No child left behind?

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” –Mark Twain

***

Mechon Hadar has placed all the audio from their recent Independent Minyan Conference online, so those of us who weren’t there can listen and respond from afar. So we’ll be writing a series of posts here reacting to various sessions from the conference. And I’m starting with the keynote address by Professor Steven M. Cohen (not to be confused with Rep. Steve Cohen) on “The Groomed and the Bloomed: Varied Paths to Engagement in Independent Minyanim”. You can listen to the MP3 and view the PowerPoint presentation.

Cohen’s address is based on the data from the 2007 National Spiritual Communities Study, about which we have already blogged at length.

The dichotomy in Cohen’s title is between the “groomed” — people who have a Jewish educational background (defined, as we will see, in very specific ways) — and the “bloomed” — people who do not.

I find myself in agreement with the overarching ideas with which Cohen bookends his presentation, but I find the methodology and classifications used to support this conclusion to be horrifying.

Cohen says that this study arises from conversations with Rabbi Elie Kaunfer of Mechon Hadar about the difficulties of obtaining philanthropic funding for the independent minyan world. According to Kaunfer, funders are reluctant to support independent minyanim because they perceive them to be “an elite phenomenon” that is only for “the groomed”, while the funding environment is more favorable to projects directed at “the unaffiliated”. Cohen argues that “there has to be a place for elevating and mobilizing the large number of people in whom we have invested enormous sums and many hopes for the future of American Jewry.” If all of this human capital is not acted upon, then, he asks, “what was that all about?” He says that the expansion of Jewish education in the last several decades has led to an educated population who is seeking Jewish activity and high-quality Jewish community, and is now unable to find that in the established synagogues, so they have created new communities that meet their needs. I made a similar argument a few years ago in a widely distributed article, “Profile of an ‘Unaffiliated’ Jew.” Cohen concludes by saying that when historians write the story of early 21st-century American Jewish life, they’ll write about “the efflorescence of Jewish communities qua communities”, and the creation of these communities can only be accomplished by people who have some preparation. He says that the product is not the growth of the individual (which, he argues, is the goal of those funders who focus on “saving Jews from falling off the Jewish cliff”), but the production and activities of individuals when they get together.

I would go further and suggest that it’s not a zero-sum game. A rising tide lifts all ships. The creation of meaningful Jewish communities ultimately has the potential to benefit everyone (as long as the doors of these communities are open to everyone), whereas (e.g.) sending thousands of people to Israel on Birthright is insufficient if they have no community to be a part of when they return to North America.

So we definitely seem to be on the same page when it comes to the overall goals. But then we get into the methodology.

Cohen categorizes the 730 independent minyan participants who responded to the survey into four groups, based on what he describes as “when they could have turned on to Jewish life,” or as he labels his pie chart, “Earliest Sign of Intensive Jewish Involvement.” The first category is anyone who went to day school, which comprises 39% of respondents. The second category, “high school”, is people who didn’t go to day school, but went to Jewish camp AND participated in a Jewish youth group. This includes 25%. The third category, “college”, is people who aren’t in the first two categories, and were involved in a Jewish organization during college, totaling 23%. The last category, “bloomed”, is for people who are in none of the other three categories, and is 13% of the respondents. The rest of the presentation breaks down the responses to many of the other questions in the survey into how each of these categories answered them.

(By the way, the Jewish Week completely misinterprets the plain-sense meaning of these categories: “Cohen found that 39 percent of minyan-goers had attended Jewish day schools, 25 percent had experienced a Jewish connection in high school, 23 percent had been active in Hillel and other Jewish activities in college…”. If I had read only that article, I would have thought that more respondents had gone to day school than had been active in Jewish activities during college.)

Cohen uses these categories to construct his next chart: “Mean Levels of Jewish Educational Background for Selected Minyanim”. For all of the minyanim with significant samples in the survey, their participants were averaged together based on this formula: the “none of the above” category was assigned a score of 0, the “college” category was assigned 33, the “high school” category was assigned 67, and the “day school” category was assigned 100.

Just to make this scale perfectly clear: Someone who went to day school all the way through high school and has been Jewishly active her entire life would be assigned 100. Someone else who went to day school through 5th grade and has had zero Jewish involvement since then would also be assigned a “Jewish educational background” of 100. I come from a Jewishly active family, went to public schools from kindergarten through master’s degree (except for 4 years undergrad), went to Jewish camp, was active in NFTY, and was active in Hillel during college. I’m a 67. A friend of mine is going to be a rabbi in a few months, studied Talmud full-time for a year before entering rabbinical school, was active in Hillel, went to public school, and didn’t go to Jewish camp. She’s a 33. Another friend of mine comes from a family with strong Jewish traditions, grew up at a lay-led minyan within a synagogue, went to public school, didn’t go to Hillel during college because he preferred to go to the local synagogue instead, and is now active in the independent minyan scene. According to Steven Cohen, he’s a 0. Cohen talks about him as if he is a tabula rasa, with no previous Jewish involvement before he showed up at Kol Zimrah.

Based on this scale, Kol Zimrah (the community that I co-founded) is ranked lowest in “level of Jewish educational background”. Cohen specifically calls Kol Zimrah out during the presentation, saying “I was really interested to know why you guys are so low on this,” then qualifying this with “It’s not bad. You’re reaching out.” The reason Kol Zimrah is low on this scale is simple: most of us (including the real people described above) didn’t go to day school. (According to the survey, most independent minyan participants in general didn’t go to day school. But for Kol Zimrah, it’s a larger majority.) Does this mean that we’re less educated, or that we “turned on to Jewish life” later in life? Not necessarily.

Cohen’s categories suffer from three faulty assumptions: 1) Earlier education equals more or better education. 2) “Intensive Jewish involvement” is limited to a small defined set of experiences. 3) Education is equivalent to schooling. Let’s examine these assumptions one at a time.

1) Earlier education equals more or better education. I was talking about this with someone else, who noted that outside the Jewish world, the standard way to ask about education level in surveys (e.g. exit polls) is to ask about the highest level of education attained: high school, college, graduate school, etc. In that context, this is easier — someone who graduated from college can be assumed to have graduated from high school, and if for some reason they didn’t, it doesn’t matter. No such assumptions can be made with the categories of Jewish education that Cohen uses: someone who went to day school wasn’t necessarily involved in anything Jewish during college, and vice versa. But Cohen’s algorithm seems to make this assumption anyway: that people “turn on” to Judaism at a specific point in time, and their Jewish education continues at a uniform rate from that time forward, thus someone who starts later can never catch up. How else to explain the idea that someone who went to day school is always considered to be at a higher level of education than someone who didn’t, regardless of what they did afterwards? Or that in determining a community’s overall education level, one day school graduate (plus two people with no Jewish background) is equivalent to three people involved in Hillel? If you’re going to make the implicit claim that day school is that much more important than anything subsequent, you’ll have to back it up with evidence. And good luck sorting out correlation from causation.

2) “Intensive Jewish involvement” is limited to a small defined set of experiences. When the idea of “earliest” only includes items from a specific list, anything not on the list is discounted. Day school is one way to have “intensive Jewish involvement” before high school, but not the only one. I’ll join Steven Cohen in ignoring Hebrew school and bar/bat mitzvah. But other significant Jewish involvement before high school may include being part of a Jewishly active family (is Cohen really ignoring the value of the Jewish home and looking only at institutional experiences?), being part of an active Jewish community, and Jewish camp (which doesn’t only begin in high school). Cohen’s algorithm treats people with these experiences as equivalent to people with no Jewish involvement at that time. The same problems arise with the other life stages. Furthermore, as people get older, they can pursue Jewish education independently, in ways that wouldn’t show up on a survey.

3) Education is equivalent to schooling. All of the parameters used in determining level of education are about inputs, not outcomes. Back in the world of secular surveys, if you say that you’re a college graduate, that means that you had to fulfill some sort of requirements to graduate from college, and if you answer “some college”, you had to be accepted to college. But the categories in this survey indicate only that you had the opportunity to obtain Jewish education, and provide no assessment of whether you in fact did so. There is a whole field of educational assessment out there, and perhaps its methods would be helpful if one is really attempting to assess education. As anyone following the policy debates knows, standardized testing is highly imperfect; still, it would be a vast improvement over asking people whether they went to day school and what activities they participated in. (The 8th-grade standardized tests don’t ask “Did you go to preschool?” and then assign bonus points if the answer is yes. It may be the case that people who went to preschool perform better on the tests, but that should be tested, not assumed.) The only question on the survey that attempts to assess education (rather than schooling) is the one about whether you can understand a simple sentence in Hebrew. A single question, based on self-reporting, is grossly insufficient for any real kind of educational assessment.

So the methodology for this study has serious flaws. It may be that these assumptions are based on patterns from previous Jewish population studies, and Cohen left out the rigorous support because he was constrained by time and speaking mostly to non-academics. But if these minyanim and their populations are a new phenomenon, then we can’t assume that the old patterns still hold up; if we want to study these populations, we need to put our assumptions aside and test them objectively.

(Is Nate Silver Jewish? Can we bring him in to referee these studies?)

***

The presentation also included some discussion of denominational identification, much of which was already covered in the preliminary results of the survey (which we’ve already discussed), so I’m not going to write about it here. But Cohen also broke down the four new categories by denomination of origin and current identification. Unsurprisingly, a large number of independent minyan participants (in all categories) now consider themselves non-denominational. (The preliminary report didn’t list this separately, but included it within Other Jewish.) Also unsurprisingly, most people in the day school category grew up Orthodox or Conservative, with very few Reform. Some would see this as evidence that Reform Jews don’t take Jewish education seriously, but I see integration into the broader society as a positive value that Reform Judaism has long stood for. (The problem is the poor quality of supplementary Jewish education, not its existence.) This is a simple demographic explanation for why Kol Zimrah has fewer people who went to day school: Kol Zimrah has more people who grew up Reform (including its founders), and most Reform Jews don’t go to day school. While Kol Zimrah aims to be open to all who want to be there, going to the minyan that we founded does not constitute “reaching out”.

Cohen talked about the fact that very few independent minyan participants currently identify as Reform (while Conservative identification has a much smaller dropoff), and this time around, he said things that I agree with: The image of Reform has come to imply lack of Jewish activity, and therefore people who are Jewishly active are reluctant to identify as Reform. He quoted someone on an earlier panel who said “I grew up Reform, BUT [Jewishly committed]“, and marveled at the use of “but”. In my role as frame police, I crack down hard on this sort of use of “but”, so it stings doubly when it comes from the inside, indicating that some Reform Jews take Reform Judaism no more seriously than other movements take it. Cohen says that if he were speaking to the Reform movement, he would suggest that they capitalize on the passion generated in NFTY, etc., to create an “intent” form of Reform Judaism. I couldn’t agree more. I’d like to see this.

But let’s backtrack for a minute. This part of the presentation was one of several instances when Cohen demonstrated that his propensity to make unwarranted overgeneralizations applies also to his audience. What he actually said, before amending his remarks, was “If I were speaking to a Reform audience, which none of you are, so you don’t care…”. WTF? How does he know who was in the room, whether they identify as Reform, and whether they care about the future of Reform Judaism? If I had been there, I would not have let this go unchallenged. In other sections, when he talked about “groomed” versus “bloomed”, he addressed the audience as if they were all in the “groomed” category. This is despite the fact that his own charts showed that some percentage of “bloomed” people (albeit smaller than the percentage of “groomed” people) were in leadership positions in independent minyanim, and therefore might well have been at the conference representing their communities.

***

If Steven Cohen or anyone involved in the survey is reading this, you are of course invited to respond. I look forward to continuing the conversation.

22 Responses to “No child left behind?”

  1. As someone who was at the conference, I couldn’t agree more with your assessment, BZ. The assumptions made in his address were uncomfortable; I was amazed no one made a comment when he made his Reform remarks.

    Feygele, either a 0, 33, or 67, depending on how I would answer those questions.


    feygele · November 27th, 2008 at 6:38 pm
  2. I would love to see Steven Cohen respond to this. Are you out there?


    Rooftopper Rav · November 27th, 2008 at 7:50 pm
  3. I was there, sitting with two soon-to-be reform rabbis. I think I made a comment in response to his comment about no reform Jews being there, but I’m not sure it went anywhere.

    The question of measuring inputs (enrollment in school) vs. outcomes (learning) is the most lucid point on the matter that I’ve seen yet. I would be really interested in conducting our own survey, using the measures that WE find indicative of Jewish commitment and seeing what we find. Who’s in? :)


    ahavatcafe · November 27th, 2008 at 8:56 pm
  4. Smart comments. It’s easier to measure inputs rather than outcomes, and there are some strong institutional factors against measuring outcomes. Like, what if the inputs don’t actually produce the desired outcomes? Or, what if a day school had to actually define a desired outcome?


    Reb Yudel · November 28th, 2008 at 2:09 am
  5. And let’s not forget yet another issue, which is that day school while self-selecting, isn’t necessarily self-selecting in a good way: it self-selects for income level, in some places for white flight, and academics, as well as Jewish involvement.
    If the end goal is more Jews doing Jewish, and we think that day school is all that, then where’s the money for it? If we believe that there’s other ways that have good outcomes (and we ought to be figuring out what they are, and how to replicate them in some non-random way, since clearly lots of us come from those non-day-school backgrounds) then let’s have some discussion about that. Or, actually, how about both. I’m sick with hearing the blather about how Jews should have more Jewish babies younger… as if that would make any difference, compared to actual money going for educational and transformative experiences of the Jews who already exist.


    KRG · November 28th, 2008 at 2:32 am
  6. thanks to bz for the reflections.
    can someone clarify a bit more the goals of this research?

    the jewish philanthropists need clear research (often conducted by smc) to guide them on where to put their money. therefore, it makes complete sense that an org such as mechon hadar would like smc to do some research that can show the philanthropists that funding indy-minyanim is worthwhile.

    also, it seems like the philanthropists also want to know that all they invested in day schools, camps, hillels, etc for the past 15 or so year has paid off in active, dedicated jews. lest they worry that these folks aren’t directly flocking to synagogues (or hadassah or uja young professionals for that matter), these philanthropists want to have an idea about what the products of these programs are currently up to.

    however, instead of tracking any one group specifically, smc seems to be working backwards. he’s taking a crop of folks who are already connected to indy-minyanim and saying: “who are they?” though bz was disappointed that the research only pointed to institutional jewish ‘peak experiences’ (as well as acculturation), you have to admit this makes sense. if funders hear that 60% of today’s well-educated active jews in their 20′s&30′s got that way without day school, it may make their heads spin.

    put another way, while it may make a lot of sense to include other factors of jewish upbringing, it seems that (based on what you said at the beginning of your post), this research was done so that the funders would be convinced that they should invest in indy-minyanim.

    this of course doesn’t address the problem which you raised which is that those of us with excellent Jewish education & acculturation (be it with family, informally, or by way of a jewish non profit such as a hillel, camp, synagogue, israel trip, etc) appear to be growing up so far upstream of major jewish institutions that we are realizing that our only way to build community is on our own.

    luckily, most of us have enough leadership and knowledge of judaism to make it happen for ourselves. but we may still need some help funding our space rentals…


    shamir · November 28th, 2008 at 3:02 am
  7. I haven’t been this proud of being a zero since Billy Corgan recorded it. And a question, from a zero who went to Shabbos morning services with his Dad a couple times a month from age three until he left for college; is going to services on a somewhat regular basis not a potential characteristic of “intensive Jewish involvement?” or am i just missing something?


    Ruby K · November 28th, 2008 at 6:28 am
  8. so lets ask the question- what is a good way to measure output? My best guess is a knowledge quiz. BZ suggested a parallel to the US citizenship test. Other thoughts out there? How would you assess what quality of jewish education someone has?

    My reservations on how to use a knowledge quiz/survey are:
    - In such a survey I would want lots of people from varied backgrounds writing it so that it encompasses the vast sphere that is Jewish knowledge. Given the biases of the previous survey I dont want one where day school education is considered the ultimate in Jewish education and all other forms of jewish education go untested and unregarded.

    -keep categories separate. we should be able to differentiate between someone who knows a lot about jewish philosophy from someone who knows a lot about ritual practice, etc.

    - lets distinguish jewish involvement from jewish knowledge. A might attend or coordinate many jewish events, but not have the most in depth knowledge about any sphere of judaism. B might be a jewish bookworm but be less formally jewishly active. This is fine. But its silly to say that because A “does jewish” in the public sphere more frequently than B, A gets a higher score. A good survey will let you tease out these differences and compare how these things interact.


    MS · November 28th, 2008 at 3:12 pm
  9. I think knowledge and/or behavior. I think there are many who are involved in Jewish activities, but may not ace a basic Jewish literacy test, and that their involvement counts regardless of knowledge.

    Also a nitpicky point, as someone who’d score in the 30s (youth group + hebrew school), why does he need both to justify the score? I get that hebrew school def isn’t enough, but youth group is huge in creating affective connections to Judaism for teens….


    ahavatcafe · November 28th, 2008 at 3:38 pm
  10. I think knowledge and/or behavior. I think there are many who are involved in Jewish activities, but may not ace a basic Jewish literacy test, and that their involvement counts regardless of knowledge.

    I agree with MS that those are two totally separate things, and shouldn’t be tested by the same instrument. There are plenty of people with an extensive Jewish education who have retained their Jewish knowledge and have no current Jewish involvement, and they are important data points in any study.

    Also a nitpicky point, as someone who’d score in the 30s (youth group + hebrew school), why does he need both to justify the score? I get that hebrew school def isn’t enough, but youth group is huge in creating affective connections to Judaism for teens….

    It’s actually youth group + camp. (Hebrew school counts for nothing.) And I second your question about why each of them counts for nothing on its own.


    BZ · November 28th, 2008 at 3:49 pm
  11. The next question, given the presence of survey questions about attitudes towards intermarriage, is whether the surveys really want to know about education or about indoctrination.


    BZ · November 28th, 2008 at 3:52 pm
  12. Given Cohen’s own politics around outreach/conversion (see here for one example). I’m not surprised that his biases came through his work. The primary problem, as I see it, is that survey instruments can only slice and dice, they cannot capture the life process or narrative that actually tells the story of people’s commitments. As Shamir makes clear, this is really all about the Benjamins. Unfortunately most of the moneybags are still running around with ridged and antiquated understandings of what Jewish life is and can be. The partnership between the money men and the sociologists is only reinforcing poor models for understanding the production of religious and cultural meaning.

    There is some good thinking going on about Jewish identity (see Stratton, Coming Out Jewish or Shandler, Adventures in Yiddishland or Silberstein, Mapping Jewish Identities for some examples). All of these works come out of cultural studies, which the sociologists, either SMC or the Cohen Center at Brandeis, cannot integrate into their world at all. I’m not sure if the conception of Jewish life as scaleable and quantifiable pushes the folks toward the survey, or if living in a world of surveys makes them think Jewish life is scalable and quantifiable. Either way they are mistakingly identifying Jewish connection or Jewishness as a thing, rather than a process, a set of moments or experiences.

    I would argue that many contemporary Jews, even those of “us” who are insiders, actually experience their Jewishness as highly flexible, contingent, and in relation to a diversity of other cultural forms. (The truth is, it has always worked this way, but most folks of a previous generation used a objectivist model (Judaism/Jewishness is an actual thing) in order to paper over fissures and overlaps that we are just more comfortable with.


    Chorus of Apes · November 28th, 2008 at 5:24 pm
  13. As one of the soon-to-be reform rabbis, I echo the frustration. I spoke to Cohen afterwards about my concerns and confusion and he somehow seemed excited that I was there. And there’s a group forming to create that “intent” version of Reform Judaism…so maybe it’ll take off and be a new community in need of surveys.


    RJ · December 3rd, 2008 at 6:48 am
  14. And there’s a group forming to create that “intent” version of Reform Judaism…

    Cool! Tell us more.


    BZ · December 3rd, 2008 at 11:52 am
  15. If I may just inject a plea to distinguish Steven’s interpretation of the data from the data itself…?

    Steven’s presentation was based on data collected from the 2007 National Spiritual Communities Study, which was done in order to find out who is going to all kinds of emerging spiritual communities. As it happened, at least one funder – Natan – did create an Emerging Jewish Communities grant committee.

    The survey questionnaire itself made as few assumptions as possible, and provided multiple ways to capture background, motivations for participation, and other opinions. As many regular readers & commentators here know, Elie Kaunfer, Steven, and I designed the questions to be as inclusive as possible and in fact we received very helpful feedback from BZ & others before launching it. (The stud still is online at Synagogue 3000′s new site, though I think the questionnaire and appendices have yet to go back up. The discussion following it was lively and a set of links to the various sites where conversations took place, including Jewschool and Mah Rabu, is archived here.)

    Whether you agree or disagree, Steven’s latest take is one among many ways to interpret the data from the survey. There are a number of other items that would permit different kinds of analyses, including those mentioned here, and I’m sure I speak for Elie and Steven when I say that we would like nothing more than to see the data used as much as possible in as many (statistically valid) ways possible. As far as I know, the SPSS dataset at some point will be made available via the National Jewish Databank, and in the meantime S3K/Mechon Hadar have had a fairly generous policy of sharing the dataset with scholars interested in working up their own interpretations.


    Shawn Landres · December 3rd, 2008 at 4:25 pm
  16. Dear chevre,

    This a really excellent discussion, which I’d love to continue in person … in NYC (before December 26) or Yerushalayim afterwards. There’s a lot to be said in response to the many fine points, but I’ll limit myself to just the highlights of just a few:

    1) Please don’t “reify” or read too much into my use of indicators. My presentation was all about trying to figure out when people PROBABLY started to engage heavily in Jewish life, knowing full-well that I’d be misclassifying people. In retrospect, I’d ask people, “In your view, about how old were you when you feel you became very engaged in Jewish life?” I didn’t have that question, so I used surrogates which, nevertheless, were meaningful. (Personal note: My answer is about age 11 or 12).

    2) Here’s what I’m saying about the label, “Reform.” Whenever I do one of my studies of highly engaged turned-on Jews, I find loads of people who were raised Reform and now say something else (like “non-denominational”). I think that’s a problem for Reform Judaism. Reform HAS to be compatible with intensive ways of being Jewish — not just in theory, but in practice, in the minds of the Jews who are out there.

    3) Yes, I regard in-marriage as an important act of Jewish engagement in its own right, and an important predictor of Jewish engagement. Of couples with children, over 80% of inmarried Jews belong to a congregation, versus under 20% of the intermarried. Now, belonging to a congregation isn’t everything, but it does predict a lot of other ways of being Jewish. Hence, whatever your views on in-marriage, it makes a lot of sense to measure it and attitudes thereto. That said, there’s a LOT of other ways to be Jewish, for sure. My qualitative work (such as, with Arnie Eisen, in The Jew Within or with Charles S. Liebman, z”l, in Two Worlds of Judaism, certainly assesses a wide variety of Jewish expressions, as do my surveys which cover a huge range. There’s more to be done,for sure. And — here’s the invitation: What else should I/we be measuring that we’re not? I am more than happy to be expansive and inclusive here.

    Thanks for the excellent discussion. I look forward to much more.

    Kol tuv,

    Steven


    Steven M. Cohen · December 3rd, 2008 at 4:43 pm
  17. Steven M. Cohen writes:
    1) Please don’t “reify” or read too much into my use of indicators. My presentation was all about trying to figure out when people PROBABLY started to engage heavily in Jewish life, knowing full-well that I’d be misclassifying people. In retrospect, I’d ask people, “In your view, about how old were you when you feel you became very engaged in Jewish life?” I didn’t have that question, so I used surrogates which, nevertheless, were meaningful.

    Thanks for responding. So if we suppose that this scale is an imperfect but still useful approximation for when people began to engage in Jewish life (i.e. if we were to relax concern #2 in the original post), what is the justification for equating this age of earliest involvement with “level of Jewish educational background” for people in their 20s and older (#1 in the original post)?


    BZ · December 3rd, 2008 at 9:26 pm
  18. Dear BZ,

    Thank you for pursuing this conversation to allow me a chance to clarify.

    I think I follow your point (correct me if I am mistaken). You’re asking, why did I use a very limited number of indicators to point to the earliest point at which the respondent probably turned on to Judaism.

    I had two reasons for doing so. One is the virtue of simplicity. People can understand simple scales with few indicators. Communication and precision are in tension. I prefer to communicate at the expense of some precision, provide I do justice to the truth.

    A second reason for my choosing to limit the number of indicators is that my research was conducted in implicit dialogue with the prevailing contentions by minyan leaders that the minyanim actually reach many Jews with relatively weak Jewish backgrounds. In THAT intellectual context it made sense to use a sparse number of indicators, thus precluding a challenge from the holders of the prevailing viewpoint. Had I used an expansive range of indicators they could have said, “You’re stacking the deck in favor of your hypothesis. Had you used only a few indicators you would have found different results, the results we expect.” By “going light,” I disarm my potential critics and say, in effect, even if we use very limited indicators of Jewish involvement, at least 87% of the minyan movement members display significant Jewish involvement BEFORE entering a minyan. That was my main point, the one I tried very hard to get across (I think I succeeded — at least with you!).

    Now, this choice of indicators should not be construed as an ideologicaly driven choice on my part, nor a reflection of a narrow-minded approach to the subject matter (although, I certainly readily — and proudly — admit to having an articulated Jewish ideology and commitments).

    Thus, to be clear, I certainly agree with you that we have MANY ways in which Jews are educated and socialized, and express their Judaism (or Zionism, or piety, or love of the Jewish People, or commitment to Tikkun Olam, or feminism, or learning). But in social science research, we are limited in the number of questions we can ask on a surevey, and we are usually limited to punchy questions that respondents can grasp in a quick read on a computer screen. As such, the questions can be easily faulted by a tendentious critic who wants to read into the survey or the researcher intentionality which does not exist.

    As a more general point, how should you read the intent of the researcher? I suggest you go beyond the construction of the questionnaire or the indices used in the analysis, as important as these may be. I assure you, when the ADL puts classic antisemitic statements before the American public to assess, the ADL is not at all acting in such a way as to reflect its sub-conscious antisemitic tendencies (khas v’khalila!).

    I ask that you extend the same logic, and understanding, to other researchers whose work should be interpreted in light of the entire persona and its social function. In this particular context, as your own column correctly notes, I come as a passionate friend of the minyan movement and a constructive critic. Please factor the larger context into your interperetations, thinking, and presentation of my work.

    With ahavat Yisrael,

    Steven


    Steven M. Cohen · December 4th, 2008 at 2:32 am
  19. [...] post is the second in a series responding to sessions from Mechon Hadar’s Independent Minyan Conference last month. Thanks [...]


    Independent Minyan Conference closing plenary | Jewschool · December 14th, 2008 at 9:25 pm
  20. p.s. the report and the appendices, including the questionnaire and a list of bloggers who promoted the survey, are now available here:
    jewishemergent.org/survey/

    javedon


    Joshua Avedon · December 22nd, 2008 at 8:09 pm
  21. [...] insight to the book: though Kaunfer went to Jewish day school, Hillel, etc. (scoring 100 on the Cohen scale), he also had a period of being entirely disconnected from Jewish community. Saul Alinsky said that [...]


    Independent Minyanim: the book | Jewschool · March 9th, 2010 at 10:39 am
  22. [...] denomination and regularly score low on Steven M. Cohen’s scales. (One such example, where I score a zero.)) But I hadn’t expected the statistic to be so much greater among adult children of [...]


    New York’s Jewish Population Study and Intermarriage | Jewschool · June 18th, 2012 at 12:05 pm

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik