In America, Jewish Studies Suffers from a De-Judaization of Scholarship and Disavowal of National Particularism

October 20, 2022 | Joshua Karlip
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In 2020, while participating in an online panel on the current state of the study of Jewish history, sponsored by the U.S.-based Association for Jewish Studies, the Yeshiva University professor Joshua Karlip got the sense that something was not right in his field:

One participant noted that the first two decades of the 21st century have witnessed a rise in studies of the history of anti-Jewish violence. In response, I offered what I considered an innocuous explanation. Over the past two decades, I suggested, Jews have experienced an alarming rise in violent attacks. Between 2000 and 2005, the second intifada targeted the Jewish civilian population of Israel, leaving nearly 1,000 dead. Here in America, we have witnessed synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh and Poway, as well as a steady stream of attacks, some deadly, on Jews who “look” like Jews—Orthodox men.

This explanation did not sit well with a senior scholar in the audience. “What you said was exceedingly Jewishly focused,” she lectured me. She then went on to “enlighten” me that those who attack Jews are not primarily targeting Jews. Rather, the true targets of their hatred are African Americans. These hatemongers simply are angry at American Jews for promoting African-American rights. She ended her disquisition with a challenge. If I were really serious about fighting anti-Semitism, she told me, I would openly ally myself with Black Lives Matter.

Add to this the hounding of scholars who have the audacity to attend meetings with the wrong people, and the increasing mainstreaming of anti-Israel sentiment, and Karlip sees a vast field of research that once flourished in America as going into decline—even as it is more robust than ever in Israel. Underlying these problems, he argues, is a willingness to achieve

acceptance into the political and cultural mainstream in exchange for a disavowal of Jewish national particularism. The academic corollary of this trend was the de-Judaization of their scholarship. Their own often scant Jewish knowledge has abetted this process. With up to 80 percent of contemporary American Jewish scholars not able to read Hebrew sources fluently, is it any wonder that they have adopted the progressive left’s rejection of Zionism and Israel as a “settler colonialism” that displaced “indigenous populations”?

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