Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree
At first blush, numbers seem to be nothing if not neutral, especially when compared with words. Language makes known its intentions from the get-go; numbers, in contrast, don’t freely divulge their meaning and are susceptible to all manner of manipulation.
Little wonder, then, that modern-day Jews have had a fraught relationship with the quantitative imagination. The recent brouhaha over CUNY’s decision to institute “White/Jewish” as a category by which to enumerate and identify its faculty is but the latest in a long series of entangled encounters between the Jews and the numerical.
On the one hand, modern-day Jews once put their faith in numbers, trusting to them to set things right. Determined to prove that Jewish men had participated actively and fully in World War I, the Jews in both the Old World and the New turned to the statistical record.
Equally determined to prove that their coreligionists had not wantonly taken up a life of crime, American Jewry’s cultural custodians of the early 20th century scoured the criminal docket for numerical proof that the proportion of Jewish malefactors in no way exceeded the proportion of Jews in the population.