An Obsession with Sex and Statistics

An exposé in the New York Jewish Week chronicled the allegations by eight women in which they accused noted sociologist Steven M. Cohen of exploitative conduct. As historians of American Jews, we do know that these allegations reflect the troubling gender and sexual politics long embedded in communal discussions of Jewish continuity and survival, the focus of Cohen’s work….

The framework of Jewish continuity has become its own power structure, with employment opportunities and field leaders. And yet it is also a relatively closed power structure, isolated in many ways from the larger world of social scientific scholarship and from many facets of Jewish studies scholarship. Indeed, the most innovative qualitative research on intermarriage, which often challenges the assumption of a continuity crisis, has come from women scholars.

Yet in its isolation and its power, the apparatus of Jewish continuity has created an environment resistant to this criticism and tolerant of ongoing abuse. It’s time to acknowledge that a communal obsession with sex and statistics has created pernicious and damaging norms. These norms make it okay to tell women how to use their bodies, whom to marry, when to have babies, and how to allocate their time. They have also told people who fall outside of the parameters set primarily by men that their ways of being Jewish are not valued or valuable.. KATE ROSENBLATT, RONIT STAHL and LILA CORWIN BERMAN, “How Jewish Academia Created A #MeToo Disaster,” Forward, July 19, 2018.