The Jewish Catalog. It is a brilliant, vexing, peculiar, uneven document of American Jewish life in the late twentieth century. It emerged at the intersection of so many complementary and contradictory forces that it offers a way into any number of conversa- tions about the parameters and problematics of American Jewish education. An intentionally educational document, The Jewish Catalog can provide a window into Jewish communal politics of the late 1960s and early 1970s, trends in American religion, the spiritual life of the counterculture, longer histories of guides to Jewish life, the dynamics of institutional and counter-institutional Jewish life, and the relationship between technology and education. And most of that does not begin to touch on the book's content, or what might be learned from conducting oral histories with the book's editors and contributors.
One of the challenges of graduate seminars is balancing the students' centripetal interests and the gravitational center of the class's discussion. The seminar should provide a space for ongoing, shared discussion that allows the students to continue developing their own ideas and interests that will eventually inform their dissertations. As a primary document, The Jewish Catalog could provide an opportunity for engaging in mixed-method or interdisciplinary research while still anchoring the seminar in a shared investment in a common text. It is accessible enough to be engaging and not open enough to be self-evidently meaningful. It is frustrating, fascinating, and funny, and it invites students to explore it through a variety of modes and methods.