As a professor of Jewish Studies, how do you perceive your responsibility to the Jewish community?

Leora F. Batnitzky

Princeton University

As a professor of Jewish Studies, I feel responsible to the Jewish community to the same extent that I think any academic ought to feel responsible to the public, not more and not less. It should go without saying that universities and their faculties should be answerable only to themselves since this is our best guarantee of intellectual freedom. At the same time, however, since universities in the United States are part of a larger democratic culture, and contribute to this culture in important ways, I think that professors are obliged to make their work available to the public when appropriate. In my view, the proper relation between professors of Jewish Studies and the Jewish community is not unlike the proper relationship between the establishment and free exercise clauses of the American Constitution. On the one hand, the Jewish community (along with any other community or individuals) does not and should not have any authoritative standing with regard to Jewish Studies. But on the other hand, the Jewish community is and should be free to take an interest in Jewish Studies. When I look at this question from a personal rather than professional point of view, I do hope of course that the Jewish community takes an interest in Jewish Studies. I think that Jews of all stripes (as well as many other people) have lots to learn from the work that is done in Jewish Studies (I include myself here as a learner). I would assume that I speak for many if not most professors of Jewish Studies in saying that I think that more intellectual, critical engagement is always a good thing for the Jewish community.