For many years, Jewish educators have relied on the phrase “Jewish identity” to describe their educational goals.

We hear about “strengthening Jewish identity” or “deepening Jewish identity.” A new book, “Beyond Jewish Identity: Rethinking Concepts and Imagining Alternatives” (Academic Studies Press, Sept. 2019), argues that this formulation is a problem. What does it actually mean? What are the unintended consequences of talking that way?

This volume, the first to examine critically the relationship between Jewish education and Jewish identity, looks at the costs of framing Jewish education in these terms and provides new ways of thinking and talking about the desired outcomes of Jewish education.

Edited by Jon A. Levisohn (Brandeis University) and Ari Y. Kelman (Stanford University), the essays collected here argue that the use of “Jewish identity” as an educational goal hampers efforts to think seriously and aspirationally about Jewish education and offer new possibilities for thinking about what Jewish education can be for.

“‘Jewish identity’ is such a complex idea—neither simply a religious, nor cultural, nor ethnic ‘identity,’ but all of those things combined, and more. This important volume rejects narrow definitions and resists the way that ‘identity’ has been oversimplified and flattened in Jewish communal contexts,” said Felicia Herman, executive director of the Natan Fund.

Andrés Spokoiny, president and CEO of the Jewish Funders Network, observed, “Along the way, it offers new paths for other communities struggling with concepts of identity to follow as well.”

As Levisohn and Kelman note in the volume’s introduction, “Whatever practical or conceptual innovations may be developed that contribute to the flourishing of Jewish individuals and communities, they will not rest on the uncritical use of identity as a formulation for Jewishness.”

This volume, which will be of interest to educators, scholars, policymakers, funders and friends of Jewish education, pushes the Jewish community to think more critically and with more nuance about the goals and desired outcomes of Jewish education—to go beyond Jewish identity.

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