Rethinking Jewish Identity and Education

The cover of Beyond Jewish Identity, showing a deconstructed puzzle of a Star of David

The edited volume that emerged from the 2014 Mandel Center conference, titled Beyond Jewish Identity: Rethinking Concepts and Imagining Alternatives, edited by Jon A. Levisohn and Ari Y. Kelman, is now available via open access from the Brandeis Institutional Repository.

In 2014 the Mandel Center convened over 65 educators and academics for a 2-day conference. This PRX podcast captures the initial conference conversation to “rethink” Jewish identity. Read the podcast transcript.

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.

Professor Jonathan Krasner

Mandel Center Talk: On the Origins and Persistence of the Jewish Identity Industry in the United States (April 15, 2015)

The resulting book, published in 2019 and available from Academic Studies Press, Beyond Jewish Identity: Rethinking Concepts and Imagining Alternatives (eds. Ari Y. Kelman and Jon A. Levisohn), explores such questions as:

“Beyond Jewish Identity” Table of Contents

This project emerged from the conference on “Rethinking Jewish Identity and Jewish Education,” held at Brandeis on March 30-31, 2014.