On Wednesday, November 6, 2019, Carmel U. Chiswick, Ph.D., Professor of Economics at George Washington University presented the Dr. Fritz Bamberger Memorial Lecture at HUC-JIR/New York. The topic was: "Freakonomics & American Judaism: Economic Incentives That Help Shape American Jewish Traditions," and Dr. Chiswick spoke about how the American Jewish community has responded to economic incentives over time.
Modern economics focuses on how price and income incentives affect life decisions as people budget scarce time and money to achieve their goals, she explained. But, differences early in the 20th century between the home-country economic environments of Jewish immigrants and that of the United States to which they came suggest a strong economic incentive to adapt (or “modernize”) old-country Judaism into the American Judaism that we practice today.
Recent research on Jews as workers (education, occupation, income), on the Jewish family (marriage, fertility, two-career households), on Jewish immigrants (economic adjustment and assimilation), and on intergroup relationships (Jews and non-Jews, American Jews and Israeli Jews, Orthodox and other “denominational” streams including secular Jews) has been of particular interest to Dr. Chiswick.
Although the evolution of American Judaism is not yet complete, she says we can trace how it responded to economic incentives throughout the 20th century, examine how these incentives are currently changing, and consider their implications for new issues as the 21st century advances.
Dr. Chiswick's book, Judaism in Transition: How Economic Choices Shape Religious Tradition, delves further into these topics.