Panels are where the business of the AJS conference happens. At worst, theyâ€™re dry presentations of old research. At best theyâ€™re engaging conversations about vital issues and ideas. Often, theyâ€™re just somewhere in the middle. Here are some highlights from yesterday and this morningâ€™s panels â€“ mostly quotations.
My panel (where I presented with Steven M. Cohen and Isa Aron about a project weâ€™ve been working on about synagogue transformation) was a good combination of presentation and conversation. I mean, I speak to Isa and Steven all the time about our research and writing, and the conversation that followed was really productive â€“ people asked good questions (â€œwhatâ€™s wrong with congregations that are full of â€˜dwellersâ€™ as opposed to â€˜seekers?â€™â€? or â€œIsnâ€™t change generally more of a Reform thing than a Conservative thing?â€?).
As a presenter, it was actually really helpful, and helped Steven, Isa and me articulate ourselves better.
Later, I went to a panel about â€œOrthodoxy and the Internet.â€? Three papers â€“ one about Orthodox womenâ€™s blogs (â€œdomesticity and the home page: blogging and the blurring of public /private space for orthodox Jewish womenâ€?), another about the opposition to the internet among ultra orthodox communities, and a third paper about frumster.com, and the ways in which spouse-seekers identify themselves.
The Frumster paper (given by Sarah Bunin Ben-Or) gave the third paper, and it was brilliant. Statistics, supplementary questions that Frumster might want to think about adding (â€œwhat do you want to name your children? How many children do you want to have? Do you watch Television?â€?) It was a beautiful analysis and a great powerpoint and it revealed the ways that a seemingly homogeneous population makes many fine-grained distinctions among themselves.
Later that day, was the postdenominational conversation. Here are some highlights:
Steven M Cohen: Reflecting on the sociology of American Jews, and the weakening of denominational affiliation:
1.â€œThis could be bigger than the havurah movement, or bigger than Jewish feminism.â€?
2. â€œOrthodox Jewry is American Jewryâ€™s China.â€? Itâ€™s big, itâ€™s coming, and the remainder of the Jewish continent doesnâ€™t know what to do with it.
Arnie Eisen gave a â€œschematic-theological sketchâ€? of Conservative Judiasm in the 21st Century.
1. â€œYou canâ€™t imagine [Rabbi Joseph] Soleveitchic writing a book called â€˜Folkways Manâ€™ instead of â€˜Halakhic Man.â€™â€? And it is precisely the Halakha that keeps Conservative Judaism vibrant and allows for the existential growth of Judiasm in modernity.
â€œWe need to ask: what are the intellectual stakes in this conversation.â€? For those who use this research to structure policy or direct change: we need to understand the relationships of people to their institutions better. â€œour greatest challenge is to understand what exactly we are studying.â€? Is post-denominationalism just the evolution of things already in motion, or is it something new?
This morning at the â€œJewish Cultural Studiesâ€? panel, Barbara Kirschenblatt-Gimblett wanted to ask whether or not Jewish Cultural Studies needed to be, at all. She clearly doesnâ€™t think so and said pointedly: â€œIt seems like the train has left the station 15 years ago, and I donâ€™t know where the train is or where itâ€™s going.â€?
Stuff like that makes conferences like this great. Iâ€™m going to get lunch.