A new book, Beyond Jewish Identity: Rethinking Concerns and Imagining Alternatives, edited by Ari Kelman and Jon Levisohn, straddles the distinction between the processes that shape Jewish identities and the communal project of “Jewish identity.”
The book’s essays hover around the idea that there’s something troubling about “Jewish Identity” and the outsize role that it now plays in Jewish communal-organizational discourse that needs to be reconsidered, especially with regard to Jewish education. The editors push for this reconsideration because they believe that attending to Jewish identity as an outcome undermines thoughtful Jewish education and misdirects the attention of the funders. The authors of the 11 essays in this volume offer alternative readings of “Jewish Identity,” and in some cases they proffer alternatives to it. Thus, this book is presented as a kind of disruption of business as usual in the American Jewish philanthropic context, in particular as it relates to the American Jewish educational enterprise.
As is often the case in essay collections, the book as a whole doesn’t offer a tight analysis or make a singular argument, offering instead a pastiche of possible answers to a shared prompt of “what’s wrong with Jewish Identity? why? and what are the alternatives?”
The editors of this volume are to be commended for gathering together this stimulating collection of essays to focus our attention on the relationship between Jewish identity and Jewish education. I hope this book leads to many more focused studies that will illuminate and extend the important questions it provokes.
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