- "Continuity Crisis" and its Instrumentalizing Effects
I salute Lila Corwin Berman, Kate Rosenblatt, and Ronit Y. Stahl for speaking truth to power. I appreciated their well-timed act of principle when I read their opinion piece in the Forward in summer 2018, and I recognize the scholarly merit of this rich historical account. While I do not necessarily agree with each and every thread of their account—and offer below a number of questions, extensions, and nuanced additions—I nevertheless subscribe to the article's underlying rationale. The authors are right in flagging up the gendered structures of power embedded in the proliferating continuity paradigm. They are right in proposing a broadened definition of misogyny, tracing its workings in the male-dominated cultures of expertise that dominate the organized Jewish community. And, finally, they are right in highlighting how sexual politics shape the prescriptive role of the Jewish continuity discourse in the overlapping spheres of expertise, funding, and policymaking. Their contribution is a much-needed feminist perspective. It goes beyond gendered norms and their implications for women participating in public communal conversations. Just as importantly, this contribution interrogates the generally opaque apparatus of knowledge and intervention that feeds greater social hierarchies and regimes of values: a framework that enables a distinction between "core" and "peripheral" populations, as well as "usable" and "unusable" individuals and families.
Unlike the authors, I hesitate to conclude that Steven M. Cohen's (or Michael Steinhardt's) sexual misconduct is directly or necessarily related to the inherently sexist orientation of the continuity paradigm. It is safer, I think, to link his misconduct and disrespect towards women to his sweeping authority as an expert-cum-advocate across multiple and intersecting circles within the organized Jewish community. As the #MeToo revolution has shown us once and again, structures of power and privilege, across a wide array of fields and contexts, provide a breeding ground for the sexual abuse of power by men of stature against subordinated women. The salient position of the Jewish continuity paradigm (and of Steven M. Cohen himself)—of which the authors are well aware—is a key factor, I would argue, in Cohen's transgressions.1 At any rate, even if the [End Page 215] link between Cohen's sexual misconduct and the sexist content of the continuity paradigm is less tangible or certain than that drawn by the authors (an option that, at least for me, remains open), the exposure of Cohen's (and others') sexual misdeeds is a productive springboard for this critical and feminist analysis of Jewish continuity. In what follows, I offer a few remarks to further illuminate my take on the topics at hand.
"The continuity paradigm" does include the sexist ingredients that the authors point at: it foregrounds the family, implies a heteronormative script of adulthood, focuses on in marriage, and posits elevated fertility rates as the appropriate means of safeguarding community numbers. However, these ingredients are far from exclusive. In fact, the term "continuity" is a rather expansive and vague rubric, like the closely related tropes "the Jewish future" and "Jewish life." Right from the outset (the 1960s, the decade of "the first continuity crisis"),2 the term "continuity" has encapsulated and conflated biological reproduction with cultural reproduction, concerns over numbers with concerns over identity; Jewish bodies and Jewish souls.3 Over the course of my own study, I encountered various articulations and understandings of what continuity actually means: while some emphasized inmarriage, others posited intermarriage as the real key to Jewish continuity. Some associated continuity with population growth, while others called attention to communal institutional viability; some spoke about "Jewish engagements," deliberately distancing themselves from the crisis-filled lexicon of "Jewish continuity," while others used the term "Jewish continuity" [End Page 216] more neutrally, without adopting overtly numerical and alarmist overtones. Given how extensively continuity knowledge and discourses have traveled and debated within communal spheres, I think it is better to think of "continuity" as a floating signifier—or, at least, as a cluster of different schools of thought and policy, not all anchored by alarm and the regulation of bodies.4
Furthermore, following NJPS 1990, numerous "continuity and identity committees" in...