Don’t Blame Researchers

Don’t Blame Researchers

As host of the conference on socio-demography recently held at Brandeis University, I very much appreciated Gary Rosenblatt’s commentary (“How Many U.S. Jews? And Who Cares?” Oct. 28). Indeed, the Jewish community needs systematic and up-to-date information about its size and character, despite the challenges of collecting such data.

The conference was designed to allow researchers and policy makers to confront the challenges and debate the interconnected problems of theory and method that inhibit efforts to understand American Jewry. We did not resolve all of our differences, but the discussion was open, important and productive.

In light of our progress, it was distressing that the CEO of JFNA blames researchers for the decision not to fund a 2010 National Jewish Population Study. What he sees as sniping among researchers is actually the tip of a healthy debate. 

Developing an accurate portrait of American Jewry is a non-trivial research problem. Just as there are opposing trends — increasing religiosity in some areas, along with rising secularism in others —there are different ways to measure and to assess these developments. If one were to receive different diagnoses from two physicians, one might be frustrated, but it would be foolish to conclude that one should not seek professional medical care. 

Debate about how to count Jews and understand their Jewish identities will undoubtedly continue. But a vibrant 21st-century community needs systematic information, and it behooves our central communal organizations to support and be part of such efforts.

Klutznick Professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies Brandeis University

read more: