The Ambivalent Jew established Charles Liebman's reputation as a leading analyst of contemporary Jewry. Its theme boldly foreshadowed Liebman's own struggle to weld together disparate identities. He maintained a lifelong fascination with the Jewish community of the United States, his birthplace, even as he delved ever more deeply into the complexities of his chosen home, the State of Israel. He studies Orthodoxy, but never identified fully with any single religious movement. He trained as a political scientist, but wrote a series of seminal studies in the sociology of the Jews. Charles Liebman had no ambivalence, though, about his core values. Throughout his life he maintained a profound concern for the welfare of the Jewish people and never deviated from his preoccupation with strengthening Jewish life in America and Israel. Nor was his insistence upon achieving the highest standards of scholarly integrity negotiable. He committed himself wholeheartedly to nurturing younger colleagues, acting as a caring critic of their work and establishing small networks of engaged scholars who shared his passionate Jewish concerns.
My field of academic interest, unlike that of my co-author, is contemporary Jews and Judaism. For over thirty years, I have explored questions in which I was vitally interested. In many cases I was passionately committed to a particular position. And yet I never felt that that commitment biased the manner in which I presented evidence or analyzed the issues. I was always confident in my ability to distance myself from my own point of view and was surprised by the inability of so many, including my fellow academics, to do so themselves.
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