Perhaps There Are No Bad Jews, but There Certainly Are Bad Books about Them

In Bad Jews: A History of American Jewish Politics and Identities, the New Statesman’s Emily Tamkin explores American Jews’ “ever-evolving relationship to the nation’s culture and identity, and each other,” as the publisher’s blurb has it. Tal Fortgang writes in his review:

Neither systematic enough to be a serious work of history nor bold enough to work as a pop-sociological provocation, Bad Jews is a book about Jewish identity marked by several identity crises. It wants to be critical of the Jews she clearly thinks are “bad,” but it’s committed to treating all things as equally Jewish; it wants to analyze the particularistic while maintaining Tamkin’s universalistic bona fides; it aims for objectivity but slides into hackneyed leftism without realizing. What it ends up doing is either trailing off before each story ends or reciting the kind of pablum you would expect from a mediocre progressive candidate for public office when asked what her Jewishness means to her.

Trendy activist language eventually seeps through. [Tamkin] frequently fixates on the importance of “whiteness,” but toggles between treating it as a legal, cultural, racial, or other category. Her bible is a 1998 book called How Jews Became White Folks and What That Says about Race in America, as if a UCLA anthropologist named Karen Brodkin provided the world with the definitive history of the Jewish-American experience, and as if her readers could not seriously challenge that “whiteness,” whatever it is, is the force that moves all of American history.

Tamkin’s brand of emotivist universalism . . . knows only two modes: solidarity with victims and iconoclastic rage at villains. It cannot bear the thought of heroic Jews who are neither.

Read more at Commentary

More about: American Jewish History, American Jewry

How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus