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Sociology of Jewry

The sociology of Jewry involves the application of sociological theory and method to the study of the Jewish people and the Jewish religion. Sociologists are concerned with the social patterns within Jewish groups and communities; American Jewry, Israeli Jews and Jewish life in the diaspora. Sociological studies of the Jewish religion include religious membership, ritual and denominational patterns. Notable journals include Jewish Social Studies, The Jewish Journal of Sociology and Contemporary Jewry.

Sociology of Jewry initially emerged in the United States in the 1930s beginning with the 1938 publication of Jewish Social Studies, sponsored by the Conference of Jewish Relations. The Journal's mission was "to promote, by means of scientific research, a better understanding of the position of Jews in the modern world." And the later publication of The Jewish Journal of Sociology in 1958 was due to the "few opportunities... for publishing academic and scientific studies of the sociology of Jews."

In 1955, sociologist Seymour Lipset noted that the discipline was underdeveloped, stating that there were far more "Jewish sociologists" than "sociologists of Jews". However, the subfield began to grow in the late 1960s and 1970s. A professional organization was formed, namely the Association for the Social Scientific Study of Jewry (ASSJ). In 1975, a new academic journal was founded as well, Contemporary Jewry.

Contributing to this growth was the work of Marshall Sklare, now considered one of the founding figures in the sociology of Jewry. Marshall Sklare and Joseph Greenblum’s 1967 study of Jewish identity in “Lakeville” is considered one of the most notable works of its kind. The sociological study of intergroup relations and the theories proposed by Nathan Glazer and Daniel P. Moynihan is also thought to have contributed to the growth of the sociology of Jewry.

  • Uniqueness of Judaism and Particularism vs. Universalism - a popular theoretical approach towards understanding contemporary American Jewry has been the notion that more than anything else Judaism as a religion accounts for the social situation of U.S. Jews today. The current social and political decisions of the Jewish community are rooted in the response to the inevitable conflict between Jewish religious values on one hand, and secular American life on the other. Others, such as Milton Himmelfarb, focus less on the Jewish religion per se and focus on the tension produced by balancing the particularism of the Jewish tradition vs. the universalism of American modernity.
  • Marginal culture - in the 1940s and 1950s, some scholars, such as Milton M. Goldberg, saw Jewish life in America as a successful "marginal culture," following the "marginal man theory" of Robert E. Park and Everett Stonequist popular at the time
  • Community and organizations - a third approach stems from the work of political scientist Daniel J. Elazar and focuses and the underlying dynamics behind the decision making within Jewish community organizations.
  • Comparative historical approach, examining changing and evolving patterns of Jewish life in the last few hundred years
  • Jewish life in North America, though focusing mostly on the United States
  • Jewish life in Israel
  • The Holocaust


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