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Family and Identity: Marshall Sklare, the Social Scientific Study of America’s Jews, and Jewish Communal Policy

Abstract

The contents of Contemporary Jewry, the journal of Association for the Social Scientific Study of Jewry (ASSJ), are examined in an effort to evaluate arguments of overemphasis on the issues of intermarriage, fertility, and continuity. The findings do not indicate such an overemphasis. A socio-historical account of the field of the social scientific study of American Jewry, including an analysis of the perspectives of the new discipline’s pioneer, Marshall Sklare, is then presented in an effort to explain how and why the issues of intermarriage and birth rates became central to the research of some of the major figures in ASSJ and the field in general.

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Notes

  1. See, for example, Sales (2018). In fact, Cohen played no role in the formulation and direction of the 2001 NJPS and was actually publicly critical of it as well as the 1990 NJPS. With respect to the 2013 Pew survey, he was one on a panel of about a dozen advisers. As for his positions on intermarriage, they will be discussed below.

  2. There are many traditional Jews who, when counting people in a small group, will use a symbolically indirect way, such as counting “not one, not two,” etc. When Orthodox Jews want to determine if they have a quorum for prayer services, they often count by using the words in a ten-letter Hebrew verse, especially Psalms 29:9, in place of “one, two, etc.”

  3. Liebman began specializing in the social scientific study of Jewry in the 1960s, though his work in the field was not widely recognized until the following decade with the publication of The Ambivalent American Jew (Liebman 1973).

  4. Sklare’s first book, Conservative Judaism: An American Religious Movement (1955), was published by The Free Press, perhaps the most prominent US publisher of sociological works at the time. The Free Press also published his pioneering edited volume, The Jews: Social Patterns of an American Group (1958). His book, America’s Jews (1971) was published by Random House in its series “Ethnic Groups in Comparative Perspective,” and his book, Jewish Identity on the Suburban Frontier: A Study of Group Survival in the Open Society, with Joseph Greenblum, was published by Basic Books in (1967), and in a second edition by the University of Chicago Press in 1979.

  5. Ethnicity 1(2), 1972: 151–173; reprinted in Observing America’s Jews (Sklare 1993: 158–180). All references are to the 1993 printing.

  6. Another version of the analysis, which elaborates on aspects of the original, appeared as an article in Sklare’s edited volume, The Jew in American Society (New York: Behrman House, 1974), 1–27, and was subsequently included as a chapter (181–202) in his Observing America’s Jews.

  7. Wirth married a non-Jewish woman and, according to his daughter, whom Sklare quotes, he had “assimilationist inclinations and principles” (1993: 168).

  8. It should be noted that, although it is legitimate to evaluate one’s work as to whether it is assimilationist or not, it is much more difficult to characterize individuals as to whether they are personally assimilationist or not. As a colleague once said, sociologists should not attempt to be psychoanalysts. I would add that those whose works are being analyzed should likewise not assume that they are personally being analyzed.

  9. See for example, Fuchs 1956. The data continue to confirm those liberal patterns (Wald 2015).

  10. At the time of its founding, the association was known as the Association for the Sociological Study of Jewry. The name was changed in the 1980s in order to attract other social scientists of Jews and Judaism.

  11. The Association for the Sociology of Religion was founded in 1938 and was originally named the American Catholic Sociological Society. Among the incentives for its founding was the experience by many Catholic sociologists of marginality stemming from a sense that the profession of sociology was dominated by Protestants, and a sense that sociology was displacing religion and served as a new, secular religion (Dynes 1974; Kivisto 1989; Morris 1989; Swatos and William 1989). For its early history, see Rosenfelder 1948.

  12. Founded in 1992. The Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR) was founded in 1949 as the Committee for the Scientific Study of Religion; its current name was adopted in 1956, and it was not strictly a social scientific society. Some of those active in the founding and early years, especially Ralph Burhoe, who was then the Executive Director of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, hoped that SSSR “would come to include a natural science component and involve natural scientists working alongside social scientists and religious scholars in the study of religion and from a perspective that, among other things, would include efforts to strengthen the religious component of life” (Glock 2000: 423).

  13. Founded in 1970.

  14. Personal communications from Harold Himmelfarb and Allen Glicksman (September 2011).

  15. On Cahnman, see the editors’ introduction to Cahnman (2004). Recalling Cahnman, Judith Marcus and Zoltan Tarr wrote:

    After Cahnman’s escape from Germany, he entered the United States in 1940 and soon after partook in a summer seminar for foreign scholars and teachers at the Brewster Free Academy in Wolfsboro, New Hampshire. Here he first encountered the sociologist Robert E. Park of the University of Chicago, and Herbert A. Miller who evaluated Cahnman’s background and designated him as a “race and cultural specialist” in sociology, with a recommendation for a Visiting Position at the University of Chicago. In due course, as he recalled, he became a “Chicago sociologist,” in close contact with Everett Hughes, the anthropologist [Robert] Redfield, and, above all, Park, who greatly influenced his thinking. The relationship with Louis Wirth was more complicated. In spite of their common interest in things Jewish, their perspectives differed: Cahnman had a strong survivalist perspective, meaning the survival of ethnic groups from both normative and empirical viewpoints, while Wirth maintained a strong assimilationist outlook, that is, the inevitability of the absorption of the Jews, as any other ethnic group, into the mainstream of the larger society. (Cahnman 2004: x; see also Marcus and Tarr 2004).

  16. In 1973, when Friedman requested to retire from the position of secretary/treasurer, Cahnman asked me—I had taken two undergraduate courses and one graduate course in sociological theory with him—to take over take over from Friedman, I agreed.

  17. For many Jews, the watershed event was the Six-Day War of June 1967.

  18. On Yavneh, see Kraut (2011).

  19. Personal communication from Rona Sheramy, former Executive Director of AJS (28 July 2011). In contrast, as will be seen, the ASSJ has remained fairly constant in its membership.

  20. Association for Jewish Studies, https://www.associationforjewishstudies.org/about-ajs (accessed 25 October 2019).

  21. These are the total individual memberships worldwide, the overwhelming majority being in North America, with a handful from Israel and elsewhere.

  22. The scholarly reputations of other notable social scientists were strengthened through their articles in the AJC’s American Jewish Year Book (AJYB), for example, Charles S. Liebman, Sydney Goldstein, Sylvia B. Fishman, and Sergio DellaPergola, among others.

  23. Despite his many disagreements with Wirth, he probably would have agreed with Wirth’s assertion that “[t]he distinctive character of social science discourse is to be sought in the fact that every assertion, no matter how objective it may be, has ramifications extending beyond the limits of science itself. Since every assertion of a ‘fact’ about the social world touches the interests of some individual or group, one cannot even call attention to the existence of certain ‘facts’ without courting the objections of those whose very raison d’être in society rests upon a divergent interpretation of the ‘factual’ situation (Wirth 1936: xvii).

  24. See, among others, Hurvitz (1965), Levinson and Levinson (1958–1959). The notion that Jewish intermarriage is a manifestation of a rejection of one’s Jewish identity, self-hatred, or other psychological maladies was prevalent well into the last quarter of the twentieth century. See, for example, Alperin (2016), Ettinger (1976). Although not explicitly, this is also implied in Neusner (1993). Another popular notion concerning Jewish intermarriage, which at the time typically involved a Jewish male marrying a non-Jewish female, was that it was due to the prevalence of Jewish women who were overbearing and emasculating.

  25. Sarna (1990) indicates another challenge to that dual ideal and, indeed, a challenge to all non-Christian minorities in the United States, Christmas.

  26. At his university, Brandeis, Sklare was not a member of the Department of Sociology. Rather, his position was in the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, where he was Klutznick Family Professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies and Sociology (Sarna 1992).

  27. See, for example, Klausner (1987). Goldscheider and Zuckerman were even more explicit when they wrote “the study of contemporary Jews is no different from the study of contemporary Americans, Englishmen, Frenchmen, or whomever. The only difference is that to study Jews one must focus on cross-national analyses, since large Jewish subcommunities are located in many countries” (Goldscheider and Zuckerman 1984: 75).

  28. Perhaps ironically, Cohen’s approach is similar to that of many Orthodox Jews who are not concerned about the issue of Jewish continuity because they believe, based on prophetic promises in the Bible (e.g., Isaiah 37:32), that there will always be a “saving remnant” of religiously observant Jews.

  29. In an address to the Board of Trustees of Reform Judaism’s Union of American Hebrew Congregations, on 2 December 1978, then president Rabbi Alexander Schindler issued a call to change the “behavior towards those who become Jews-by-Choice, to increase our sensitivity towards them and, thereby, to encourage growth in their numbers” (URJ 1978).

  30. There has developed such a category in Israel, especially with a significant proportion of immigrants from the Former Soviet Union (FSU). See Cohen and Susser (2009), Fisher (2013).

  31. Perhaps it was his observing the identity of children of intermarriage that led to the significant change in his perspective from that which he expressed in 1984 and 1996 on the impact of intermarriage on the size of the Jewish population.

  32. Given Hartman's delineated analyses and policy recommendations, and that she is a former President of ASSJ, it is ironic to read charges being leveled claiming that there is an isolated, male-dominated power apparatus of Jewish continuity that resists challenges to "the assumption of a continuity crisis" (Rosenberg et al. 2018).

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The author thanks Uzi Rebhun, Jonathan Sarna, and Nadia Beider for the critical reading and helpful comments on previous versions of this article.

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Waxman, C.I. Family and Identity: Marshall Sklare, the Social Scientific Study of America’s Jews, and Jewish Communal Policy. Cont Jewry 39, 379–406 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12397-019-09306-1

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Keywords

  • Intermarriage
  • Fertility
  • Contemporary Jewry (CJ)
  • Marshall Sklare
  • Family
  • Demography