Beyond Jewish Identity
Rethinking Concepts and Imagining Alternatives
Jon A. Levisohn, Ari Y. Kelman
There is something deeply problematic about the ways that Jews, particularly in America, talk about “Jewish identity” as a desired outcome of Jewish education. For many, the idea that the purpose of Jewish education is to strengthen Jewish identity is so obvious that it hardly seems worth disputing—and the only important question is which kinds of Jewish education do that work more effectively or more efficiently. But what does it mean to “strengthen Jewish identity”? Why do Jewish educators, policy-makers and philanthropists talk that way? What do they assume, about Jewish education or about Jewish identity, when they use formulations like “strengthen Jewish identity”? And what are the costs of doing so?
This volume, the first collection to examine critically the relationship between Jewish education and Jewish identity, makes two important interventions. First, it offers a critical assessment of the relationship between education and identity, arguing that the reification of identity has hampered much educational creativity in the pursuit of this goal, and that the nearly ubiquitous employment of the term obscures significant questions about what Jewish education is and ought to be. Second, this volume offers thoughtful responses that are not merely synonymous replacements for “identity,” suggesting new possibilities for how to think about the purposes and desired outcomes of Jewish education, potentially contributing to any number of new conversations about the relationship between Jewish education and Jewish life.