Wednesday, May 13, 2009

How Ideological Funding is Harming Israel and Jewish Studies in the United States

Jewish Studies, and now also Israel Studies, did not arise on college campuses because the American academy recognized the importance of these areas. On the contrary, it was Jewish philanthropy that endowed chairs and centers of Jewish studies beginning in the 1970s and centers of Israel Studies beginning in the 1990s and accelerating in the first decade of the current century. Although the funding often came from wealthy individuals, the universities made it clear to the donors that faculty and curriculum would be unaffected by the philanthropists. One of the reasons that Jewish Studies flourished was because of the academic integrity and reputation of the discipline.

There are troubling signs that the "separation barrier" between donors with ideological axes to grind, and universities is breaking. In this post I will discuss three examples.

The Posen Foundation

Felix Posen is a very wealthy British Jew who, when it comes to matters Jewish, is interested in two subjects: secular Judaism and anti-Semitism. On the old model of Jewish Studies philanthropy, Posen would have given a lot of money to fund chairs and centers of the study of anti-Semitism, as well as the study of the secular Jewish writers and thinkers. But Felix Posen is ideologically driven – he wishes single-handedly to set the agenda for much of Jewish Studies because he has a vision of Judaism which he feels is not being taught or studied.

"The Posen Foundation works internationally as a service provider to support secular Jewish education and educational initiatives on Jewish culture in the modern period and the process of Jewish secularization over the past three centuries. At a time when the majority of world Jewry defines itself as secular and is not well educated in Jewish culture, the Foundation offers this growing community the opportunity to deepen and enrich the study of its cultural and historic heritage—from a secular, scholarly perspective."

What does this mean in practice? Well, it means that Posen's Foundation gives big bucks to scholars and universities that are willing to develop curricula in secular Judaism, curricula that are supervised by Felix Posen and his staff. They are willing to fund encyclopedias and series on secular and cultural Judaism that present Judaism as Posen wishes it to be presented. Some of the best-known names in Jewish studies in the US and in Israel are collaborating with Posen and his ideologically-driven agenda on popular works that include the encyclopedia, "New Jewish Time: Jewish Culture in a Secular Age—An Encyclopedic View " , and a multi-volume anthology to be published by Yale University Press, the Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization. I do not know whether the latter effort will also have the hands-on involvement of Felix Posen (he is legendary for getting involved in the curricula that he funds). But the editors know where Posen is coming from, and I doubt that they will do anything that he will not approve of.

So what's wrong with this? After all, it is a free country and money talks. Why not take the Posen money and run? Well, the answer is obvious. The money comes with ideological strings attached. And there is always the worry that the ideology will spill over into the academic sphere. Call me old-fashioned, but academic integrity is seriously compromised when somebody with such an overt agenda starts throwing around dollars. I wouldn't take money from Chabad. Why should I take it from Posen?

How ideological? Check out the website. Note that very little money is given to fund original research(except for anti-Semitism). Posen wants to make his mark not in research but in anthologies, undergraduate curricula, encyclopedias – precisely where ideological biases can do the most damage.

His is not the only one.

The Tikvah Fund

With the Posen Foundation hawking (and paying for) secular Judaism, we now have the Tikvah Fund, funded by the late Zalman Bernstein, which pushes for Judaism in a rightwing mode. The mission statement of the Tikvah Foundation sounds innocent enough:

The mission of the Tikvah Fund is to promote serious Jewish thought about the enduring questions of human life and the pressing challenges that confront the Jewish people. Tikvah will support many programs, projects, and individuals—including new university centers and courses, books and journals, summer seminars and scholarships.  Tikvah's work will be grounded in these fundamental convictions: that the great ideas, texts, and traditions of Judaism are a special inheritance, with much to teach everyone in search of wisdom about the human condition; and that the fate of the Jewish people greatly depends on the education of intellectual, religious, and political leaders, both in Israel and the Diaspora.

No problem with the above, nor with the neocon slant of the projects funded by the Tikvah Fund (whose staff and board includes folks like Eric Cohen, Neal Kozodoy and William Kristol). It's a free country, and rich people can spend their money the way they like.

But now the Tikvah Fund has started branching out to university campuses and is taking on the trappings of a portable think-tank that sponsors conferences, seminars, summer sessions, etc. Consider the "Tikvah Project on Jewish Thought at Princeton University"

The Tikvah Project on Jewish Thought at Princeton University will support new teaching and research on the great human questions, bringing Jewish thought and ideas into conversation with other philosophical and theological traditions of Western Civilization.

Let me get this straight - the same Fund whose board is overwhelmingly neocon, and which gives significant funding to Shalem Center is also…sponsoring courses at Princeton?

But how in blazes does an ideological foundation sponsor courses at Princeton?

And it is ideological: consider the two-week course on reading texts in Jewish civilization that will be offered this summer to undergrads from around the country. You won't find much secular Judaism or "Jewish culture" there. The entire program is devoted to classical Jewish texts. The only historical session in the whole period is devoted to -- you guessed it -- Zionism. Reb Zalman would have loved it – but what the hell does it have to do with Princeton?

And, indeed, if you look carefully at the announcement, you will see that the only thing the summer program has to do with Princeton is that it will be located at Princeton. In fact, the Tikvah Foundation has teamed with the Witherspoon Institute, a conservative think-tank housed at Princeton, to sponsor the summer program. And who does it wish to attract? Undergrads and beginning grads from around the country, who will not only get free tuition, but a one thousand dollar stipend to attend.

So what's wrong with this? Very simple: it weakens the "separation fence" between the Academy – whose faculty is eager to pick up money, prestige, and influence for these things – and the ideologically driven. The faculty at the first Tikvah Forum at Princeton looked like an advertisement for the Zionist consensus, and included folks, who range from the liberal hawk to the neocon, but failed to include anybody on the left. You certainly won't see Daniel Boyarin or Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin there. Folks like the latter have been ruled out of the community.

This cozy relationship between a university and an ideological fund is deeply troubling for anybody who still cares about academic integrity and freedom from outside interference.

The Schusterman Foundation and AICE

I will make this section short, as Richard Silverstein and I blogged on it last year. After Berkeley brought Ben-Gurion professor Oren Yiftachel as a Visiting Israel Professor, much to the consternation of the donor, the Schusterman family decided on a novel way to ensure that our campuses would be free of the corrupting influences of post-Zionist Israeli professors . They set up an organization, headed by polemicist Mitchell Bard, that would give grants to pre-approved Israeli scholars. Bard would then go to universities and offer them the scholars for free. Thus was born the involvement of the American Israel Cooperative Enterprise (AICE) in academia.

When Richard Silverstein and I broke the story of AICEr, the reaction of AICE was to state simply (and truthfully) that the scholars represented the gamut of Israeli opinion from right to left. And AICE was right; certainly there were scholars identified with the (Zionist) left who were funded. And I, for one, don't know whether AICE turned down anybody of the post-Zionist or anti-Zionist Israeli left that applied for a Schusterman fellowship.

But once again, I find troubling the idea of an agenda-driven speaker's bureau, which, at the very least, is not philosophically congenial to many notable Israeli academics.

The Schusterman Foundation is not the only problem with Israel Studies. As long as Israel Studies is associated with Jewish Studies (as it often is), hires in Israel Studies will run the "gamut" from liberal to conservative…Zionist. That is because the search committees are mostly made up of Zionists, whether Jewish or Christian


meddy said...

Harvard got burned by this sort of thing a few years back --

" In 1994, the financier Ken Lipper, one of Harvard University's most powerful donors, offered his alma mater $3.2 million to establish a chair of Holocaust studies. It would be a professorship that, because of Harvard's reach and intellectual might, could define Holocaust scholarship for years to come. But three years later, after a national search among leading scholars in the field, the members of a faculty committee cannot agree on a candidate to fill the post, and the chair remains empty.
Furthermore, the search has been ridden with backbiting and accusations, among them that Mr.Lipper has interfered in favor of his own candidate, a controversial scholar of the Holocaust, Daniel J. Goldhagen, an associate professor of government and social studies at Harvard who elicits strong pro and con reactions among his peers.
Mr. Lipper has refused to allow Harvard to give the position on a temporary basis to another noted scholar, Saul Friedlander.
Holocaust Studies Gift: A Headache for Harvard
By DINITIA SMITH New York Times July 19, 1997

Sydney Nestel said...

I am shocked that the University would accept money from a donor who explicitly said he would not fund an Israeli Arab. The university should have responded that it could not accept the funding if there where any such strings attached. (I'm surprised this is even legal. Imagine if the donor had said that am African American candidate would have been unacceptable to him.)

It also boggles the mind that this information was made known to the hiring committee, even if the university didn't insist that the committee follow the donors wishes. Everyone knows that crossing the "dean" (e.i the finanical powers) can be a career limiting move, tenure not withstanding.

And I am disappointing that you would agree to sit in the hiring committee under such circumstances. It deserved to be boycotted along with letters to the editor all round.

Jerry Haber said...

Sydney, after the committee voted and made its report, one of the folks who was not on the committee reported a remark made to him by the donor. The donor never said this explicitly to the university, nor would he have been able to do it legally.

My original post mislead you in that regard -- I should have been more careful -- and I have altered it.

M. said...

My close friend got a Schusterman fellowship despite using a post-Zionist model (this was for literature, though).

Anonymous said...

Jews are not the only ones. The Arab studies departments in America are funded by the Saudi government. Why is that better?

Jerry Haber said...


Who says that one is better than the other? And who says that Jews ands Arabs cannot donate moneys to establish chairs in Jewish and Middle East Studies?

Read my post more carefully. Maybe then you will get the point.

Anonymous said...

I understood the point. I am merely noting that you are arguing for a higher standard in Jewish studies when other fields are equally corrupt. If the Arabic studies and Chinese or African studies donors had no say in the composition of the departments that they are funding, then you might be correct. But that is not how academia works today. And without guidance, you will have a predominately left wing Judaic studies department.

That is no better than a fully right wing department. At least this way there is tension, and therefore, potentially, balance.

dissenter said...

You make a good point, but didn't look into the specifics of the Tikvah Fund, leading to some erroneous assertions regarding it. Allow me to offer my personal experience with them:

I - someone far from conservative and neo-conservative positions - participated this past August in their summer seminar hosted by Princeton (not run, as you write, nor financed) and found it even-handed and most enlightening in its diversity of participants (student and presenters) and opinions. There was conscious effort to branch out far beyond the typical neocon base with which Tikvah has worked in the past. Advocates of secular renewal in Israel (e.g. Michael Walzer) and liberal Jewish Orthodoxy (e.g. Eugene Korn) were well represented. Indeed, Walzer was one of the highlights of the program for me, not because I agreed with him, but because his honesty and clear presentation of his views helped me crystallize my own thinking on many issues of religion and state. I heard not a trace of neoconservative sentiments in the presentations of Leon Kass and Alan Mittleman, despite their known stances. And one would be hard pressed to label leftist Menachem Kellner and Prof. Michael Fishbane (to name just two prominent participants) as anything close to conservative establishment.

It would be unfortunate if one were to judge this emerging organization purely on the basis of some of its neoconservative members. To do so would be to marginalize the discussions they clearly hope to broach across the larger spectrum, which would be a shame. Give them a chance.

dissenter said...

My apologies for one point above - you do note later in your post that the Tikvah program is only hosted, not "offered" by Princeton. There's a bit of confusion there but I think you understand how the seminar functions. But this is obviously tangential to my broader point about Tikvah's ideological orientation.

dissenter said...

Another point:

You claim "you won't find any secular Judaism" in all the "classical Jewish texts" you allege make up the broader curriculum of the Tikvah summer program. The syllabus might be helpful here:

(There are two others on that site for your perusal.)

Essentially, only 3/~12 classes focused on classical Jewish texts, while others centered around Western, classical and modern thinkers more broadly. I can only assume you wrote this post before the above material was available online.

For more on the sorts of ideology involved in the program, you can also read the online bios of the various student participants and see if you can't spot the secularists among them.

After that, perhaps a correction is in order, so that people searching for Tikvah's summer program online won't be misled by your original post. I'm sure (of course) that was not your intention, but now that you have more information at your disposal, you can ensure that is not the case.

Jerry Haber said...


Well, I looked at the syllabus. I said I wouldn't find secular Judaism there, and -- outside of Zionism -- I didn't. Neither, apparently, did you. Of course, I didn't think that Tikvah was running a yeshiva. I didn't mean that. It seems a bit like the sort of the thing that the Hartman Institute does, though less exclusively text-based, and with more secondary literature. But -- let's face it -- it is heavily weighted towards religion and Zionism, as befits Bernstein's legacy. In fact, Zionism seems to be made part of Jewish religion, also as befits Bernstein's legacy.

Academically, the syllabus is geared to beginning undergrads or to a lay leadership conference. We get no feeling of tension or disagreement in the sources; no depth; the readings are basic. A lot of the readings are about the Bible, but not a single Biblical scholar is assigned. It's basically "Philosophy-lite and the Bible". But so what? I assume that no college credit was given (don't have the time to check the website.) If it was, then that speaks volumes about the low standards of universities.

As for the tendenz of the syllabus -- well, it occupies that lovely consensus middle ground between the Hartman Institute on the left and the Shalem Center on the right, a sort of Nextbook seminar.

Anyway, I have no problem with their being things like this -- as a university professor, I welcome the opportunity to do a few gigs on the side -- as long as it has nothing to do with universities or any serious academic pursuit.

dissenter said...

Thanks so much for responding. I remain unconvinced of the fairness of your critique, though, especially as you retreat significantly from your original assertions. Now this formerly "ideologically driven program" is just "philosophy-lite + Bible", rather apolitical (or at least, much more consensus based) while slanted towards content coverage of religion and Zionism (the latter is very questionable in light of the syllabus, just to note).

Is it simplifying your position to say:
Summer seminars on philosophy and religion (with some Zionism), taught by acknowledged top scholars in their fields, from across a political and (ir)religious spectrum = ideologically driven, almost un-academic scholarship that has no place on college campuses? What exactly does qualify as valid under your definition? No mention of or focus on religion, the Bible or Zionism in the holy halls of the university? That seems unfair.

I sat next to Harry Frankfurt during part of the seminar - he just showed up to sit in. I do not think he thought the program or its subject matter trivial, simplistic or of a low standard, judging particularly from his questions during discussion.

Nor do I think you will lack for serious intellectualism if you examine the student bios, where you will find everyone from secular Israeli lawyers to Yale-graduated Rhodes Scholars.

The problem is not the complexity, diversity or rigor of material (and yes, many times we were presented with opposing views - just try to reconcile Hermann Cohen with Franz Rosenzweig or different views of the role of values in halakha, for instance)- it's that much of the program's content doesn't agree with your views. That's a fair criticism - there were no post-Zionists, as you note. But such a claim is far more limited than the broadsides in your post, which don't hold up to the reality of the program.

A personal aside:
Of course there was no college credit for the program - there were no exams, nor would there have been time for them. Those in attendance had no interest in such a format - would you expect a Yale/Harvard/Princeton/UChicago/UPenn undergrad to want to shortchange their school years, rather than to simply augment them? Personally, as an undergraduate at a wonderful Ivy university, I have no intention of skipping out early with credits from a summer program anywhere. There's far too much to learn while I have the chance (and financial aid). Thus, I find your characterization of the program as a "lay leadership" conference with "no tensions in the sources" - based partly on its lack of college credit - just a bit condescending.

[Also, since when is Moshe Greenberg not a Bible scholar, to name just one off the syllabus (the one with "not a single Bible scholar assigned")? There's a whole lot of Bible PhD's who'd say differently.]

If you've read this far in my unorganized musings, I thank you. As you can see, I felt this was a very valuable program and would like to ensure it is represented fairly for those interested. Hope this helps explain why.

Jerry Haber said...

dissenter, thanks for your response. I stand corrected with respect to Greenberg, although, frankly, with the exception of the article on biblical criminal law, this was not his heavy stuff. But there was Paul, Muffs, and Levenson, all heavy on the theological side, but still experts at what they do. Anyway, it is not fair to criticize the seminar for what it failed to do, if it didn't advertise itself as a Bible course. So scratch that criticism. I retract it.

I have three basic criticisms of the syllabus

First, the prominent placement of Zionism (the only thing having to do with Jewish history) in a Jewish religion course. I note that there were no criticisms of Zionism in the sources read. Nor was there anything of the stuggle that Zionism made to establish its position in the Jewish community. And why not? Well, it is hard to believe that the Bernstein foundation would fund a serious consideration of Zionism if it were interested in Jewish identity. Of course, if you have only one lecture, you really don't have much time for depth, do you? So why include it? The Bernstein Foundation probably thought it important to do Zionist kiruv for Jewish college students.

Second, the syllabus seems indeed geared to a summer workshop rather than to a university environment. It is to Jewish studies what summer pop concerts are to classical music. Now some of these pop concerts feature good classical music. But they also include showtunes and generally do not feature the orchestras at their best or at their most prepared.

Harry Frankfurt is a brilliant man, a great philosopher, and a great historian of philosophy. But he is an am haaretz when it comes to Jewish texts. He will always have something interesting to say about the texts -- as do the philosophers at the annual Hartman Institute philosophy conference. But this is not serious stuff. Fortunately, he didn't speak. By the way, I would say the same about Michael Walzer, although he has had a steady stream of havrutot from the Hartman Institute.

Now, a lot of the lecturers were experts in their fields, but the nature and structure of the course precludes them from doing much more than a "pops" concert. As I said in my original post, I have no problem in that -- provided that the walls between it and the university are there. But I can't help but thinking that the Tikvah Fund wants to associate with universities in order to lend credence to its ideological agenda -- which, I admit -- is not limited to the neocons, but goes as far left as Walzer/Haberthal, which is not very left at all.

Third, it's pretty conservative stuff, is it not? And I don't just mean Soloveichik's session. Where is gender? Where are criticisms (we are doing philosophy here) of Biblical theology? Oh, I am sure there were some. And certainly some of the teachers are sensitive to this stuff. But, again, we are operating within a narrow space.

Anyway, you heard the seminar, and you got a lot out of it. So maybe my criticisms of its intellectual rigor are misplaced. Would I have enjoyed it? As much as I enjoy programs at the Hartman Institute. Were the Tikvah Fund to create a Tikvah Institute, I could see the value of such programs.

But while this program is more intellectually rigorous, and a lot more intersting, than, say, a Birthright tour, there is an ideological agenda, is there not? Call it kiruv for the young Jewish intellectual.

And that brings me to another point: how many non-Jews participated in the seminar? What sort of outreach to non-Jews were there? Not much, judging from the bios.

The university is not a setting for kiruv, and that is why it is important to keep the borders clear. Jewish Studies is not -- or should not -- be concerned with forming Jewish identity. That assures a Jewish intellectual ghetto...which, judging from the participants at the conferences, at least superficially, was the case at the Tikvah-Princeton seminar.

dissenter said...

Again, I think the seminar does not quite conform to your expectations. By way of remedy, I remember now that the sessions were all recorded, so you will soon be free to listen to, for example, Allan Arkush discuss Zionism in his session (and to search for any more of the subject in the others - if I recall correctly, you will find little of it). I remember Arkush being remarkably ambivalent, particularly at the end of his talk, when he asserted that he had searched and not found a compelling non-religious justification for Zionism, yet remained a Zionist nonetheless ("I'll end with that confession of intellectual bankruptcy"). I think you'd enjoy most of the recordings and that they'd surprise you. Doubtless you have many things on the intellectual agenda, but there's the best way to see what Tikvah's doing.

A few points to yours (though not in order, if you'll forgive me):

1) You are absolutely correct to note the limits of this "greatest hits" model of teaching. One sacrifices breadth for depth. There was actually a parallel advanced session for grad students where the situation was reversed, and specific topics were covered in detail with one scholar for several days. Tikvah asked us afterward for our feedback on just this issue - they are trying to decide how best to maximize the two week program in the future. I personally could have done with a cross between the two models. But don't think Tikvah was setting a low standard with the format - they were experimenting with different educational options to find the best yield. If you had two weeks and 54 bright folks, you'd probably do the same sort of juggling the first few times around.

2) It's hard to do Zionist kiruv when everyone in the room already knows quite a bit about the subject. To illustrate by example - we had MA and PhD students in Zionist thought in attendance, and I'd just finished a program in Jerusalem (at Hebrew U) under the auspices of my American university in the fraught history of Zionism. You shortchange the participants not just in knowledge, though, but in that nearly 1/3 were themselves Israeli, with a wide variety of views on this most important subject to them.

I know less about Zalman Bernstein than you, most likely, but I do know who actually took part in the program and what was taught. This was simply not a program in Zionism (and good thing too, because I'd then have been extremely bored, considering what I'd done for the previous month!). The sort of engagement with Israel was more along the line of a Shabbat panel on "Religion and State in Israel" between David Novak and Michael Walzer with some intense questions afterward (from Israelis in particular). There were no holds barred - nor post-Zionists, to be fair.

dissenter said...

3) Michael Fishbane's entire thesis on Job was that the book was intended as a radical critique of prior biblical theology, to give one example of the scrutiny to which traditional thought was exacted (albeit an unlikely example). His session was quite remarkable and anything but apologetic (in a book that has long invited such) - hopefully the recording will be up soon. Michael Walzer had some of the best lines of the two weeks, in my opinion, critiquing various aspects of the Bible's morality (it'll be on the recorded session where he responds to Novak on "Justice"). Biblical criticism was also discussed on several occasions (Jon Levenson in particular - it is hardly avoidable in a modern college setting!), though obviously several presenters approached with a more literary bent (of course, scholars in the mold of Robert Alter ought to be no less welcome than those in the mold of Marc Brettler). Also, in a seminar on Jewish thought, I wasn't surprised to find fewer discussions of deconstructionism - indeed, this same phenomenon is found in many Religion departments, where "canonical" contextual criticism and literary criticism have ascended to provide meaning where higher criticism has assailed it.

The lack of Gender Studies is a fair critique, but I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't pop up next year in some form in response to student feedback. Many topics were left out, as would be expected of a two week program - the curriculum was more classical generally (thought not simply "Jewish classical") and that was one of the criticisms I made on my evaluation, actually. But you can't claim what they covered wasn't highly valuable and that there's an easy topic to point to that could have been replaced.

4) There were a couple non-Jews on the program, several involved in panels, others presenting and some just administrating. We had a joint event (unsurprisingly - here the conservative element did emerge) with several Catholic groups on "Religion and State in America". Given the high level of assumed conversance with Jewish thought, few non-Jews had the requisite skills to participate. The same goes for the Critical Talmud class at my university, which requires one to be able to prepare a Talmudic text. Neither of these are kiruv. They are just taught at a high level that presumes training. Your critique is one of Jewish studies more generally, which is startlingly Jewish (92%, according to the Cohen/Veinstein AJS Survey, if memory serves), partly due to the above reason. Tikvah's Jewish thought program just attracted this same clientele.

Jerry Haber said...


From your last remark, it seems that the target audience for the Jewish thought seminar was composed of fairly advanced students in Jewish Studies, and, indeed, I recognized some of the students' names. If that is the case, then I really don't understand what was going on, and in particular, how the seminar fulfilled the mission statement of the Tikvah Foundation.

Recall what I quoted in my original post:

"Tikvah's work will be grounded in these fundamental convictions: that the great ideas, texts, and traditions of Judaism are a special inheritance, with much to teach everyone in search of wisdom about the human condition; and that the fate of the Jewish people greatly depends on the education of intellectual, religious, and political leaders, both in Israel and the Diaspora"

The phrase "special inheritance" is, of course, particularistic, balanced by the next phrase, which talks about the universal relevance of the texts. But if that is the case, I would have thought that the seminar would have attracted intellectually-strong students, Jewish and non-Jewish, with little or no Jewish Studies background. If there is universal significance to the texts, why limit it to Jewish students with background (including the Israelis, I presume? Secular Israelis are, as you know, abysmally ignorant of anything outside the Bible.)

The second part of the mission statement talks about "Jewish leadership" and "the fate of the Jewish people." What this has to do with academic studies of Judaism is beyond me. But, again, one would expect that the target audience would include not only people who have serious knowledge of Jewish sources, or even "conversant" with those sources, but potential Jewish leaders with little background. I assume that all the texts were in English. So why not, if your mission is to prepare Jewish leaders, and to worry about the fate of the Jewish people, limit your audience?

Of course, it may be that the seminar had little to do with the mission statement, and that it really turned into a high-level summer event for budding Jewish studies scholars. A foundation may have an agenda, and then when it enlists scholars, some may ignore the agenda or pay lip service to it.

But in that case, it seems that a Jewish studies grad student would make better use of his or her time by studying a foreign language relevant to his or her subdiscipline, then participate in a Jewish Studies summer program.

Any way, it is clear that the above mission statement reflects an agenda, and so I ask you, how successful was the seminar in promoting the agenda? And given that the participants received generous funding to participate (as far as I know -- tell me if I am wrong), what will the Jewish people get out of it? And what are the responsibilities of the recipients? Jewish Studies grad students receive fellowships for their research, but they are expected to produce. What are the expectations here?

And why the need to associate with an academic institution like Princeton or NYU? I have no problem with foundations spending money on Jewish projects, e.g., Wexner, Mandel, etc. But they do this without an academic link.

Again, what do universities have to do with partisan and ideological agendas like worrying about the fate of the Jewish people?

dissenter said...

Your question as to how the seminar related to Tikvah's more partisan mission statement is a good one. The line that was reiterated again and again to us over the two weeks was "we believe that by putting serious Jewish people in dialogue with serious texts - the best of Western and Jewish civilization - as well as in conversation with great scholars, we will produce the next great Jewish and universal ideas that will change the world." In other words, they did not wish to tell us what to do with the knowledge, only to impart it to us and see what happens. They see themselves as an incubator for future Walzers, Fishbanes and Levensons.

You can decide for yourself if you buy this, or believe a more political agenda underlies it. As someone not on board with most neo/conservative stances, I was on the lookout for signs of ideology-pushing - but never found them. Likely that has shaped my positive opinion of the program overall.

A note on the participants, to clarify my earlier post - Biblical literacy was prevalent (as you note, even secular Israelis have it), while beyond that, backgrounds varied. Many students were students of law or psychology or politics. Other were Jewish studies majors. The idea was to get people to talk to others of different specialties and broaden their horizons in a challenging intellectual environment. So this wasn't strictly a Jewish studies program, though certain utility with Jewish texts and terminology was expected.

Stipend (which you have down correctly): I got the impression that they paid us (a) because they wanted to attract top students and (b) to pull non-Jewish studies folks away from internships, summer fellowships and other such more tangibly lucrative opportunities than a Jewish thought seminar. Again, you can decide if you think this was a worthy use of funds. I tend to think it certainly helped land some really quality students who might otherwise have been working say, at Google or in a teaching hospital.

Why at Princeton? Tikvah seemed to think it made a statement to study not just Western canonical texts, but Jewish canonical (and not so canonical) texts in such a hallowed academic setting. The point of much of Tikvah's programming - at Princeton, NYU and elsewhere - is to say that Jewish texts can be fruitfully considered alongside non-Jewish texts, resulting in powerful ideas for the future of all Western civilization. It makes sense to them to do this on a university campus, where, outside of Jewish studies, Jewish texts have not been seriously engaged (e.g. for their political implications or legal conceptions). Hence their NYU Masters in Law and Jewish Civilization; hence the universal human questions summer seminar in Jewish thought.

I hope this clarifies a bit what Tikvah's trying to do, at least in my experience. It's an intellectual position they're pushing, not so much a political or religious one.

Jerry Haber said...

dissenter, you wrote:

"hope this clarifies a bit what Tikvah's trying to do, at least in my experience. It's an intellectual position they're pushing, not so much a political or religious one."

I couldn't disagree with you more.

The position they are pushing is not related to anything intellectual. If it were, then they would no be funding students to foster their Jewish identity through an intellectual experience. They would either be conducting serious summer seminars like NEH, or giving grants for serious research. Kass and especially Walzer have been involved with research projects of the sort you describe -- offering up Jewish traditional sources in a way as to be part of the conversation. Indeed, the academic study of Judaism from its inception had the idea that Jewish civilization should have its place at the university table. The flourishing of Jewish studies at universities since the 1970s has been a part of that, although it is often plagued by the same issues that ethnic and area studies departments/programs are plagued with -- identity politics and ghettoization.

But the Tikvah model doesn't really want to bring the study of Jewish civilization within the broader context of humanistic studies. You would have to go to Penn's Center for Advanced Judaic Studies for something like that. No, the Tikvah foundation is really doing kiruv, and doing it at a prestigious university is part of the kiruv allure.

"The point of much of Tikvah's programming - at Princeton, NYU and elsewhere - is to say that Jewish texts can be fruitfully considered alongside non-Jewish texts, resulting in powerful ideas for the future of all Western civilization"

If that is the case, then why target Jewish professionals? Why form intellectual ghettoes?

The Tikvah Foundation is *sponsoring* or *funding* a masters program at NYU? That doesn't strike you as odd? Are universities now renting themselves out to groups and organizations? And how will that program fulfill the mission statement?

Again, I repeat -- let the Tikvah Foundation rent a conference center somewhere and hire the same lot to get Jewish professionals interested in Jewish texts. I think that is a great idea, and I would contribute to it, and teach for it. But they should stay away from the universitites and universities should stay away from them, just as the universities should not have programs whose goal is to foster Christian or Muslim ideological agendas.

Jerry Haber said...


by the way, thanks very much for your clarification and defense. Would that all my reader possess your considerable talents.

dissenter said...

Thanks for having this extended conversation with me. What I appreciate about your blog which led me to comment here was that I feel you treat even those with whom you strongly disagree with civility (a sad rarity in the blogosphere, particularly on matters Middle East), and so I felt we could have a positive discussion (I'm normally not this kind of guy).


The "seat at the table" model seems to aptly describe the various programs Tikvah is running. Michael Walzer and Eric Cohen were very open about this, from my recollections.

You write:
"...the Tikvah model doesn't really want to bring the study of Jewish civilization within the broader context of humanistic studies. You would have to go to Penn's Center for Advanced Judaic Studies for something like that. No, the Tikvah foundation is really doing kiruv, and doing it at a prestigious university is part of the kiruv allure."

Check out these snippets from the Tikvah campus program sites.

1) From the mission statement from the new NYU Masters program (headed by Joseph Weiler, no small fry or sell-out):

[Waxes poetics about the role of law in Jewish civilization, then--]
"To understand these notions of law and justice in the deepest possible way is to gain formidable insight into the meaning of Jewish civilization. To understand this central feature of Jewish civilization is to gain formidable insight into the meaning of law and justice."

I.e. the study of Judaism and subject X can be mutually beneficial for understanding both. Check out the faculty as well and decide for yourself if this is a kiruv program and/or an attempt at an intellectual ghetto, rather than a forceful attempt to bring more Jewish thought into the academy by people who have devoted their life's studies to just that.

dissenter said...

2) From the Tikvah Center at Princeton site:

"The Tikvah Project on Jewish Thought aims to bring Jewish ideas and thinkers into conversation with the broader historical, philosophical, and theological traditions of the West and beyond. The project supports teaching, research, and discussion of Jewish thought throughout the curriculum and across the disciplines at Princeton University." (emphasis mine)

Sounds like the "seat at the table" model to me. And I'm pretty positive the official Princeton courses offered during term (e.g. "God and Politics") by the center's fellows had a whole bunch of non-Jews in them. You can email the center's staff or the Princeton registrar, but I believe that was the whole point for the Tikvah folks - get more people to read Jewish texts into these classical conversations. The endeavor would have been wasted for them were it to turn into some kiruv program for Jews on campus.

3) The Tikvah Center at the University of Toronto (not yet linked to on the Tikvah site, incidentally):

"The Centre for Jewish Studies is the premiere location in North America for innovative, world class research and teaching in the area of Jewish Thought, featuring

1. World-renowned faculty from the Department of Philosophy, Political Science, and Religion, combining forces to form a unique, interdisciplinary program

2. Intensive study of texts and ideas that have emerged from the Jewish experience of revitalizing one's civilization while living in and with diverse cultures and religion..."

Again, I think this is exactly the "seat at the table" ideal I attributed to the summer program, and you seem to have no problem with (just thought only Penn's Center was involved in).


Now, if you're looking for Tikvah's Jewish community/identity building initiatives that dovetail with the more particularistic aspects of their mission statement, you'll find it for one in their High School Scholars Program for Jewish day schools. This is certainly part of Tikvah's raison d'etre, but note that they do not run it on a university campus - it's about the Jewish future more than the course of broader Western thought. I think Tikvah's done a good job distinguishing between the two and programming accordingly. Looking at the web sites above, do you disagree?