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Jewish Studies Face Dilution if Not Based on Real Scholarship

A Columbia University professor warned here last night that Jewish Studies programs could become as superficial as Black Studies if based only on student demand and not on real scholarship. The statement was made by Prof. Paul Ritterband of Columbia’s Sociology Department at the concluding session of the 46th annual conference of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Dr. Jacob Neusner of Brown University also addressed the session, which was devoted to an assessment of Judaic Studies in America. Prof. Ritterband expressed strong opposition to the idea of making Jewish Studies part of the currently “fashionable” Ethnic Studies departments.

What could happen, he said, is that Jewish courses could degenerate into “cheap psychotherapy,” relating to the “gut” rather than the brain, and then disintegrate when a new generation of students lost interest, as has been the case with many Black Studies programs. Dr. Neusner expressed the view that Judaic Studies were best pursued in universities, where cross-fertilization with other branches of the humanities and social sciences could take place, rather than in Jewish institutions which were “parochial and sectarian.”