988-94, Mazer scholar, 1989-90; Forchheimer Foundation fellow, 1990-94; Union of American Hebrew Congregations Sisterhood scholar, 1990-94; Lowenstein-Weiner fellowships, American Jewish Archives, 1994-95, 1999; Ethel Marcus Memorial fellowship, American Jewish Archives, 1995-96; Wisconsin Society for Jewish Learning fellowships, 1997, 1998; Milwaukee Bureau of Jewish Education fellowship, 1998; University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee fellowships, 1998-2000; Tulane University Southern Jewish History Conference travel grant, 2000; Meriwether Lewis fellow, University of Missouri—Kansas City, 2001-02.


(Editor) Contemporary Debates in American Reform Judaism: Conflicting Visions, Routledge (New York, NY), 2001.

(Editor) Platforms and Prayer Books: Theological and Liturgical Perspectives on Reform Judaism, Rowman & Littlefield (Lanham, MD), 2002.

American Reform Judaism: An Introduction, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 2003.

Contributor of over sixty articles to periodicals. General editor, Cambridge Companion to American Judaism, 2005.


A history of Jews in Cuba after Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution; a history of conversion to Judaism in the United States in the nineteenth century; an analysis of contemporary American Judaism; a reader of the primary sources on contemporary American Judaism.


Dana Evan Kaplan is a Jewish studies scholar whose research interests include American Jewish history, Reform Judaism, intermarriage, and conversion, as well as the Jewish experience in South Africa and Cuba. He was born in Manhattan, New York, and moved to Waterbury, Connecticut, when he was fourteen. He studied in Israel for several years and worked for a short time in Australia and a longer period in South Africa. His three published books have all dealt with Reform Judaism, but in his future work, Kaplan looks to include books on a number of other areas in Jewish studies.

His major work to date has been American Reform Judaism: An Introduction, published in 2003. In this book, Kaplan provides an overview of the Reform movement from its nineteenth-century European beginnings to the present time, with the stress on contemporary developments. He notes changes in services, challenges to Reform education, the impact of intermarriage, women's equality, gay and lesbian relationships, and speculates on the future of the movement. Kaplan notes that the recent trend toward returning to traditional beliefs and practices often clashes with Classical Reform, which is a more flexible approach that serves contemporary Jews, causing Reform to move "in two directions at the same time." Booklist contributor George Cohen called the volume "an expansive examination of the religion." A Publishers Weekly contributor felt that although Kaplan focuses on Reform Judaism, "his astute reasoning has value for all religious groups that struggle with maintaining their established beliefs in the face of the demands and challenges posed by modernity." In a Dallas Morning News review, Harriet P. Gross called American Reform Judaism "the book American Jews have been waiting for—whether they know it or not!" Reform Judaism magazine named it "a significant Jewish book," and the magazine's Bonny V. Fetterman called it "essential reading for everyone concerned with the future of Reform Judaism." Writing in Choice, Alan Avery Peck thought that "the book's strength is Kaplan's determination to question why, in the historical context, the movement took the directions it did and, more importantly, to reflect on the impact each development had on Reform's current and future viability."

Published in 2001, Kaplan's first book was an edited collection on articles titled Contemporary Debates in American Reform Judaism: Conflicting Visions. According to the author, this was a groundbreaking collection of essays that took a hard look at the Reform movement today. Opening essays describe and evaluate interpretations of the then latest census data for Reform Jews, the problem of building a cohesive religious community, the competition in the "spiritual marketplace," and why people join or do not join a Reform synagogue. Other contributors examine a host of controversial issues, including patrilineal descent, outreach, intermarriage, gender issues (including women rabbis), gay and lesbian participation, the 1999 vote on the New Pittsburgh Platform, and others.

Kaplan's other book is Platforms and Prayer Books: Theological and Liturgical Perspectives on Reform Judaism, a collection of twenty essays in which he explores American Reform Judaism's response to social and theological change. "Like any such volume, some essays would have been better excluded," noted R. Langer in Choice, "but the aggregate is impressive." The volume includes historical essays dealing with abstract themes such as exclusivity, pluralism, and collective idenity. There are also liturgical studies, including an article on the first Reform prayer book in the United States and the role of meditation in Progressive Judaism. There is a section of comparative studies which, in particular, has an essay explaining the theological differences between Reconstructionalism and Reform. The final essay deals with autonomy and authority in Jewish texts.

Kaplan told CA: "I was interested in writing from a young age. Both my mother and my aunt worked in publishing and encouraged my interest. I particularly remember that during high school my aunt and I would analyze essays and books and discuss what was successful. At the same time, I was very interested in what even then was clearly a changing Jewish community. I wondered how things had gotten the way they were and what might happen in the future. I think I have been at least partially pleasantly surprised. I had expected that the rising intermarriage rate combined with the low-intensity religious involvement of most American Jews would severely diminish American Judaism. That may yet come to be the case, but if so, it is happening much slower that I expected.

"I was also interested in how Judaism was practiced in other countries, Although my family was Reform, my parents had sent me to an Orthodox Zionist day school in Manhattan. The teachers were constantly stressing how we should feel loyal to Israel, and how that even though that wasn't a dual loyalty problem, our historical roots had to take precedence over our recent comfortable sojourn in the United States. I studied in Israel and was actually very disappointed. The teachers had led me to believe that we would be welcomed with open arms. But I found the Israelis to be very arrogant and completely disinterested in the American Jewish issues that fascinated me. This was, of course, very understandable, but it upset me at the time. I think this was also a factor in my writing in that I wanted to understand American Judaism and how and why it differed from the Judaism I encountered in Israel.

"Once I left Israel, I stayed interested in various Diaspora communities. I served as a student rabbi in Australia for two four-month periods in the Northern Hemisphere in summers of 1992 and 1993. I never wrote about my experiences, but I read a lot and started the intellectual process which must precede any thoughtful writing. I lived in South Africa from 1994-1997. It was there that I began writing seriously about contemporary Jewish affairs. I arrived in August, 1994, just a few months after the historic election that brought Nelson Mandela to power. I thought that there was a need for a religiously progressive voice to interpret events and to suggest a way forward, so I began writing for both popular and academic publications on Judaism in the new South Africa. Later, I became interested in Fidel Castro's Cuba, and it is possible that I may write about other Diaspora communities in the future.

"When I was in graduate school, I asked one of my professors in medieval Jewish history if he felt that every Jewish topic had been covered. He told me no, that he had plenty of material. The only limitation he had was time. In contemporary Jewish studies, this is even more true. There are all sorts of articles talking about the proliferation of Jewish studies works. This is true, but there are many areas that have barely been touched on. I try to pick subjects that have an intrinsic importance but which are also likely to attract a readership. I would hope to model myself after those who have been both serious intellectuals as well as communal leaders and popular writers.

"I would hope that my books will help people to understand contemporary Judaism. I don't have an ideological agenda that I am trying to push, at least not consciously. I try to write in a readable way that I hope people will find enjoyable. I avoid unnecessary big words and try to convey my ideas in a simple, straightforward manner. But I'm still very much an academic-style writer. I recently collaborated with a journalist on an article on the Jews of Cuba for a national Jewish magazine. I am amazed at the questions that she asked me. 'What color was his coat? What kind of table cloth did they have?' I'm not used to thinking in such concrete terms. For me, there are certain central intellectual questions which I'm trying to answer or at least raise. But I hope to learn more about this descriptive writing as well. You want to be able to guide the reader gently into the story and help him or her engage with the ideas without scaring them off. I believe the books and articles that I publish can make a contribution to Jewish life and intellectual discourse, and that can happen only if people read my work."



Booklist, June 1, 2003, George Cohen, review of American Reform Judaism: An Introduction, p. 1713.

Choice, April, 2003, R. Langer, review of Platforms and Prayer Books: Theological and Liturgical Perspectives on Reform Judaism; February, 2004, A. J. Avery-Peck, review of American Reform Judaism.

Dallas Morning News, August 6, 2003, Harriet P. Gross, review of American Reform Judaism.

Publishers Weekly, May 12, 2003, review of American Reform Judaism, p. 63.

Reform Judaism, winter, 2003, Bonny V. Fetterman, "Significant Jewish Books, in Search for a Usable Past," pp. 54-55.


Dana Evan Kaplan Home Page,http://www.danakaplan.com/ (March 8, 2004).

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