Is Jewish Studies too Jewish?

What kind of a question is that? Is Jewish Studies in colleges and universities too Jewish?

A very good one, it turns out when discussed by Aaron Hughes in the Chronicle for Higher Education. He says that Jewish Studies is too Jewish and he spells out his reasoning and his conclusion that, "Jewish studies, rather than liberating itself from its ideological heritage, has re-embraced it."

Here is one line of his thought that many of us have been harboring but not saying:
Recent years have seen the creation of numerous well-funded and ideologically driven private organizations that seek to make inroads in Jewish studies. I refer, specifically, to the conservative Tikvah Fund, the secular Posen Foundation, and the pro-Israel Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation. These organizations seek entry into the academy—and presumably the intellectual legitimation that it provides—by establishing programs, professorships, and conferences in both Jewish studies and Israel studies at North American universities.

The Tikvah Fund, for example, funds centers devoted to Jewish law (at New York University) and Jewish thought (at Princeton). It also created and subsidizes the Jewish Review of Books, in which scholars (some of whom are associated with other Tikvah programs) air personal grievances, review one another’s books, and trash those with whom they disagree. Tikvah even sponsors a book series, the Library of Jewish Ideas, at Princeton University Press, in which, as a colleague of mine remarked in a recent review, "faith-based sermons and empirically anchored scholarship" commingle uncomfortably. Like Tikvah more generally, the books in this series have no qualms about articulating authentic Jewish ideas and, especially in the inaugural book, these ideas not surprisingly tend to be constructed as religiously Orthodox and politically conservative.

We should be ashamed that we have allowed foundations that push a particular vision of what Judaism is or should be to operate within the administrative structures of universities. None of these foundations, despite appeals to the contrary, are interested in funding scholarship simply for its own sake. The unfortunate result is that Jewish studies, rather than liberating itself from its ideological heritage, has re-embraced it.


Gil Student said...

Which of the two books in the Library of Jewish Ideas is not scholarship? The one by Ruth Wisse or by Jon Levenson (both by Harvard professors)? http://press.princeton.edu/catalogs/series/lji.html

Reb Yudel said...

If you can't trust foundations that promote people who arm terrorists and Iranian fundamentalists while lying to Congress to accurately promote Jewish studies, who can you trust?

Tzvee Zahavy said...

Hi Gil. Thanks for your comment. Neither book counts as academic scholarship. But you'd need to have some familiarity with the academic profession to know that. Anyway, it's not my article. I agree here with the opinions of Professor Aaron Hughes.

And Larry not everyone knows precisely to whom you refer, though I do welcome your oblique agreements.

Jeffrey Woolf said...

Thanks for posting this. On the one hand, I agree that the isolation of Jewish Studies is bad for the field and for academia, generally. On the other hand, the greater danger to the field is, I believe, the utter vacuousness of many of its practitioners, itself a result of Hebrew and textual illiteracy.

Jeffrey Woolf said...

Tzvee (damn auto correct)

Tzvee Zahavy said...

Occasional probing self-reflection can be of value to professors in any discipline.

Jacob Arnon said...

I have been reading the Jewish Review of Books since it came out.

I never noticed that "reviewers review each other's books."