Development of Personal Identity:
A Challenge for the Jewish Family Herbert C. Kelman
This article presents a general approach to the development of personal identity, exploring the ways in which various group identities may be incorporated into the emerging personal identity of an individual. It is hoped that this general scheme will have some implications for the question of how Jewish identity can be built into the personal identity of Jewish children, and what role Jewish education might play in this process.
The approach is based on a conceptual model developed for the analysis of social influence and extended to the analysis of personal involvement in social systems. 1 This model is not specifically addressed to identity formation, but it has some relevance to the development of identity both at the level of the individual and at that of the group—that is, both to personal and to national or ethnic identity. The purpose of this article is to explore the implications of this model for identity formation at these two levels, with special reference to Jewish identity. 2
Personal identity refers to the enduring aspects of a person's definition of her- or himself, the conception of who one is and what one is over time and across situations. It is what individuals bring to the many situations and social interactions in which they become involved as they go through the life cycle and, at any given period of time, as they enact their various social roles. This is not to say that personal identity—even once a person has reached adulthood—is an entirely stable, consistent, and unchanging property. Though the degree of stability and consistency of one's identity varies widely among individuals, it is never a fixed entity, but rather a constantly evolving self-definition. As people's life situation changes and as they accumulate new experiences, their identity becomes modified in various ways. Certain aspects may be strengthened, filled out, revised or abandoned. In some instances there may be radical alterations in personal identity. More typically, however, personal identity is a cumulative product built up over a person's lifetime experiences.