ASSOCIATION FOR JEWISH STUDIES (AJS), U.S. learned society and professional organization, founded in 1969, that promotes and maintains teaching, research, and related endeavors in Jewish Studies in institutions of higher education. In the first decade of the 21st century, the AJS had a membership base of approximately 1,500 scholars, teachers, and graduate students, sponsored a well-attended annual conference each December, and published a scholarly journal, The Association for Jewish Studies Review, and a newsletter, AJS Perspectives. It also served as a focal point for filling academic positions in Jewish Studies. A constituent society of the American Council of Learned Societies since 1984, the AJS had offices at the Center for Jewish History in New York City.
The AJS was established to address the academic needs of its members throughout North America at a time when growing universities with increasingly diverse student populations were open to new academic disciplines. Its growth was stimulated by increasing interest in academic Jewish Studies, inspired in part by the Holocaust, the creation of the State of Israel, and the maturing of the Jewish community in the post-World War II era.
Under the leadership of its first president, Leon Jick, the AJS addressed issues connected with teaching Jewish Studies in secular institutions rather than in seminaries. The organization debated how Jewish Studies should relate to the general university curriculum and whether Jewish Studies should be taught in a separate department or if each subject area within Jewish Studies should be integrated within its academic discipline. Questions were also raised about whether the Jewish Studies professor should function solely as an academic scholar and teacher, or also serve as an adviser and mentor to the Jewish student body. The AJS attempted to delineate academic qualifications for positions in Jewish Studies and to develop guidelines for how and where professors of Jewish Studies might be trained. Many of these issues continue to be discussed almost four decades later.
The governance of the AJS was based on that of other American learned societies, with a president and executive committee, a board of directors, and an executive secretary. The annual conferences were organized to allow for intense scholarly discourse and personal communication. The AJS inaugurated a Newsletter, first edited by A.J. Band, designed to incorporate AJS business, abstracts of lectures, and reviews of scholarly books in the field. The Association also offered its services as a professional address for bringing together new positions and potential candidates for them. In the 1970s, Baruch Levine, the second president, secured a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to sponsor a series of regional conferences to bring accomplished scholars in a variety of areas to universities throughout the land. These events yielded both a host of lecture abstracts published in the AJS Newsletter and a series of five volumes of conference proceedings edited by S.D. Goitein (Religion in a Religious Age, 1974), J. Katz (The Role of Religion in Modern Jewish History, 1974), H. Paper (Jewish Languages: Themes and Variation, 1978), F. Talmage (Studies in Jewish Folklore, 1980), and J. Dan and F. Talmage (Studies in Jewish Mysticism, 1982).
These various undertakings, primarily performed by successive presidents with the crucial assistance of Charles Berlin, the third executive secretary (1973–95), propelled the AJS to the central position it obtained in the academic world. In the late 1990s, the title of executive secretary was changed to executive director, and the position was successively filled by Aaron Katchen (1995–2003) and Rona Sheramy (2003- ).
Between 1973 and 1984, the AJS Newsletter (from 2000, AJS Perspectives) published conference abstracts, précis of selected papers from the annual conferences, and serious reviews of scholarly books in Jewish Studies. In 1976, publication of a scholarly journal, The AJS Review, was inaugurated, edited first by Frank Talmage (1976–83). An AJS website was established in the early 21st century.
The annual conferences developed from modest beginnings in 1969 and continued to expand in attendance and content throughout the next three and a half decades. By the mid-1980s a separate Conference Program was published; in 2004, the conference met for two and a half days, and offered more than 120 different panels, sessions, and other events of scholarly interest. The venue of the early conferences was not fixed; from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s it convened at the Copley Plaza Hotel, Boston, before moving to other larger Boston locations. Beginning in 1999, the AJS began scheduling the annual conference in other cities, as well, including Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Diego.
Special interests sessions focusing on specific aspects of Jewish Studies were introduced by 1979. The most enduring of these has been the Women's Caucus, founded independently of AJS in 1986. The Caucus, which is now affiliated with AJS and open to all AJS members, sponsors a breakfast meeting at each year's conference, co-sponsors an academic session at each conference, and has prepared a syllabus collection and directories of its members to further academic and professional networking. While the first conference in 1969 was attended by only one female scholar, by the 1990s over one-third of participants were women.
AJS Review editors have been the following:
Frank Talmage, 1976–1983, I–VIII
Robert Chazan, 1984–1989, IX–XIV
Norman Stillman, 1990–1999, XV–XXIV
Jay M. Harris, 2000–2004, XXV–XXVIII, 1
Hillel Kieval and Martin Jaffee, 2004–, XXVIII, 2–
AJS Executive Secretaries/Directors have been the following:
Bernard Reisman, 1970–1971
Michael Fishbane, 1972
Charles Berlin, 1973–1995
Aaron Katchen, 1995–2004
Rona Sheremy, 2004–
AJS Presidents have been the following:
Leon Jick, 1969–1971
Baruch Levine, 1972
Arnold J. Band, 1973–1975
Marvin Fox, 1976–1978
Michael A. Meyer, 1979–1980
Jane Gerber, 1981–1983
Nahum Sarna, 1984–1985
Ruth R. Wisse, 1986–1988
Robert Chazan, 1989–1991
Herbert Paper, 1992–1994
Robert Seltzer, 1995–1997
David Berger, 1998–2000
Lawrence Schiffman, 2001–2003
Judith R. Baskin, 2004–