Blogcast on Rethinking Jewish Identity and Jewish Education

Conference Podcast

AJS Conference Session

December 16, 12:00 to 1:30pm
Hilton Baltimore, Poe A/B

Panel: Jewish Education – For What? Twentieth Century Answers Compared

On the Origins and Persistence of the Jewish Identity Industry in Jewish Education

Jonathan Krasner, Mandel Center

Blog Posts

Jewish Identity Complex: Why we Cannot, and Should Not, Get Along

The Persistence of "Identity"

Jewish Identity Ain't What it Used to Be

What I've Learned About Jewish Identity

A Few Thoughts on the Roots of the Identity Discourse

Enough Identity, Already

About the project

Conference Sessions


Participant Statements

Rethinking Jewish Identity and Education


Co-chairs: Ari Kelman (Stanford) and Jon A. Levisohn(Brandeis)
This project has emerged from the conference on "Rethinking Jewish Identity and Jewish Education," which was held at Brandeis on March 30-31, 2014.

The concept of “Jewish identity” has been fundamental to post-war policy discourse and scholarship on Jewish education.  With the possible exception of “continuity,” identity (and the attendant fears of its disappearance or weakening) has driven more philanthropic initiatives and educational policy than any other single concept.  

Yet recent research has exposed the problematic nature of this concept.  The combination of strong identity and low engagement, as demonstrated by the recent Pew Report, suggests that the very concept of Jewish identity can no longer shoulder the burden of Jewish educational efforts. The time has come to reconsider the notion of “identity” as the desired outcome of Jewish education. 

Standard uses of “identity” by Jewish educators and policy-makers fail to capture the complex ways in which people understand their Jewish commitments, engage with Jewish communities, and enact Jewish practices.  Approaching identity as an outcome offers a mismatched measure of Jewish education and poorly describes the various and shifting ways in which people live their Jewish lives.

So, if Jewish education is to respond to the needs of American Jews and their communities in the 21st century, we need to rethink the assumption that Jewish identity is the goal of Jewish education. This conference began that work by gathering together scholars, practitioners, policy makers and thinkers to focus on these questions:
  • What does it mean to learn to inhabit or embody an identity or identities?  What do we know about the ways that contemporary Jews do so?
  • Where does the language of “Jewish identity” come from, when, and why?  What work does it do for those who use it?  What kind of educational efforts does it promote, and what does it inhibit?
  • To the extent that the construct of “Jewish identity” no longer satisfies us, what alternatives are available – especially in conceptualizing the desirable outcomes of Jewish education?