Culture, Politics

Throwin' down with the Tikvah Fund

Zak Braiterman has penned a strong indictment of the Tikvah Fund. In a long essay he connects the dots and fisks the public organ of Tikvah—The Jewish Review of Books. Zak’s essay articulates the fear that many of us had articulated in private conversations but had not done the leg work. Here is the punch line:

No one of us is free from ideological bias and no one contests the right of anyone inside or outside the academy to pursue this or any other ideological agenda. The argument is that the Tikvah Fund enters the university without proper respect for the rules of open transparency that a university ideally embodies. The Tikvah Fund acts as an interloper by setting up closed shops inside the university under the guise of misleading mission statements. Surely, any set of principles and practices should be subject to the free exchange of ideas and open argument. The intertwining of money, ideological content, and university life is one that needs to be examined much more forthrightly by all of us who seek to negotiate the creative lines between public political life and the critical and self-critical exploration of ideas inside and outside the university.

The rest of the piece is here.

9 thoughts on “Throwin' down with the Tikvah Fund

  1. The stuff that is the most interesting is the strategy that Tikvah takes in engaging Universities. However, given the unsustainable economics of higher education this is merely the beginning of this sort of thing. There’s a great demand for higher education, but the cost of producing content is growing unsustainably. It’s similar to the situation we’ve all experienced with media over the last decade. So, I expect that we’re going to see much more of Universities outsourcing their content to groups with agendas. Unless the economic realities of higher education change, we can file academic criticism of such outsourcing to the same “yes, but…” folder next to journalistic criticism of media outsourcing. Eventually the credibility of Universities will suffer as much (probably more) than the credibility of traditional media outlets.
    As far as the written outputs of Tikvah is concerned, it’s hard to miss the characteristic snide condescension and dime-store psychoanalysis(i.e. the obsession with Jewish self-hatred) of Jewish neoconservatism. No surprises there.

  2. My daughter was a Tikvah scholar in high school. We agreed there was an attempt to promote right wing and Orthodox ideas as normative. I told her to stick with it, on the grounds that learning how to see through such programs was a valuable experience.
    I’m guessing it’s the same Tikvah funder, but maybe not.

  3. The article captures a key point of the dissapointment that is the Jewish Review of Books: Its 1965 Commentary view of Jewish thought. The entire world of contemporary Rabbinic academic scholarship, exemplified by Neusner in the later ’60s and Boyarin today, is simply beyond the Review’s ken. Each issue, I’m teased by the fascinating, high-priced university press titles advertised in its pages — and disappointed to read uncritical reviews instead of mid-brow Nextbook works.

  4. Dan O. – this isn’t just the beginning of universities engaging agenda-driven groups. It’s the middle.
    Reb Yudel – considering that the editor of JRB was footnoted, as a grad student, in Boyarin’s “Unheroic Conduct” (look it up), I think you’d be hard pressed to say that Boyarin is beyond JRB’s ken. More likely they’re not reviewing academic works. Fortunately, there are publications like the AJS Review that are geared to academic works exclusively. BTW, are you really criticizing them for running ads from academic presses?
    Rebecca M – Though you make it sound like you had a higher view of JRB before BZ’s fisking, it seems more likely that you based your view of JRB on that one article. If you had read, say, 50, or even 10, of their reviews, and thought they were good, but then came across a bad one, I’d imagine you’d let it slide.

  5. Elli– I’m not a subscriber, and don’t curl up easily with an online magazine. I had heard good things about it inadvance, and enjoyed the first issue (which I came across a hard copy of. So yes, when they published a doozy, my sample size was small and unlikely to get much larger.

  6. @Elli – Fair enough. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em strategy. So we have a group packaging mid-20th century Jewish assimilation angst with mid-90’s identity politics, and selling it to college students in 2011. Color me impressed.

  7. @Rebecca – I hope you’ll at least read 2 reviews from the forthcoming issue – one that I wrote, and another of a work that I translated. I suspect you’ll actually enjoy both.

  8. @Jew Guevara – That is theft, plain and simple. What wonderful values you teach your daughter. But that’s ok, right, as long as they’re not Orthodox?

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