Here is a brief blurb–you can read the entire article on the Sh’ma website.
Recently, I have been interested in the resurgent popularity of the term “Jewish peoplehood” as a new buzzword for evaluating Jewish identity. To get a better sense of the trend, I have had Google send me a daily alert with a link to every new Web reference to the term. The alerts I’ve received in the past year indicate a highly ambiguous term referenced in a broad range of contexts. However, most references can be linked to three broad assumptions: concerns about eroding Jewish boundaries, support for the state of Israel, and affirmation of a shared basis of Jewish identity across diverse practices, geographies, and worldviews.
Given these assumptions, it is absolutely no surprise to me that young Jews immersed in what Shaul Magid describes (using a term popularized by the American historian David Hollinger) as “post-ethnic,” find the term highly irrelevant, and even morally suspect. The crux of post-ethnic thinking — the rejection of “the idea that descent is destiny” — strikes a significant blow to the centrality of familial ties in defining Jewish boundaries.1 Post-ethnic logic forces individuals to choose between two mutually exclusive approaches toward thinking about group identity: an inherently problematic interest in preserving ties grounded in blood, territory, and essentialist claims; or a more progressive desire to create communities that reject birth as the primary criterion for inclusion. Conceptions of Jewishness linked to inherited group boundaries, nationalism, and essential characteristics associate Jewish boundaries with those of the first option. This association leaves the connotations associated with Jewish peoplehood increasingly out of sync with the moral, cultural, and social ideals of American liberalism.