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Study of Man: What Sociology Knows About American Jews

- Abstract

The sociology of Jews—like a good part of sociology in general—has developed out of the ideological and practical needs of various social and political tendencies. Sociological investigations in Europe went hand-in-hand with a program—Zionism or Diaspora nationalism. Jewish sociologists pointed with alarm to a growing rate of intermarriage, a falling birth rate, an ageing population, an “unbalanced” occupational distribution. They apprehensively traced the demographic traits of the Jewish masses of Eastern Europe, for these latter were beginning to exhibit tendencies to the same decline that was already far advanced in Western and Central Europe. Sociology in Palestine—as far as the outlines of such a discipline can be discerned—is equally problem-minded, but it replaces alarm and apprehension with satisfaction, figuratively flexing the muscles of its Jews to show how normal they are. It counts the number of workers and farmers, and demonstrates the social and psychological health of the young people.

Thus the sociology of Jews has been animated, and undoubtedly colored, by specific preoccupations and political moods, whether of alarm, apprehension, or satisfaction. To be sure, as already suggested, almost all sociology arises from similar preoccupations and interested or practical motives. However, sociology at its best does seem to require that its animating moods precede or follow political and practical involvements at some distance, rather than accompany them; it seems also to require an appreciation of the complexities of human society, in which simple solutions generally solve nothing.

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