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

Ayala Fader

Fordham University

Although I am not a Jewish Studies professor, all of my research as a cultural and linguistic anthropologist has been about contemporary North American Jews. My responsibility, as I see it, to the Jewish community is to have anthropology and research on Jews inform each other. The Jewish experience has much to offer anthropological theory building, and anthropology can make Jewish Studies relevant to a wider audience. I aim to put the study of Jews in a comparative framework, so that those who study religious life, for example, or language, or race might easily include Jews too. My responsibility is to clarify these points of intersection, where the Jewish community and others can have conversations.

An anthropological lens forces us beyond Jewish particularism, posing broader questions about difference and cultural relativism. Ethnography requires scholars to make their own positioning explicit, placing the politics of representation center stage. The Jewish experience pushes social theory building as well. For example, considerations of Jews reveal alternative models of modernity located in the heart of western urban centers; Jewish languages offer surprising counterexamples to assumptions about the relationship between language and identity; and the recent Jewish experience asks questions of how diasporas change over time.

I hope that my commitment to creating new conversations between Jews and anthropology challenges us, as academics and humans, to continue to struggle with all kinds of responsibilities to all kinds of communities.