Today, thanks to postmodern assaults on objectivity on the one hand, and woke radicalism on the other, scholars in the humanities and social sciences have become increasingly willing to make declarations about public life that go beyond the strict confines of their disciplines. Jonathan Sarna, a leading historian of American Jewry, argues that those who do so dangerously abuse their expertise—even when they are acting for a good cause. To illustrate his point, he cites a controversy that ensued in 2019 when a study claimed that “Jews of color represent at least 12-15 percent of American Jews.”
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At the time of Columbia University’s founding in 1784, notes Meir Soloviechik, the leader of the local synagogue, Gershom Mendes Seixas, was made a member of its board of regents. A Jewish student even gave a commencement address, composed by Seixas, in Hebrew. In the 20th century, Columbia attracted numerous Jews with the relaxation of quotas, and was the first secular university to create a chair in Jewish history. Barnard College, Columbia’s all-women’s school, was itself founded by a Jewish woman, and today has a large number of Orthodox Jewish students.