Correspondence

Religion or Ethnicity?

When people in the academy study "Judaism," they tend to pursue the history of the ethnic group, the Jews, rather than describe, analyze, and interpret the religion, Judaism. In the realm of high culture, the Judaic religious tradition, beginning with the revelation at Sinai, is deprived of its rightful presence alongside the world's other great religions, Christianity and Islam.

Turning on its head Karl Earth's insistence that Christianity is not a religion among religions, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer's appeal for a "religionless Christianity," scholars of Judaism are drawn to the subject by ethnic affiliation—Jews studying and teaching Jewish things to Jews. So they end up ethnic cheerleaders, telling Jews why they should be Jewish (stressing "the holocaust" as a powerful reason) or rehearsing the self-evident virtue of being Jewish ("nicer, smarter. more sensitive").

Jewish studies are dumbed down and amateurized; the principal qualification for advertising opinions on Jewish topics is ethnic affiliation. Jewish professors of anything—philosophy will do, or chemistry in a pinch—qualify as experts by virtue of ethnicity. The universities want the Jewish money that comes with the celebration of Jewish ethnicity. Jewish culture is not interested in religion, as Britain's Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has underscored, and the universities follow the money.

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