Steven Fine
Churgin Professor of Jewish History, Yeshiva University

What has become of the Association for Jewish Studies?

From the Founding Editor of AJS Perspectives

As a child I remember writing something or the other on my arm with a pen— probably to remind myself of some school assignment. When my American-born dad, a US Army veteran, came home and saw it, he turned white.

He sent me to scrub the ink off right away. When my clean arm and I returned, dad explained: “Nazis write on Jewish arms. We don’t.”

This admonition was particularly poignant for me. Many of the adults in my life bore green numbers on their arms— inscribed by the Nazi butchers who left them widows, widowers and orphans. Others were liberators, traumatized for life.

Viewing the newest issue of AJS Perspectives: The Magazine of the Association for Jewish Studies I remembered and then relived my dad’s horror— and recoiled. 

The self-described “Justice Issue” includes images of an arm inscribed with the names of Gaza Palestinians who died in “Ghetto Gaza” as a result of Israeli bombardment.

Never mind the fact that Hamas attacked Israel— again— repaying us once more for voluntarily leaving the territory (and even leaving intact the greenhouses) to what was to be a peaceful neighbor.  

As a Jewish historian, an art historian and the son of my dad, I sank into my chair in disbelief as I read Sergel’s essay.  

Astonishingly, some academics have tried to deflect Sergel’s offense against Jewish sensibilities and Holocaust memory, claiming that the art does not really invoke the Holocaust. The very title, however, Gaza Ghetto, belies this. Sergel makes a false and obscene equation between the admittedly awful conditions in Gaza and the murder of millions who passed through the Lodz Ghetto and the Vilna Ghetto and the Kovno Ghetto and the Warsaw Ghetto, and so many others— may their memories be a blessing.

Denying Sergel’s clear message is both obscene and cowardly. If Sergel’s intention was to shock, she has succeeded.

The debasement of Perspectives— of which this is but one example— is personal for me. I founded AJS Perspectives. I gave it its name and was its first editor. My office was its home and birthplace. Our goal then was a newsletter and magazine that would connect Jewish studies together as a single community, despite our many differences. In an age of denominationalism, we asserted a shared Jewish identity— a “safe space” for all.

I am heartbroken at what Perspectives has become. Once a place of meeting, the AJS has been taken over by the progressive left, and politicized. “Justice,” indeed!

What would my dad say, looking at the inscribed arms in Perspectives— “my” magazine? He would surely shudder, as I do now.

Sadly, I can no longer be an AJS member. 

It is time to rebuild elsewhere.

About the Author
Steven Fine is a cultural historian, specializing in Jewish history in the Greco-Roman period. He focuses upon the literature, art and archaeology of ancient Judaism, and the ways that modern scholars have interpreted Jewish antiquity. His most recent book is: -The Menorah: From the Bible to Modern Israel (Harvard UP, 2016).- Fine is the Dean Pinkhos Churgin Professor of Jewish History at Yeshiva University, director of the YU Center for Israel Studies, the Arch of Titus Project, and the YU Samaritan Israelites Project.