Monthly Archives: January 2008

An honor to be chosen as a finalist for the Brandeis Visiting Professorship in Jewish Communal Innvoation

It’s a true honor to be included as a finalist with four exceptionally brilliant candidates–and rather humbling. As the JTA reports,

The finalists are Jerusalem Post editorial page editor and columnist Saul Singer; Harvard doctoral candidate Yehuda Kurtzer; author Anita Diamant; Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the founder of the Jewish Values Network; and Ariel Beery, the publisher of PresenTense magazine.

Or, to go into more depth–as the award letter stated:

Shmuley Boteach – “Bringing Judaism to the Mainstream”, executive director and founder, Jewish Values Network and host of Shalom in the Home, national television series on TLC
Anita Diamant – “Minhag America”, author of numerous books including The Last Days of Dogtown, Good Harbor, The Red Tent
Yehuda Kurtzer – “The Sacred Task of Rebuilding Jewish Memory”, Instructor, Hebrew College, Newton, MA, Wexner Graduate Fellowship recipient and 2008 Harvard University Jewish Studies doctoral candidate
Saul Singer – “From Survival to Purpose”, editorial page editor and author of
weekly column for the Jerusalem Post

Wow. I look forward to hearing their presentations — and here is the gist of mine, if you’re interested.

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Let the facts bear it out: Intermarriage not a mortal threat to the Jewish People

Much hair-raising panic has gripped the Jewish community in recent years concerning intermarriage — and it may be displaced. As the Cohen Center in Brandeis has recently shown with the fine work of statistical analysis, “when one considers the Jewish background of the Jewish partner in an intermarriage, the difference in the Jewish beliefs and practices of inmarried and intermarried families becomes much less glaring.”
I argued this same point about intermarriage, qualitatively, in the last issue of PresenTense — writing,

the real inconvenient truth is that intermarriage is not the cause of the downturn in communal affiliation. In the science of statistics one learns that sometimes, when two things move in union, there is actually third, hidden variable that is pulling the strings on both. This is known as a hidden variable bias, an affliction of many who try and proffer causal explanations for real-world events. In the case of intermarriage and lack of affiliation, such a not-so-hidden variable is one that few are willing to talk about, and some even dismiss out of hand as unimportant. That variable is the indifference felt by marginal members of the Jewish community to the Jewish People primarily, and the Jewish tradition, as a byproduct. To put it bluntly, most people don’t know why they should give a damn.

And it seems I was right: previous studies didn’t subject their data to tests of statistical significance. They were, therefore, statistically insignificant.
Unfortunately, the lack of statistical reasoning is common to the work done by Dr. Steven M. Cohen, because, as he said, he does not believe in tests of statistical significance. As he told me following my response to his remarks at the American Zionist Movement’s Biennial, “statistical significance denies your ability as a thinker to think.” I begged to differ then, and beg to differ now. Tests of statistical significance simply deny one’s reliance on self-justifying loops of conclusions — and it’d be a good idea for the Jewish community to subject more of our highly-held assumptions to quantitative tests that will separate fact from assumption.

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