The American Academy of Religion should change its name to the American Unacademy of Ethno-Religio-Secular Fashions, if its call for papers for its annual meeting in Washington this autumn is any indication of trends to come. None of the classics, at least of Judaism, is going to find a place on the program.

The section on the study of Judaism, which I founded when I was AAR vice president in 1967 and chaired in the early 1980’s, has surrendered to the chic, giving us Judaism a la mode in place of the solid, nourishing fare of times past. The same section that, when I chaired it, yielded Judaisms and Their Messiahs at the Turn of the Christian Era (Cambridge University Press) and found space for everybody’s interests has now turned exclusionary. Non-feminists, non-postmodernists, non-ethnic-ideologists, people not “with it” need not apply. And, it goes without saying, no one working on the classic sources of Judaism and addressing the perennial problems of Judaic learning has a place on the program.

That is not because the committee in charge—headed by the obligatory woman, an unknown from somewhere down here near Disney World, and an unseeded male from New Jersey—hints that it would like something suitable for paddling in the mainstream. It is because, in so many words, they say—and the italics are theirs—”Please submit papers only on one of the following eight topics. We will compose sessions out of the five topics that have elicited the strongest collections of papers.” No pretense at inclusion here.

The AAR might as well have said, “Maimonides need not apply.” I mean by this that the AAR’s version of the stud) of Judaism now simply excludes anything that is not absolutely current. True, what they exclude endures, and what they include will be obsolete 20 minutes after the Washington meeting closes. Those of us who founded the field remember the circuses of yesteryear—”the death of God,” which everyone had to discuss in 1969, forgotten along with its proponents, is only one.

Well, then, what are this year’s acts? Here is their language, not my meanspirited caricature: “Language, Being, and the Names of God; The Holocaust in Historical Context (new historical research in response to issues of uniqueness, revisionism, and language); Issues in Jewish Medical Ethics; Hasidic Hermeneutics (classical Hasidic approaches to the interpretation of Scripture and of other genres of rabbinic literature); Judaism and the Senses (touch, taste, smell, etc.); Jewish Memory; Sociohistorical Studies of Jewish Women; and Jewish or Christian Approaches to Textuality. Interpretation, and Suffering.”

The cochairmen have given us at one and the same moment both utter chaos and a perfectly lucid statement of what they do not want. The chaos comes with the mixture of the ethnic and the religious. “Jewish” stands for the Jews as a collection of ethnic groups; it can mean anything. Thus “Jewish Medical Ethics” can be how any Jewish doctor practices medicine. “Judaic” stands for a clearly defined religious tradition, with its canon and its authority and its logic. “Judaic medical ethics” would therefore tell us how the corpus of authoritative writings addresses ethical problems pertinent to medicine, not what Dr. Cohen or Dr. Goldberg thinks we should do with a dying patient. But that is the side show.

The main event is the mixture of the secular and the religious, on the one side, and the inane and the incomprehensible, on the other. “The Holocaust” is an event in history; for some it even bears profound religious meaning. But phrased in the language before us, we have nothing more than historical events in historical context. Papers will address the secular issue of an anti-Semitism that takes the name “revisionism” and denies the facts of what happened. None of this has anything to do with either the Judaic religion or, on the face of it, any other religion. Such a topic would fit well in a program at the American Historical Association, but it has no bearing upon the study of religion; thus the confusion of religious and secular. That virus of the non-field “Jewish studies,” which holds that everything Jewish is the same as everything else Jewish and in which no discipline or intellectual rigor pertain, now invades the formerly healthy AAR.

And what should we make of “Jewish memory”? One might propose a paper on “memory in Judaism,” or explore the way in which Heilsgeschichte has worked to shape the records of the past. But “Jewish memory” can cover everything from the city plan of Flatbush in 1950 to the recipe for Mrs. Bernstein’s kreplach. Nor do I exaggerate the militantly secular reading. We are asked for “socio-historical studies of Jewish women,” but not for papers on women in Judaic law and theology. If the chairmen wanted to advertise that they have tin ears for religion, they could not have written more effective copy.

What are we to do with “Hasidic hermeneutics”—a subject introduced surely to please no more than eight people —or “textuality, interpretation, and suffering”? And what are we to make of “Judaism and the senses,” unless the chairmen want us to find out what people are doing in some other field—last year’s sensation is this year’s de rigueur for Jewish studies—and “apply it” to “ours”?

Lest I seem captious, let me state that the AAR section on Judaism has chosen to exclude topics that most scholars who publish books actually work on. The chairmen have not merely made a place for topics that will interest the nonpublished populace—which is certainly fair and proper, since some day such people might publish a book—but they have excluded the larger part of the scholarly community of the AAR from the study of Judaism.

Why do I say so? Because in examining book titles over the last 12 months, I look in vain for substantial work on the subjects to which the AAR section now exclusively devotes its “scholarship.” Among the 75 or 100 books on Judaism published by the AAR’s Scholars Press or by any dozen university presses, few have anything to do with these subjects. Real scholars—those who write books— are addressing such topics as the Hebrew Scriptures; the Mishnah, Talmud, and Midrash; Maimonides; exegesis of classic texts, their theology and their religion and the history of their ideas; women in Judaism; problems of the theology of Judaism; philosophy of Judaism in the Middle Ages and in Modern Times; and Qabbalah (including Hasidic writings).

The chairmen of the AAR section on Judaism seem to be interested not in promoting active scholars and scholarship but in staging the academic equivalent of performance art. Next year perhaps they’ll take off all their clothes.