I’m not going to say too much about this sorry story concerning the Department of Jewish Thought (machshevet Yisrael) at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. At its center is a popular professor and department chair who is being transferred by decision of the Dean from the department to the school’s Department of Jewish Education. The immediate rationale is that the professor crossed too many lines separating scholarship and identity-politics. The sad story it tells relates to the state of Jewish Studies and Jewish thought at the Hebrew University. Full of insider information, this post, which you can read here, refers to and cites many of the main players and their students from the once storied department’s not so recent past in the 1980s.
At a time of academic austerity for the Humanities worldwide and at the Hebrew University, the department finds itself caught between vicious binaries: objectivist vs. subjectivist scholarship, philological-historicist research vs. philosophical-ideological research, commitments to scholarship vs. commitments to society and community, warm pedagogy vs. rigor, scholarship vs. nationalism, citizenship, and politics. On top of that are those niggling little details called methodological pluralism and academic freedom, which alone should have decided the issue in the professor’s favor. The upshot of the post would seem to be that while the professor may very well have crossed certain lines, these are lines that were once considered in the department and in the field of Jewish thought to be more loose and flexible than the way they are shaping up today. It’s a story in which every party seems to bear its own bit of fault. Against everyone’s better interest, the continuing collapse of this particular department bodes poorly for the field.