Critical Jewish Studies?

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7 Responses

  1. A.J. Sutter says:

    Why should a “Critical Jewish Studies” be reduced to a focus on anti-semitism? You talk of a “school of discourse applied to the Jewish experience” analogous to Critical Race Feminism, etc., but your approach in the post (and from what I could see, that of the Engage blog as well) is unduly reductionist. While antisemitism hasn’t been entirely absent from my own experience, b”H it’s certainly not been central to it. Might the excessive narrowness of your proposed field explain in part why you don’t find it constituted as a living acronym?

  2. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    Suzanne Stone?

  3. Mark Fenster says:

    For roots and a base, you might also look to Jewish Studies, one of the largest growing identity studies fields in the humanities (if anything could be said to be growing in the current economic climate — which is to say, it’s at least standing still, especially in terms of named/ endowed programs and chairs). Jonathan Boyarin (currently in Jewish Studies at UNC) has a JD from Yale, and published both a note (on Kiryas Joel) and an article in the Yale J. Law & Humanities. His is in no way the kind of prescriptive, functionalist work you seem to prefer (as AJ Sutter noted in comment 1 above); rather, it’s steeped in critical theory (as the original CLS were and some of those in CRT were and are), and suggests that there’s at least a makings of a diverse CJT. The fact that Boyarin went back to Jewish Studies rather than enter the legal academy may be telling, though, at least for the kind of work he does. But why must “CJT” be located solely in law?

  4. Kirsten says:

    About your primary hypothesis (that the absence of CJS might be explained by the fact that anti-Semitism often manifests as a trope about excessive influence): Maybe this is descriptively correct. But it seems like this ‘reason’ should fail as soon as you’ve articulated it this clearly.

    Not all of the groups accepted in the family of Crit studies that you describe fit the “inferiorized” category. For example, LGBT folks have often been cast in the “dangerous, controlling cabal” category. Possibly this is changing over time (perhaps, the media emphasis more recently has been on, say, the isolated rural suicidal teen rather than the law-school-controlling gay clique of the Romer dissent) but I think the “superiorized” cabal trope is still out there for at least gay men. And, if a group does change from one category of prejudice to another, then I think this is worth pondering.

    More generally, on the notion of a bigotry that expresses itself as a fight against the too-powerful, I think of Elisabeth Young-Bruehl’s book The Anatomy of Prejudices. It’s probably been twelve years since I had my hands on it, but on my memory, she does an excellent job articulating these different modalities of prejudice (whether or not one is much interested in her psychoanalytical approach more generally). I believe she puts the “superiorizing” form of both anti-Semitism and homophobia in her “obsessional” category.

    None of this is meant to suggest that there isn’t an important specificity to the varieties of anti-Semitism. I think it is really valuable to have critical scholarship that zeroes in on one group’s experience (just as we also want scholarly ‘moments’ in which we look at interconnections and similarities).

  5. David Schraub says:

    Stone was just an oversight on my part. And I certainly don’t think a CJT has to be limited to law schools (indeed, of the three names I mentioned, only Feldman is in law. Memmi is a philosopher by training, and Hirsh is a sociologist). Extending outward, there are lots of other people doing interesting work (Sander Gilman and Eric Goldstein are two names that spring immediately to mind). And then there are people who are doing critical analysis aimed at internal reforms to Jewish practice (like the Jewish feminist movement), and those who use an identifiably Jewish perspective to reflect on broader social problems (like Robert Cover).

    So it’s not a desert. But Mark is right that I tend to prefer prescriptivism, and there in particular I think there’s a lack (Cover is prescriptivist, but again he’s less about prescribing what he thinks Jews need in order to obtain equality than using Jewish sources and perspectives in order to cast light on issues of more universal concern).

  6. Interested Observer says:

    The New York Review of Books frequently publishes provocative pieces that could arguably pass for CJS. I do not find the pieces to be anti-Semitic (anti-Zionist, for sure, but that is quite different).

  7. David Schraub says:

    In general, I think anti-Zionist Jewish discourse is a closer cousin to modern conservative Black political thought (a Clarence Thomas or Shelby Steele), in that it (a) represents a minority position within the community (b) on an issue that the majority of the community thinks very important to their identity and well-being.

    That doesn’t make it illegitimate — minorities-within-minorities have every right to try and press for their preferred vision of what the community should do. But I don’t think it is analogous to what CRT is doing, which isn’t seen as and doesn’t cast itself as a dissenting voice within its own community.