The Specter of Dwindling Numbers: Population Quantity and Jewish Biopolitics in the United States

Michal Kravel-Tovi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Over the last three decades, the organized American-Jewish community has preoccupied itself with sociodemographic concerns regarding maintenance of a viable Jewish life in the United States. In this article, I study a key dimension of this preoccupation with population trends: The quantity of the Jewish population, that is, the number of Jews. I show the centrality of this dimension in shaping a cluster of anxious discourses and interventionist engagements directed toward stemming numerical decline. Analyzing this policy world in terms of a Jewish biopolitics, I assess how the voluntary nature of American Jewry has shaped a distinct biopolitical field, reliant on making Jews by both biological and cultural reproduction, enmeshing dimensions of quantity and quality. Juxtaposing this Jewish biopolitical engagement with the one exercised by the Israeli state, I flesh out broader considerations and contributions, and introduce the exploratory concept of minority community biopolitics. The article is grounded in an anthropological study of policy, including fieldwork, interviews, and a review of the flurry of archival and public materials related to the topic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-67
Number of pages33
JournalComparative Studies in Society and History
Volume62
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 2020

Keywords

  • American Jewry
  • Jewish biopolitics
  • biological reproduction
  • biopolitics
  • community
  • contemporary Jewry
  • cultural reproduction
  • demographic crisis
  • minority
  • population
  • voluntarism

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