10. Answering the Mail
Toward a Radical Jewishness
There is no Jew nor Greek.
קיוועשלאב רעטשרע רעד ןעוועג זיא סולואפ
Paul was the first Bolshevik.
Throughout this book I have been arguing that Paul's writing poses a significant challenge to Jewish notions of identity. I have suggested that Paul was impelled by a vision of human unity that was born of two parents: Hebrew monotheism and Greek longing for universals. As I have argued, however, and will pursue further, Paul's universalism seems to conduce to coercive politico-cultural systems that engage in more or less violent projects of the absorption of cultural specificities into the dominant one. Yet Jews cannot ignore the force of Paul's critique just because of its negative effects, for uncritical devotion to ethnic particularity has equally negative effects. Thus, while Jewish discourse both limits its claims to hegemony to what is, after all, a tiny piece of land (in contrast to the whole world staked out by “Christendom”) and, moreover, does not consider conversion of others a desideratum or a requirement for their “salvation” (Shell 1991), modern Jewish statist nationalism has nevertheless been very violent and exclusionary in its practices vis-à-vis its others, and traditional Judaism was often offensively contemptuous toward them.
On the political or ethical level, then, Paul presented (and presents) Jews with a set of powerful questions that cannot be ignored. Echoing Alan F. Segal, I claim that Paul's letters are letters addressed to us—to me, as a (post)modern Jew. I conclude this book, then, with a highly personal and engaged, perhaps not always completely satisfactory, attempt to answer Paul's letters to me. How can I ethically construct a particular identity which is extremely precious to me without falling into ethnocentrism or racism of one kind or another? This is particularly poignant since, as we shall see, the latter are protean and can disguise themselves in many forms. In this chapter, this book will significantly change its tone and its focus. The effort of this final chapter is to articulate one individual notion of Jewishness—and by analogy, other forms of particular identity—that will attempt to answer the challenge of Paul's letters to enroll in and commit to a universal human solidarity as well.
Carnality and Difference
Plotinus, the philosopher of our times, seemed ashamed of being in the body. As a result of this state of mind he could never bear to talk about his race or his parents or his native country. Porphyry, Life of Plotinus
Traditionally, group identity has been constructed in two ways: as the product of either a common genealogical origin or a common geographical origin. The first type of figuring has a strongly pejoratized value in current writing, having become tainted with the name “race” and thus racism, while the second is referred to by the positive, even progressive-sounding, “self-determination”—in spite of the evident fact that either or both of these discourses can equally be used to justify acts of enormous violence. The negative evaluation of genealogy as a ground for identity can be traced to Paul, the fountainhead, as I am claiming, of western universalism. In his authentic passion to find a place for the gentiles in the Torah's scheme of things and the brilliance of the radically dualist and allegorical hermeneutic he developed to accomplish this purpose, Paul had (almost against his will) sown the seeds for a Christian discourse that would completely deprive Jewish ethnic, cultural specificity of any positive value and indeed turn it into a “curse” in the eyes of gentile Christians. As Augustine was to write:
This characteristic Augustinian text further enables us to understand the conjunction of Jews with women as the terms of a difference which is opposed to allegorical univocity. Just as the female body with its disturbing two-ness (both by being different from the male body and by being “a sex which is not one”) is the site of difference and fallen corporeality, so also the Jews, by refusing to be allegorized into a spiritual disembodiment, remain the site of difference and fallen corporeality.
Behold Israel according to the flesh (i Cor. 10:18). This we know to be the carnal Israel; but the Jews do not grasp this meaning and as a result they prove themselves indisputably carnal.
Elizabeth Castelli has focused most sharply on the extent to which the drive for sameness was constitutive of Pauline discourse by analyzing the function of imitation and its political effects in his letters:
Castelli describes the personal will to power implicit in the Pauline rhetorical drive toward sameness. The same analysis can be applied, however, to the politics of group relations even after the apostle's death. What I am suggesting here is that as Paul became ultimately not an embattled apostle for one kind of Christianity contending with others but gradually the source of Christianity tout court, and as so-called pagans faded from the scene, the function of those who “stand in a position of difference” came to be filled almost exclusively in the discourse by the Jews, and the “coercive move” toward sameness became directed at the Jews. The place of difference increasingly becomes the Jewish place, and thus the Jew becomes the very sign of discord and disorder in the Christian polity. That this is so can be shown from the fact that as other “differences” appear on the medieval European scene—the Lollards, for example—they are figured in literature as “Jews.”  The association of Jews and women as parallel terms of difference throughout western discourse is a further example of the reduction of Jewishness to a diacritic, a signifier of difference per se.
The language of imitation, with its concomitant tension between the drive toward sameness and the inherent hierarchy of the mimetic relationship, masks the will to power which one finds in Pauline discourse. Paul's appropriation of the discourse of mimesis is a powerful rhetorical move, because this language identifies the fundamental values of wholeness and unity with Paul's own privileged position vis-à-vis the gospel, the early Christian communities he founded and supervises, and Christ himself. Here is precisely where he makes his coercive move. To stand for anything other than what the apostle stands for is to articulate for oneself a place of difference, which has already implicitly been associated with discord and disorder. To stand in a position of difference is to stand in opposition, therefore, to the gospel, the community and Christ. (Castelli 1991a, 87)
Paul's allegorical reading of the rite of circumcision is an almost perfect emblem of his hermeneutics of otherness. In one stroke, by interpreting circumcision as referring to a spiritual and not corporeal reality, Paul made it possible for Judaism to become a world religion. It is not that the rite was difficult for adult gentiles to perform—that would hardly have stopped devotees in the ancient world—it was rather that it symbolized the genetic, the genealogical moment, of Judaism as the religion of a particular tribe of people. This is so both in the very physicality of the rite, grounded in the practice of the tribe and marking the male members of that tribe, but it is even more so as a marker on the organ of generation, representing the genealogical claim for concrete historical memory as constitutive of Israel. By substituting a spiritual interpretation for a physical ritual, Paul was saying, the genealogical Israel, “according to the flesh,” is not the ultimate Israel; there is an “Israel in the spirit.” The practices of the particular Jewish People are not what the Bible speaks of, but faith, the allegorical meaning of those practices. It was Paul's genius to transcend “Israel in the flesh.”
Porphyry exposes with rare incandescence the intimate connection between the corporeality of the individual and his or her connection with “race,” filiation, and place and the neoplatonic revulsion from both. As Porphyry writes of his hero Plotinus, it was Plotinus's disdain for the body that led him to disdain as well race, parentage, and native country. The Pauline move, while considerably less extreme in every way than that of Paul's younger (by a century) near contemporary, was very similar in structure. I am proposing that Paul's there-is-no-Greek-nor-Jew grew out of substantially the same platonistic cultural themes that drove a Plotinus. This interpretation furnishes us a key to understanding the resistance of the Rabbis to platonism as well. If commitment to “the One” implied a disdain for the body, and disdain for the body entailed an erasure of “difference,” then commitment to such differences as race, parentage, and native country entailed a commitment to the body and to “difference” in general. The ancients certainly well understood the connection between notions of the body and ideologies of ethnic identity. As I will try to show, this issue is inextricably bound up in the feminist controversy on essentialism; now, just as in antiquity, the issues of ethnicity and gender are inextricable, and analogies between Jews and women can be pursued for productive purposes. There are ways in which gender is to sex as ethnicity is to race, an analogy that will, moreover, call into question both sets of oppositions.
As Etienne Balibar has argued, the very way that the modern individual is valorized in an opposition between universal and individual, on the one hand, and the particular and gregarious, on the other, reestablishes a hierarchy that performs exactly the same function as the old racism:
This latent presence of the hierarchic theme today finds its chief expression in the priority accorded to the individualistic model (just as, in the previous period, openly inegalitarian racism, in order to postulate an essential fixity of racial types, had to presuppose a differentialist anthropology, whether based on genetics or on Völkerpsychologie): the cultures supposed implicitly superior are those which appreciate and promote “individual” enterprise, social and political individualism, as against those which inhibit these things. These are said to be the cultures whose “spirit of community” is constituted by individualism. In this way, we see how the return of the biological theme is permitted and with it the elaboration of new variants of the biological “myth” within the framework of a cultural racism. (Balibar 1991a, 25 [emphasis original])
In other words, by placing a certain model (a Protestant, Paul-derived model) in a superior position as Culture vis-à-vis those cultures within which significant aspects of identity and practice are derived from the group, the ideology of individualism reinscribes the precise hierarchy of peoples (West and East, or North and South) that racism had. My point is not, of course, to argue that Paul and his modern posterity are somehow complicit with racism but rather to show that either ideology, in itself, can serve racist ends, understood as the organization of hierarchical structures of domination between groups. The insistence on the value of bodily connection and embodied practice emblematic of Judaism since Paul thus has significant critical force over against the isolating and disembodying direction of western idealist philosophies. This very critical force is, however, not devoid of its own dark and frightening aspect.
Power, Identity, Violence
The Jewish religion was admirably fitted for defense, but was never designed for conquest. Gibbon,
My thesis is that rabbinic Judaism and Pauline Christianity as two different hermeneutic systems for reading the Bible generate two diametrically opposed, but mirror-like, forms of racism—and also two dialectical possibilities of anti-racism. In the discussion that follows I shall try to pay attention equally to all four terms of this dialectic.
The genius of Christianity is its concern for all of the peoples of the world; the genius of rabbinic Judaism is its ability to leave other people alone. This is grounded theologically in rabbinic Judaism in the notion that in order to achieve salvation, Jews are required to perform (or better, to attempt to perform) the entire 613 commandments, while non-Jews are required only to perform seven commandments given to Noah that form a sort of natural, moral Law. Jewish theology understands the Jewish People to be priests performing a set of ritual acts on behalf of the entire world. Clearly, the temptation to arrogance is built into such a system, but not the temptation to “Sacred Violence” that leads to forced conversion, whether by the sword, ridicule, or the Pound, or deculturation in the name of the new human community. Christianity is the system that proposes that there is something which is necessary for all: faith in Jesus Christ.
And the evils of the two systems are the precise obverse of these genii. If in Christian churches today, one may be uplifted by the expression of concern—and often activist intervention—on behalf of the oppressed peoples of the world, one is equally troubled, often enough, by the missionizing activities and discourses of those same churches. On the other hand, in most traditional synagogues one would be hard put to discover that gentiles exist, except as enemies of the Jews or potential enemies, friends of the Jews or potential friends, but at least no one is proposing to convert or change those gentiles into Jews. Indeed, the explicit theological notion is that they may earn a place in the Next World without even hearing of Jews, let alone converting to Judaism.
Pauline universalism even at its most liberal and benevolent has been a powerful force for coercive discourses of sameness, denying, as we have seen, the rights of Jews, women, and others to retain their difference (Connolly 1991, 42 ff.). As Balibar has realized, this “universalism” is indeed a racism:
This discourse was characteristic of liberal Germany, as Marc Shell points out, and still persists in the United States of today in such “liberal” expressions as “too Jewish.”  Shell documents such notions in the discourse of the contemporary Russian ideologue Igor Sharevich, who argues that Jews must abandon their difference if they wish to be full citizens of Russia (Shell 1991, 332). The paradox in such discourse is that nearly always, as Shell emphasizes, the justification for coercing Jews to become Christian, Russian, citizens of the world is paradoxically the alleged intolerance of—the Jews. The parallels between this modern liberal discourse and that of Paul—and perhaps even more so of Justin Martyr as discussed above—seem obvious to me.
This leads us to direct our attention towards a historical fact that is even more difficult to admit and yet crucial, taking into consideration the French national form of racist traditions. There is, no doubt, a specifically French brand of the doctrines of Aryanism, anthropometry and biological geneticism, but the true “French ideology” is not to be found in these: it lies rather in the idea that the culture of the “land of the Rights of Man” has been entrusted with a universal mission to educate the human race. There corresponds to this mission a practice of assimilating dominated populations and a consequent need to differentiate and rank individuals or groups in terms of their greater or lesser aptitude for—or resistance to—assimilation. It was this simultaneously subtle and crushing form of exclusion/inclusion which was deployed in the process of colonization and the strictly French (or “democratic”) variant of the “White man's burden.” (Balibar 1991a, 24)
The Rabbis' insistence on the centrality of Peoplehood can thus be read as a radical critique of Paul as well, for if the Pauline move had within it the possibility of breaking out of the tribal allegiances and commitments to one's own family, as it were, it also contained the seeds of an imperialist and colonizing missionary practice. The very emphasis on a universalism expressed as concern for all of the families of the world turns very rapidly (if not necessarily) into a doctrine that they must all become part of our family of the spirit, with all of the horrifying practices against Jews and other Others which Christian Europe produced. The doctrine of the Apostle of the Free Spirit can be diverted, even perverted, to a doctrine of enslaving and torturing bodies. As Henri Baudet has remarked of late-fifteenth-century Portugal:
Paul had indeed written, with notorious ambiguity, “For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and if present I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing [lived with his father's wife]. When you are assembled and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 5:3–5). It is surely Paul's own sense of self as divided into body and spirit, so that his spirit can be where his body is not—and he means this literally, not as metaphor—, that permits some of his followers to practice torturing and killing bodies to save the souls. (I am not, of course, suggesting that this was Paul's “intent.”) Disdain for the bodies of others, when combined with concern for their souls, can be even more devastating than neglect of both.
Although the bodies of Negroes might be held captive, this very fact made it possible for their souls to achieve true freedom through conversion to Christianity. And so the enslavement of Negroes took on a kind of missionary aspect. It was in keeping that christened Negro slaves should enjoy certain small privileges above their fellows. (Baudet 1965, 30)
As sharply, however, as this coercion to conform must be exposed as a racism, we must also be prepared to recognize that Jewish difference with its concomitant nearly exclusive emphasis on caring for other Jews—even when Jews are powerless and dominated—can become an ugly lack of caring for the fate of others and thus another form of racism, logically opposed to the first but equally as dangerous. The insistence on difference can produce an indifference (or worse) toward Others. The ways in which “benign neglect” can and have become malignant in Jewish texts can readily be documented. From the retrospective position of a world which has, at the end of the second Christian millennium, become thoroughly interdependent, each one of these options is intolerable. A dialectic that would utilize each of these as antithesis to the other, correcting in the “Christian” system its tendencies toward a coercive universalism and in the “Jewish” system its tendencies toward contemptuous neglect for human solidarity might lead beyond both toward a better social system. At present, rather than the best of the two cultures being allowed to critique each other, the most pernicious aspects of both of these hermeneutic systems are in an unholy alliance with each other, so that ethnic/racial superiority has been conjoined with spatial, political domination and the constraint towards conformity in the discourse of nationalism and self-determination. For five hundred years we have seen the effects of such a conjunction in the practices of Christian Europe, and now we see its effects mutatis mutandis in many of the practices of the Jewish state. Jewish difference can indeed be dangerous, as the Palestinians know only too well, but Christian universalism has been historically even more dangerous, as Jews, Muslims, Native Americans, Africans, and others have been forced to demonstrate with their bodies. Insistence on genealogical identity and its significance has been one of the major forms of resistance against such violence. In other words, the rabbinic Jewish insistence that there is a difference between Jew and Greek and that that difference has value can be a liberatory force in the world, a force that works for a contemporary politics of the value of difference—feminist, gay, multicultural, postcolonial—against coercive sameness. In the next section I am going to make the perhaps surprising claim that genealogy as a grounding of identity, while suspiciously close to being racist and always in danger of becoming such, need not function politically as racism. Indeed, I suggest that grounding in genealogy is necessary for any secular notion of Jewish identity at all and further that it plays the political role for Jewishness that essentialism plays for feminism and gay identity politics (cf. Sedgwick 1990, 75–85).
Jews and Other Differences; or, Essentialism as Resistance
It could be said that the tension produced by the essentialist/constructionist debate is responsible for some of feminist theory's greatest insights, that is, the very tension is constitutive of the field of feminist theory. But it can also be maintained that this same dispute has created the current impasse in feminism, an impasse predicated on the difficulty of theorizing the social in relation to the natural, or the theoretical in relation to the political.
Although it is inflected differently for race, sex, and sexuality, there are ways that the essentialist/social constructionist dichotomy operates similarly for all of these categories.
We must start with a recognition that essentialism has no essence (Fuss 1989, 4, 21). There are as many essentialisms as there are differences to be essentialist about (Boswell 1992, 135). Although they have been often analogized, essentialism with regard to gender seems to me quite different from essentialism with regard to sexuality—and both, it seems, are entirely different from essentialism with regard to race and to whatever Jewishness is as well. To begin to understand the dimensions of this difference, a typical definition of the question with regard to sexualities will be sufficient. Contrasting definitions of essentialism with regard to feminism and gayness will bring out this point clearly. A recent writer on gay identity has defined the controversy in the following manner:
This quotation should by itself point up how the meaning of essentialism will be different when applied to the category “woman” than when used for the category/ies gay and lesbian, for virtually no one will doubt the reality of the division into sexes or its historical and cultural universality. Essentialism, then, with regard to the category “woman” has to do rather with whether attributes beyond the obvious and physical ones—women menstruate, conceive and bear children, and lactate; men lack all of these capabilities—are to be associated with these physical differences or whether all such associated characteristics are culturally constructed and thus detrimental to the autonomy of individual women to define their own essence. (My illogical usage of “essence” at the end of the sentence is conscious and proleptic of the position I will take.) On the other hand, the debate about sexuality is whether or not in other cultures or in the past of our culture, which is the same thing, there were homosexuals and heterosexuals as categories of people, or only homosexual and heterosexual acts. With regard to sexualities, I claim, the question of essentialism is first a historical and ethnographic question, almost an empirical one; with regard to sexes, it is a philosophical one.
“Essentialists” treat sexuality as a biological force and consider sexual identities to be cognitive realizations of genuine, underlying differences; “constructionists,” on the other hand, stress that sexuality, and sexual identities, are social constructions, and belong to the world of culture and meaning, not biology. In the first case, there is considered to be some “essence” within homosexuals that makes them homosexual—some gay “core” of their being, or their psyche, or their genetic make-up. In the second case, “homosexual,” “gay,” and “lesbian” are just labels, created by cultures and applied to the self. (Epstein 1992, 241–42)
The following description of what essentialism means in a feminist context should further clarify the point:
The crucial words in this paragraph for my limited purposes here are “as sex may be”; in other words, the division into sexes is (or at least may be) an innate feature, even for those who are anti-essentialist feminists. There are men and women “really”; the question is what does this mean, or what are they like, or are there any essential differences beyond the obvious ones, while the question with regard to gay people is: Have “they” always existed, or have “we” “made them up”? Have they perhaps made themselves up—at a certain point in cultural history (Hacking 1992)?
If most feminists, however one may classify trends and positions—cultural, liberal, socialist, poststructuralist, and so forth—agree that women are made, not born, that gender is not an innate feature (as sex may be) but a sociocultural construction (and precisely for that reason it is oppressive to women), that patriarchy is historical (especially so when it is believed to have superseded a previous matriarchal realm), then the “essence” of woman that is described in the writings of many so-called essentialists is not the real essence, in Locke's terms, but more likely a nominal one. (De Lauretis 1989, 5; see Fuss 1989, 4–5)
In a paper published in a recent collection, Steven Epstein poses the issue in a sharply focused and politicized manner. “I take as given that power inheres in the ability to name,” he writes, “and that what we call ourselves has implications for political practice.…Legitimation strategies play a mediating function between self-understanding and political programs, and between groups and their individual members” (Epstein 1991, 241). The great virtue of Epstein's paper is its constant attention to the political function of claims to essence. In the following statement, while I think he seriously misconstrues social constructionism, he nevertheless clearly articulates this political function:
This alleged “folk constructionism” bears no relation, typological or genetic, to social constructionism—it certainly predates these theories—, so Epstein is setting up a paper tiger here, but nonetheless, the positive part of the argument seems undoubtedly correct to me. Claims for essence are legitimation strategies for identity politics and, as such, are attacked at great peril to causes of difference and liberation of differences. As Ed Cohen has put it, “How individuals come together to act for change, how these actors are changed by their activities, and how these acts and actors crystallize as movements cannot be adequately imagined if the powerful effects felt by acting subjects are ‘theoretically’ disappeared” (Cohen 1991, 82). This formulation appears in a generally appreciative discussion of Judith Butler's work, in which Cohen has also written:
A “folk constructionism” comes to be disseminated: the view that sexual identities are willful self-creations. And in reaction against this folk constructionism, which denies the experience of a non-voluntary component to identity, lesbians and gays operating within the liberal discourse slide to the opposite extreme: they assert that there is something “real” about their identity, and then try to locate that felt reality in their genes, or their earliest experiences, or their mystical nature. (261)
And thus, I would add, it paradoxically reinscribes the “Protestant” ideology of the individual. Picking up on Cohen's overall argument, I would suggest that only a grouping which has some somatic referent can allow itself the possibility of reinventing its essence: “For if we can begin to gather together on the basis of constructions that ‘we’ are constantly and self-consciously in the process of inventing, multiplying, and modifying, then perhaps ‘we’ can obviate the need for continuing to reiterate the fragmenting oscillations between identity and difference that have been the legacy of post 1960s progressive politics” (88). As Cohen quite brilliantly suggests here, there has to be some referent for a we that is not in quotation marks in order for the cited, constructed “we” to function as such. With regard to women and gay people, there is some “objective reality,” some somatic referent, it seems, about which to even ask the question of essence. At least ostensibly, the category of women is defined by something they are in their bodies, and gay and lesbian people by something they do with their bodies. There is, in both cases, as I have said, something about which to ask the question regarding essence, although I have argued that it is a different question in each of these two cases. But what about Jews? In what sense does this category exist—even as a nominalist category? I suggest that only genealogy can fill that function for Jews.
In its attempt to rethink “agency” so that it is “constituted” in terms of “construction,” it obviates any concern with what brings individuals together to effect changes in the social imagination/organization of their shared life-world, implicitly portraying collective action as “simply” voluntaristic. (83)
The most common language for the description of Jewishness historically is the language of race, γένος. Race, however, certainly did not mean in the premodern period anything like what it means today. The term has taken on an entirely different set of connotations in a recent epistemic shift, analogous to the epistemic shift that Foucault and especially Arnold Davidson have identified in the discourse of sexuality (Davidson 1992). If Foucault could write, “Our epoch has initiated sexual heterogeneities” (Foucault 1980), we can also claim that our epoch has initiated racial heterogeneities in almost the same fashion (Cohen 1991, 78–79). “Race,” which was once the signifier of a set of relations with other human beings determined in the first instance by a common kinship and historical connection, has become the signifier of distinct, heterogeneous human essences, at just about the same time that sexual practices were transformed into the signifiers of different categorical essences of human beings. As Lloyd Thompson has put it:
This shift in meaning has, of course, enormous implications; the fact that it took place in tandem must also be meaningful.
In these old and ever-popular usages, “race” bears two sometimes overlapping connotations: on the one hand, an ethnic group, a people, or a nation; and, on the other hand, a somatic type defined in terms of perceived skin colour, hair type, and morphology—a concept of “race” that dates from the latter part of the seventeenth century. (Thompson 1989, 13)
Let us begin, then, by exploring the sense that “race” might have had for premodern and particularly late-antique people. Symptomatic perhaps of this shift is the following statement from Dio Cassius, “I do not know the origin of this name [Jews], but it is applied to all men, even foreigners, who follow their customs. This race is found among Romans” (Gager 1983, 91). Now it is quite clear from this quotation that for Dio the word “race” does not imply some sort of biological essence, since it can be applied to Romans who have chosen to follow the customs of Jews. In short, one can convert to a race. “Race” is thus the signifier of a concept for which we have no word at all in our language, something like family writ very large. Just as family for us is primarily the signifier of a genealogical, that is, biological connection, but one that does not in any way presuppose some biological essence, so also “race” in premodern usage. Furthermore, just as family includes people who are not in the primarily physically defined grouping but have joined it secondarily, either through marriage or adoption, so also people can join a race in Dio's usage.
Jewishness was, therefore, in antiquity, something—I do not say an essence—that could be referred to via the language of race. We no longer do so, although oddly enough, it seems that the modern sense of race has been constructed originally precisely against the Jews. This occurred at two points in the development of the modern concept. The first is in the Spanish “purity of blood,” limpieza de sangre, to which I will have further reference below. This term signified one whose blood had not been tainted with the blood of conversos, converted Jews, and was, therefore, purely Spanish and purely Christian. The second is at the development of modern “scientific” racism, which is, originally, the founding ideology of anti-Semitism.
There are significant differences between Jewishness and the modern sociopolitical senses of race. The primary dissimilarities involve the fact that people can convert to Judaism, which would seem to suggest that it is merely a confession, and that there are no “racial” characteristics that mark Jews off from other human groups, as there are, for instance, for Japanese people or Europeans. More revealingly, however, the convert's name is changed to “ben Avraham” or “bas Avraham,” son or daughter of Abraham. The convert is adopted into the family and assigned a new “genealogical” identity, but also, since Abraham is the first convert in Jewish tradition, converts are his descendants in that sense as well. There is thus a sense in which the convert becomes the ideal type of the Jew (see, however, Davies 1974, 168n.3).
On the other hand, Jews do not sense of themselves that their association is confessional, that it is based on common religion, for many people whom both religious and secular Jews call Jewish neither believe nor practice the religion at all. This kind of “racialism” is built into the formal cultural system itself. While you can convert in to Judaism, you cannot convert out, and anyone born of Jewish parents is Jewish, even if she doesn't know it. Jewishness is thus certainly not contiguous with modern notions of race, which have been, furthermore discredited empirically. Nor are Jews marked off biologically, as people are marked for sex; nor finally, can Jews be reliably identified by a set of practices, as for example gay people can. On the other hand, Jewishness is not an affective association of individuals either. Jews in general feel not that Jewishness is something they have freely chosen but rather that it is an essence—an essence often nearly empty of any content other than itself—which has been inscribed—sometimes even imposed—on them by birth.
How can this sense of genealogically given essence be distinguished from racism? What it comes down to, finally, is this. Any claimed or ascribed essence has two directly opposed meanings depending simply on the politics of the given social situation (Foucault 1980, 101–02). For people who are somehow part of a dominant group, any assertions of essence are ipso facto products and reproducers of the system of domination. For subaltern groups, however, essentialism is resistance, the insistence on the “right” of the group to actually exist. Essence, as such, always makes an appeal to the body, to the “real,” the referential. For women, the appeal is to the difference in the reproductive, sexual body; for gay people the appeal is to the difference in their sexual practices; for Jews, the appeal is to filiation. What we see in each of these cases is that the very things appealed to in order to legitimate the subaltern identity are appealed to as well by dominating groups in order to exploit the dominated. The valence of the claim shifts from negative to positive with the political status of the group making the claim. Therefore, I suggest, that which would be racism in the hands of a dominating group is resistance in the hands of a subaltern collective. In order, then, to preserve the positive ethical, political value of Jewish genealogy as a mode of identity, Jews must preserve their subaltern status. I wish to set out, at least in nuce, a notion of identity, which I will call Diaspora identity, which will be of value beyond the articulation of Jewishness alone.
The most violent practice that rabbinic Judaism ever developed vis-à-vis its Others was playing cards on Christmas Eve or walking around the block to avoid passing a pagan or Christian place of worship. Something else was needed for the potential racist implications of genealogical particularism to become actualized. That necessity is power over others. This idea was already predicted by the medieval Jewish philosopher, Yehuda Halevi, who in his Kuzari has God say to the Jews: Your modesty is a function of your powerlessness; when you have power you will be as cruel as any other people.
Etienne Balibar has been willing, at least initially, to grant the progressive value of “anthropological culturalism,” the insistence on the value of maintaining cultural differences (1991a, 21). He remarks: “Its value had been confirmed by the contribution it made to the struggle against the hegemony of certain standardizing imperialisms and against the elimination of minority or dominated civilizations—‘ethnocide’” (21–22). He argues, however, citing the example of Claude Lévi-Strauss's “Race and Culture,” that the latter ends up embroiling himself in rightist arguments against the mixing of cultures and the danger to humanity from ignoring the “spontaneous” [read “natural”] human tendency to preserve their traditions. And Balibar remarks: “What we see here is that biological or genetic naturalism is not the only means of naturalizing human behaviour and social affinities.…Culture can also function like a nature, and it can in particular function as a way of locking individuals and groups a priori into a genealogy, into a determination that is immutable” (Balibar and Wallerstein 1991, 2). Moreover, it also can serve as a rational justification for arguments that, purporting to be preventives against racism, propose that
Balibar has thus exposed critical flaws in discourses of “differential racism” as an antidote to racism. The question is whether, then, all discourses of strong cultural identity will necessarily produce such negative effects.
to avoid racism, you have to avoid that “abstract” anti-racism which fails to grasp the psychological and sociological laws of human population movements; you have to respect the “tolerance thresholds,” maintain “cultural distances” or, in other words, in accordance with the postulate that individuals are the exclusive heirs and bearers of a single culture, segregate collectivities (the best barrier in this regard still being national frontiers). (Balibar 1991a, 23)
Diaspora culture and identity can, I think, move us beyond this dilemma, for it allows (and has historically allowed in the best circumstances, such as Muslim Spain), for a complex continuation of Jewish cultural creativity and identity at the same time that the same people participate fully in the common cultural life of their surroundings. The same figure, a Nagid, Ibn Gabirol, or Maimonides can be at one and the same time a vehicle of the preservation of traditions and of the mixing of cultures. Nor was this only the case in Muslim Spain, nor even only outside of the Land. The Rabbis in Diaspora in their own Land also produced a phenomenon of renewal of Jewish traditional culture at the same time that they were very well acquainted indeed and an integral part of the circumambient late-antique culture. Diasporic cultural identity teaches us that cultures are not preserved by being protected from “mixing” but probably can only continue to exist as a product of such mixing. All cultures, and identities, are constantly being remade. Diasporic Jewish culture, however, lays this process bare, because of the impossibility of a natural association between this people and a particular land, thus the impossibility of seeing Jewish culture as a self-enclosed, bounded phenomenon. The critical force of this dissociation between people, language, culture, and land has, I think, been an enormous threat to cultural nativisms and integrisms, a threat that is one of the sources of anti-Semitism, and perhaps one of the reasons that Europe has been much more prey to this evil than the Middle East. In other words, diasporic identity is a disaggregated identity.
I am a Jew, I would claim, and it is both right and good (for me and for humanity) that I continue to maintain my cultural practice and cultural identity—the very fact of difference is positive—, but at the same time that does not form an “immutable determination.” The truth of my being Jewish is not compromised by the fact that I am also American, very profoundly so, that in the morning I may go to the synagogue and in the evening to hear Emmylou Harris, and both practices are of very great importance to me. Lest this point get lost, let me emphasize that the first practice is not only, nor often even primarily, a religious practice but rather a cultural practice. When, for instance, I have the prayer for the sick said in synagogue, this is not because my skeptical self believes—much as I would like to—in the efficacy of petitionary prayer, but because this is the way that Jews express solidarity with sick people. Furthermore, as the example chosen—Emmylou Harris—should make clear, this is not an opposition between a particular and a universal identity—i.e., not a version of “be a Jew at home and a human being abroad”—but a concatenation of two equally particular identities in the same polysystem. I am not contrasting the Jewish to the American as the particular to the universal, nor certainly as the private to the public, as expected of Jews in Napoleonic France—which would completely undermine my point—but as two particularities.
Jewishness disrupts the very categories of identity, because it is not national, not genealogical, not religious, but all of these, in dialectical tension with one another. When liberal Arabs and some Jews claim that the Jews of the Middle East are Arab Jews, I concur with them and think that Zionist ideology occludes something very significant when it seeks to obscure this point. Maxime Rodinson has articulated this somewhat differently when he wrote, “Jewish nationalism has special peculiarities. For one thing, it applies to a very disparate human group, whose members have possibilities of self-understanding and action other than those afforded by the ideology of the nation. The best proof of this is the persistent, recurrent, and obstinate effort of Jewish nationalists to rally the mass of their potential adherents behind them, often by dubious means” (Rodinson 1983, 11). The promulgation of a nationalist ideology of a pure Jewish cultural essence that has been debased by Diaspora seems precisely such a dubious means to me. I am proud to hear that in the Cairo University, Rabbi Sa‘adya Gaon is being studied as an important Arab and Egyptian philosopher. On the other hand, the very fact that this makes me, an American Ashkenazi Jew, feel proud shows that identifying the rabbi as an Egyptian Arab of the Jewish faith is not the answer either. To continue the personal tone, I feel deeply injured when I hear certain leftist anti-Zionist compatriots deny the very existence or significance of my connection with the eighth-century Egyptian rabbi or with a modern Egyptian Jew, or hers with Rashi or with me. Statist nationalisms seem to require that we choose one or the other. Diasporized, that is, disaggregated identity, allows for Rabbi Sa‘adya to be an Egyptian Arab who happens to be Jewish and also a Jew who happens to be an Egyptian Arab. Both of these contradictory propositions must be held together. Similarly, for gender, I think that a diasporization of identity is possible and positive. Being a woman is some kind of special being, and there are aspects of life and practice that insist on and celebrate that speciality. But this does not imply a fixing or freezing of all practice and performance of gender identity into one set of parameters. Human beings are divided into men and women—sometimes—but that does not tell the whole story of their bodily identity. Rather than the dualism of gendered bodies and universal souls, or Jewish/Greek bodies and universal souls—the dualism that, as I have argued throughout this book, is offered by Paul—we can substitute partially Jewish, partially Greek bodies, bodies that are sometimes gendered and sometimes not. It is this idea that I am calling diasporized identity.
Paradoxically, however, I would also insist that genealogy as a shared historical memory, most fully (but not exhaustively) represented in the actual, physical identity of child of one's parents is crucial to the maintenance of cultural identity. It is the analog for Jews of possession of the womb for women. It is that which produces some sense of reference, of real anchoring, for difference. To be sure, I remark once more, this genealogy has been denaturalized in Judaism for thousands of years through the mechanism of conversion, but as I have indicated such de-naturalization serves at the same time to reinforce the general symbol of genealogical connection through the ascription of it to the convert. Diasporic Jewish identity has been founded on common memory of shared space and on the hope for such a shared space in an infinitely deferred future. Space itself is thus transformed into time. Memory of territory has made deterritorialization possible, and paradoxically, the possession of territory may have made Diaspora Jewishness impossible.
The tragedy of Zionism has been its desperate—and I believe misdirected—attempt to reduce real threats to Jews and Jewishness by concretizing in the present what has been a utopian symbol for the future. Diasporized identities seem threatened ones, and one of the responses to such threats is separatism, an attempt at a social structure that re-aggregates the disaggregated, re-integrizes the non-integral, by closing off the borders, by indeed attempting to prevent mixing, whether biological or cultural. Zionism, like separatist feminism, is such an attempt. Zionism is a particular reading of Jewish culture and especially of the Bible. I do not, and could not, given my hermeneutic theories, argue that it is a wrong reading or that there is a right reading that can be countered to it. I do argue, however, that it is not the only reading.
Racism and the Bible
In his brilliantly suggestive recent paper, Marc Shell has discussed the history of the ideologeme of “pure Spanish blood” (Shell 1991). Thus, Shell argues, the Spain of the Reconquista “plays a central role in the European history of the idea of caste or race,” and when that is combined with the Christian doctrine of “All men are brothers,” we end up with a dehominization of all who are not Christian Spaniards. Since they are not brothers, they must not be human (Shell 1991, 308–09)! The result was expulsion of Jews and Muslims and even religious mass murder, such as the slaughter of the innocents in California, practices which, as Shell points out, were nearly unknown under Muslim rule. The doctrine of “purity of blood” (limpieza de sangre) that developed in this period, whereby a Christian was defined as someone whose ancestors had “always” been Christian, seems a signal departure from everything that Paul stood for. It cannot be solely located in a biblical milieu, either, for in every variety of biblical or post-biblical Judaism that I know of, notwithstanding the enormous emphasis on ethnicity, converts were of exactly the same status as Jews “by blood.” As Shell remarks, the biblical polity had, moreover, a built-in “law of tolerance” for non-Israelites in their midst, which served as a model for European liberals (328–29). It took the combination of two elements, Shell argues, Pauline “universalism” and racism, to produce unspeakable horror—including an important contribution to the “pure blood” doctrines of both Italian and German fascism (312).
Where, however, did the element of racism come from? Shell locates it exclusively in the absence in Paul of any category between “brothers” and animals, of any category of “others” whose sameness of kind is asserted even while their difference as non-kin is maintained. On the one hand, I am in complete sympathy with Shell's denial that racism is “the Jewish aspect of Christianity” (329). On the other, I think that Shell seriously overplays his hand when he totally denies any role at all to the Bible and “Jewish particularism” in the origins of Spanish racism, and this denial takes on a peculiarly apologetic flavor at times in his work. While there is no gainsaying the enormous cultural significance of biblical “toleration” of the stranger, there is also no gainsaying the dark currents of violence toward certain strangers in the Land—“the seven nations,” which are to be exterminated—nor the presence in Ezra-Nehemiah, for example, of a strong tendency toward some kind of family (if not racialized) limpieza. A story like that of Abraham refusing to bury his dead among the dead of the Land and insisting on separate ground, understandable perhaps within a certain tribal cultural economy, may certainly have played even an unconscious part in the production of such a cultural theme as limpieza de sangre.
On the other hand, critics of Zionism, both Arab and other, as well as anti-Semites, both Jewish and non-Jewish, have often sought to portray Jewish culture as racist to its very foundations, as essentially racist. This foundational racism is traced to the Hebrew Bible and described as the transparent meaning of that document. Critics who are otherwise fully committed to constructionist and historicist accounts of meaning and practice abandon this commitment when it comes to the Hebrew Bible—assuming that the Bible is, in fact and in essence, that which it has been read to be and that it authorizes univocally that which it has been taken to authorize. In what is otherwise an astonishingly sophisticated discussion, we find written, “For certain societies, in certain eras of their development, the scriptures have acted culturally and socially in the same way the human genetic code operates physiologically. That is, this great code has, in some degree, directly determined what people would believe and what they would think and what they would do” (Akenson 1992, 9). No interpretation is necessary; Scripture speaks with perfect transparence. Another recent writer holds: “But the distinctions raised in the covenant between religion and idolatry are like some visitation of the khamsin to wilderness peoples as yet unsuspected, dark clouds over Africa, the Americas, the Far East, until finally even the remotest islands and jungle enclaves are struck by fire and sword and by the subtler weapon of conversion-by-ridicule (Deuteronomy 2:34; 7:2; 20:16–18; Joshua 6: 17–21)” (Turner 1988, 45; cf. Jonathan Boyarin 1992b, 134). Local historically and materially defined practices of a culture far away and long ago are made here “naturally” responsible (like the khamsin, the Middle Eastern Santa Ana) for the colonial practices of cultures entirely other to it, simply because those later cultures used those practices as their authorization.
Even the primitive command to wipe out the Peoples of Canaan was limited by the Bible itself to those particular people in that particular place, and thus declared no longer applicable by the Rabbis of the Talmud. The very literalism of rabbinic/midrashic hermeneutics prevented a typological “application” of this command to other groups. Does this mean that rabbinic Judaism qua ideology is innocent of either ethnocentric or supremacist tenets? Certainly not! What it argues is rather that Jewish racism, like the racism of other peoples, is a facultative and dispensable aspect of the cultural system, not one that is necessary for its preservation or essential to its nature. Perhaps the primary function for a critical construction of cultural (or racial or gender or sexual) identity is to construct such identity in ways that purge it of its elements of domination and oppression. Some, however, would argue that this is an impossible project, not because of the nature of Jewishness but because any group identity is oppressive, unless it is oppressed.
In a recent marxian analysis of both race and racism, Balibar has argued that “racism” has two dissymmetrical aspects. On the one hand, it constitutes a dominating community with practices, discursive and otherwise, that are “articulated around stigmata of otherness (name, skin colour, religious practices).” It also constitutes, however, “the way in which, as a mirror image, individuals and collectives that are prey to racism (its ‘objects’) find themselves constrained to see themselves as a community.” Balibar further argues that destruction of racism implies the “internal decomposition of the community created by racism,” by which he means the dominating community, as is clear from his analogy to the overcoming of sexism which will involve “the break-up of the community of ‘males’” (Balibar 1991a, 18). This is, however, for me the crucial point, for the question is obviously: If overcoming sexism involves the breaking up of the community of males, does it necessarily imply the breaking up of the community of females? And does this, then, not entail a breaking up of community, tout court? Putting it another way, are we not simply reinscribing the One once more in such a formulation, once more imposing a coercive universal? On the other hand, if indeed the very existence of the dominant group is dependent on domination, if identity is always formed in a master-slave relationship, is perhaps the price not too high? What I wish to struggle for theoretically is a notion of identity in which there are only slaves but no masters, that is, an alternative to the model of self-determination, which is, after all, in itself a western, imperialist imposition on the rest of the world. I propose Diaspora—to be sure, an idealized Diaspora generalized from those situations in Jewish history when Jews were both relatively free from persecution and yet constituted by strong identity, those situations, moreover, within which promethean Jewish creativity was not antithetical to, indeed was synergistic with, a general cultural activity—as a theoretical and historical model to replace national self-determination. Another way of making the same point would be to insist that there are material and social conditions in which cultural identity and difference will not produce even what Balibar has called “differential racism,” that is, a “racism whose dominant theme is not biological heredity but the insurmountability of cultural differences, a racism which, at first sight, does not postulate the superiority of certain groups or peoples in relation to others but ‘only’ the harmfulness of abolishing frontiers, the incompatibility of life-styles and traditions” (1991a, 21). To my understanding, it would be an appropriate goal to articulate a theory and practice of identity which would on the one hand respect the irreducibility and the positive value of cultural differences, the harmfulness not of abolishing frontiers but of dissolving of uniqueness, and the mutual fructification of different life-styles and traditions. I do not think, moreover, that such possibilities are merely utopian. I would certainly claim that there have been historical situations in which they obtained, to be sure, without perfect success in this radically imperfect world. The solution of political Zionism, Jewish state hegemony, except insofar as it represented an emergency and temporary rescue operation, seems to me the subversion of Jewish culture and not its culmination, in that it represents the substitution of a European, western cultural-political formation for a traditional Jewish one that has been based on a sharing—at best—of political power with others and which takes on entirely other meanings when combined with political hegemony.
For example, Jewish resistance to assimilation and annihilation within conditions of Diaspora—to which I will return below—generated such practices as communal charity in the areas of education, feeding, providing for the sick, and the caring for Jewish prisoners, to the virtual exclusion of such charity directed at others. This exclusive attention to “one's own,” however, when in a subaltern situation simply does not have the same political meanings as it would have when Jews (or others) are dominant politically. In Israel, where power is virtually exclusively concentrated in Jewish hands, this practice has become a monstrosity, whereby an egregiously disproportionate portion of the resources of the State of Israel is devoted to the welfare of only one segment of the population. A further, somewhat more subtle and symbolic example, is the following: That very practice I mentioned above of symbolic expression of contempt for places of worship of others becomes darkly ominous when it is combined with temporal power and domination, i.e., when Jews have power over places of worship belonging to others. To cite one example among many: It is this factor, I would claim, that has allowed the Israelis to turn the central Mosque of Beersheba into a museum of the Negev and to allow the Muslim cemetery of that city to fall into ruins. Insistence on ethnic speciality, when it is extended over a particular piece of Land, will inevitably produce a discourse not unlike the Inquisition in many of its effects. We already see a certain nearly inexorable logic at work here. Thus the declaration of a Jewish State has led, because of its (inevitable and only partially willed) violence toward the Palestinians, to a Palestinian counter-discourse of desire for a Palestinian State. We thus have now an acting out of precisely the theory that Balibar exposed of postulating the necessity of ethnic/cultural separation behind closed borders in order to prevent the cultural mixing that leads to violence. In their rightist forms, these arguments call for expelling the Other. In their liberal forms, these arguments call for the formation of two states that are sealed off from each other. Both are racist programs.
My argument is that capturing Judaism in a State transforms entirely the meanings of its social practices. Practices which in Diaspora have one meaning—e.g., caring for the feeding and housing of Jews and not “others”—have entirely different meanings in a situation of political hegemony. E. P. Sanders has gotten this just right:
The inequities—and worse—in Israeli political, economic, and social practice are not aberrations but inevitable consequences of the inappropriate importation of a form of discourse from one historical situation to another, a discourse of intimacy and resistance to the claims of others, from a situation in which Jews were a dominated minority to one in which they are a dominating majority and in which power, concern, freedom, and resources have all to be aggregate. In the final section of this chapter, I wish then to begin to articulate a notion of Jewish identity that recuperates its genealogical moment—family, history, memory, and practice—while at the same time problematizing claims to autochthony and indigeneity as the material base of Jewish identity.
More important is the evidence that points to Jewish pride in separatism. Christian scholars habitually discuss the question under the implied heading “What was wrong with Judaism that Christianity corrected?” Exclusivism is considered to be bad, and the finding that Jews were to some degree separatist fills many with righteous pride. We shall all agree that exclusivism is bad when practiced by the dominant group. Things look different if one thinks of minority groups that are trying to maintain their own identity. I have never felt that the strict Amish are iniquitous, and I do not think that, in assessing Jewish separatism in the Diaspora, we are dealing with a moral issue. (The moral issue would be the treatment of Gentiles in Palestine during periods of Jewish ascendancy. How well were the biblical laws to love the resident alien [Lev 19:33–34] observed?) (Sanders 1990, 181; cf. Davies 1992, 133–38)
The Tanak and other sources of Judaism reveal certain ideas concerning The Land that reflect, or are parallel to, primitive Semitic, other Near Eastern, and, indeed, widespread conceptions about the significance of their land to a particular people. Israel is represented as the centre of the Earth.…The religious man desires to live as near to this sacred space as possible and comes to regard it, the place of his abode, his own land, as the centre of the world.
There are two diametrically opposed moments in the Jewish discourse of the Land. On the one hand, it is crucial to recognize that the Jewish conception of the Land of Israel is absolutely and essentially similar and contiguous to the discourse of the Land of many (if not nearly all) “indigenous” peoples of the world. Somehow, the Jews have managed to retain a sense of being rooted somewhere in the world through twenty centuries of exile from that someplace, and organicist metaphors are not out of place in this discourse, for they are used within the tradition itself.
There is accordingly something profoundly disturbing about Jewish attachment to the Land being decried as regressive in the same discursive situations in which the attachment of Native Americans or Australians to their particular rocks, trees, and deserts is celebrated as an organic connection to the Earth which “we” have lost. Recently at a conference an aboriginal speaker from Australia began her lecture with greetings from her people to the indigenous people of the United States, of whom there were two representatives at the conference, whom she addressed by name. Much of her lecture consisted of a critique of the rootlessness of Europeans. I had a sense of being trapped in a double bind, for if the Jews are the indigenous people of the Land of Israel, as Zionism claims, then the Palestinians are indigenous nowhere, but if the Palestinians are the indigenous people of Palestine, then Jews are indigenous nowhere (J. Boyarin 1992b, 119; Rabi 1979). I have painfully renounced the possibility of realizing my very strong feeling of connection to the Land (or rather, deferred it to some Messianic redemption, when all will be clarified) in favor of what I take to be the only possible end to violence and movement toward justice. Am I now to be condemned as a person who has lost his roots? I think that the uncritical valorization of indigenousness (and particularly the confusion between political indigeneity and mystified autochthony) must come under critique, without wishing, however, to deny the rights of Native Americans, Australians, and Palestinians to their lands precisely on the basis of real and not mystified political claims. Thus I find the arguments of some Palestinians that they are the direct descendants of the Jebusites and therefore exclusively entitled to the Land frightening in their implications, for the same reason that I find such claims frightening in the mouths of Jews. If Jews are to give up hegemony over the Land, this does not mean that the profundity of our attachment to that Land and the crucial cultural significance of a large grouping of Jews in one place, speaking, writing, and creating in Hebrew, can be denied; these also must have a political expression in the present. The cultural rights of a Jewish collective or collectives must be protected in any future Palestine as well.
The biblical story is not one of autochthony but one of always already coming from somewhere else. As Davies has so very well understood, the concept of a Divine Promise to give this land, which is the land of Others, to His People Israel is a marker and sign of a bad conscience at having deprived the others of their Land (Davies 1992, 11–12). Thus, at the same time that one vitally important strain of expression within biblical religion promotes a sense of organicistic “natural” connectedness between this People and this Land, a settlement in the Land, in another sense or in a counter-strain, Israelite and Jewish religion is perpetually an unsettlement of the very notion of autochthony.
Traditional Jewish attachment to the Land, whether biblical or post-biblical, thus provides a self-critique as well as a critique of identities based on notions of autochthony. One Jewish narrative of the Land has the power of insisting on the powerful connection without myths of autochthony, while other narratives, including the Zionist one, have repressed memories of coming from somewhere else. These very repressions are complicitous with a set of mystifications within which nationalist ideologies subsist. We have two alternative modes in the Bible itself for the construction of Jewish identity, one based on genealogy and one on autochthony. Paul leveled his primary attack on the former, while I am suggesting that it is the latter that is primarily responsible for racist effects in Jewish cultures. As Harry Berger argues, “The alienation of social constructions of divinity and cosmos by conquest groups resembles the alienation of socially constructed kinship and status terms from domestic kin groups to corporate descent groups—in anthropological jargon, from the ego-centered kinship system of families to the more patently fictional ancestor-centered system of lineages” (Berger 1989, 121). Distinguishing between forms of “weak transcendence” and “strong transcendence,” Berger argues that “family membership illustrates weak kinship; tribal membership, strong kinship” (121). Strong transcendence is that which is more aggressive, because it is more embattled and doing more ideological work in the service of, according to Berger, land control: “Status that depends on land is generally more precarious and alienable than status inscribed on the body; mobile subsistence economies tend to conceptualize status in terms of the signifying indices of the body—indices of gender, age, and kinship—rather than of more conspicuously artificial constructions, and are closer to the weak end of the weak-to-strong scale.” Thus Berger, following Brueggemann, contrasts two covenants, one the Mosaic, which rejects “the imperial gods of a totalitarian and hierarchic social order,” and one the Davidic, which enthrones precisely those gods as the one God. I could similarly contrast the two trajectories, the one toward autochthony and the one against it in the same way: the former promotes status that depends on land while the latter provides for status “in terms of the signifying indices of the body.” The first would serve to support the rule of Israelite kings over territory, while the second would serve to oppose it: “The dialectical struggle between antiroyalism and royalism persists throughout the course and formative career of the Old Testament as its structuring force. It sets the tent against the house, nomadism against agriculture, the wilderness against Canaan, wandering and exile against settlement, diaspora against the political integrity of a settled state” (123). My argument, then, is that a vision of Jewish history and identity that valorizes the second half of each of these binaries and sees the first as only a disease constitutes not a continuation of Jewish culture but its subversion.
What, however, of the fact that Berger has also implicated “ancestor-centered systems of lineages” as ideological mystifications in the service of state-power of conquest groups—seeming to agree with Paul that claims of status according to the flesh are retrograde—, while I have held such an organization up as the alternative and counter to statism? Empirically, tribal organization with its concomitant myths of the eponymous ancestor, e.g., Abraham, is nearly emblematic of nomadic peoples, not of states. Berger's own discourse, moreover, is inconsistent here, for only a page later, he refers to the pre-monarchic period of Israel (“roughly 1250 to 1000 B.C. ”) as a social experiment in “the rejection of strong transcendence in favor of a less coercive and somewhat weaker alternative, the tribal system that cuts across both local allegiances and stratificational discontinuities” (123). Thus Berger puts tribalism first on the side of “strong transcendence” and then on the side of “weak.” Against Berger's first claim on this point and in favor of his second, I would argue that talk of the eponymous ancestors, of the Patriarchs, is conspicuously less prominent in the “Davidic” texts of the settlement than in the “Mosaic” texts of the wandering. As Berger himself writes, “[David] tried to displace the loyalties and solidarity of kinship ties from clans and tribes to the national dynasty” (124). I would suggest that descent from a common ancestor is rather an extension of family kinship and not its antithesis and thus on the side of wilderness and not on the side of Canaan. Even the myth of descent from common ancestry belongs rather to the semantic field of status through the body and not to the semantic field of status through land. Diaspora, in historical Judaism, can be interpreted then as the analog in a later set of material conditions of nomadism in the earlier, and thus as a continuation of the “sociological experiment” which the Davidic monarchy symbolically overturns. With the “invention” of Diaspora, the “radical experiment of Moses” was advanced. The forms of identification typical of nomads, those marks of status in the body, remained, then, crucial to this formation. Race is here on the side of the radicals; space, on the other hand, belongs to the despots. Paul has, on my view, like many of his followers even of good will, misread the promises and possibilities of the Jewish discourse of deterritorialized, genealogical identity. But then, in my view, so has Zionism.
One modernist story of Israel—the Israeli Declaration of Independence—begins with an imaginary autochthony: “In the Land of Israel this people came into existence,” and ends with the triumphant return of the People to their natural Land, making them re-autochthonized, “like all of the nations.” Israeli state-power, deprived of the option of self-legitimation through appeal to divine king, discovered autochthony as a powerful replacement. An alternative story of Israel begins with a people forever unconnected with a particular land, a people that calls into question the idea that a people must have a land in order to be a people:
For this reading, the stories of Israel's conquest of the Land, whether under Abraham, Joshua or even more prominently, David, are always stories that are more compromised with a sense of failure of mission than they are imbued with the accomplishment of mission, and the internal critique within the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) itself, the dissident voice which is nearly always present, does not let us forget this either. Davies also brings into absolutely clear focus a prophetic discourse of preference for “Exile” over rootedness in the Land (together with a persistent hope of eschatological restoration), a prophetic discourse which has been, of course, totally occluded in modern Zionist ideological representations of the Bible and of Jewish history but was pivotal in the rabbinic ideology (15–19). Ultimately, I would argue, then, that Israel is indeed a product of European colonialism and cultural imperialism but in a sense that the other nation-states of the postcolonial world are as well. The ultimate product of western imperialism is the extension of the very system of nation-states over the entire world, and it is this that must be resisted. As Balibar has put it:
The Land of Israel was not the birthplace of the Jewish people, which did not emerge there (as most peoples have on their own soil). On the contrary it had to enter its own Land from without; there is a sense in which Israel was born in exile. Abraham had to leave his own land to go to the Promised Land: the father of Jewry was deterritorialized. (Davies 1992, 63)
The Rabbis produced their cultural formation within conditions of Diaspora—that is, in a situation within which Jews did not hold power over others—, and I would argue that their particular discourse of ethnocentricity is ethically appropriate only when the cultural identity is that of a minority, embattled or, at any rate, non-hegemonic. The point is not that the Land was devalued by the Rabbis but that they renounced it until the final Redemption, because in an unredeemed world, temporal dominion and ethnic particularity are, as I have argued in the last section, impossibly compromised. I think that Davies phrases the position just right when he says, “It was its ability to detach its loyalty from ‘place,’ while nonetheless retaining ‘place’ in its memory, that enabled Pharisaism to transcend the loss of its Land” (1992, 69). My only addition would be to argue that this displacement of loyalty from place to memory of place was a necessary one, not only to transcend the loss of the Land but to enable the loss of the Land. It was political possession of the Land which most threatened the possibility of continued Jewish cultural practice and difference. Given the choice between an ethnocentricity which would not seek domination over others or a seeking of political domination that would necessarily have led either to a dilution of distinctiveness, tribal warfare, or fascism, the Rabbis de facto chose the former. Secular Zionism has unsuccessfully sought the first choice, dilution of distinctiveness; religious Zionism has unfortunately (but almost inevitably) led to the second and third choices. Either way, Zionism leads to the ruination of rabbinic Judaism, founded on intense, concrete “tribal” intimacy, and it is no wonder that until World War II Zionism was a secular movement claiming very few adherents among religious Jews, who saw it as a human arrogation of a work that only God should or could perform. This is, moreover, the basis for the anti-Zionist ideology of such groups as Natorei Karta until this day. It was the renunciation of sovereignty over the Land that allowed Jewish memory to persist.
There is indeed an institution which the world bourgeoisie shares and which tends to confer concrete existence upon it, above and beyond its internal conflicts (even when these take the violent form of military conflicts) and particularly above and beyond the quite different conditions of its hegemony over the dominated populations! That institution is the system of states itself, the vitality of which has become particularly evident since, in the wake of revolutions and counter-revolutions, colonizations and decolonizations, the form of the nation-state has been formally extended to the whole of humanity. (Balibar and Wallerstein 1991, 5; cf. Basil Davidson 1992)
The dialectic between Paul and the Rabbis can be recuperated for cultural critique. When Christianity is the hegemonic power in Europe and the United States, then the resistance of Jews to being universalized can be a critical force and model for the resistance of all peoples to being Europeanized out of particular bodily existence. When, however, an ethnocentric Judaism becomes a temporal, hegemonic political force, it becomes absolutely, vitally necessary to accept Paul's critical challenge—although not his universalizing, disembodying solution—and develop an equally passionate concern for all human beings. We, including religious Jews—perhaps especially religious Jews—must take the theological dimension of Paul's challenge seriously. How could the God of all the world have such a disproportionate care and concern for only a small part of His world?! And yet, obviously, I cannot even conceive of accepting Paul's solution of dissolving into a universal human essence, even one that would not be Christian but truly humanist and universal, even if such an entity could really exist. If, on the one hand, rabbinic Judaism seems to imply that Israel is the true humanity, a potentially vicious doctrine of separation and hierarchy, Paul argues that humanity is the true Israel, an equally vicious doctrine of coerced sameness and exclusion.
Somewhere in this dialectic a synthesis must be found, one that will allow for stubborn hanging on to ethnic, cultural specificity but in a context of deeply felt and enacted human solidarity. For that synthesis, Diaspora provides the model, and only in conditions of Diaspora can such a resolution even be attempted. Within the conditions of Diaspora, many Jews discovered that their well-being was absolutely dependent on principles of respect for difference, indeed “that no one is free until all are free.” Complete devotion to the maintenance of Jewish culture and the historical memory were not inconsistent with devotion to radical causes of human liberation; there were Yiddish-speaking and Judeo-Arabic-speaking groups of marxists and anarchists, and a fair number of such Jews even retained a commitment to historical Jewish religious practice. The “chosenness” of the Jews becomes, when seen in this light, not a warrant for racism but precisely an antidote to racism. This is a Judaism which mobilizes the critical forces within the Bible and the Jewish tradition rather than mobilizing the repressive and racist forces that also subsist there.
The alternative story I would tell of Jewish history has three stages. In the first stage, we find a people—call it a tribe—not very different in certain respects from peoples in similar material conditions all over the world, a people like most others that regards itself as special among humanity, indeed as The People, and its land as preeminently wonderful among lands, indeed as The Land. This is, of course, an oversimplification, because this “tribe” never quite dwelled alone and never regarded itself as autochthonous in its Land. In the second stage, this form of life increasingly becomes untenable, morally and politically, because the “tribe” no longer dwells alone, as it were. This is, roughly speaking, the Hellenistic period, culminating in the crises of the first century, of which I have read Paul as an integral part. Various solutions to this problem were eventually adopted. Pauline Christianity is one; so, perhaps, is the retreat to Qumran, while the Pharisaic Rabbis “invented” Diaspora, even in the Land, as the solution to this cultural dilemma.
The rabbinic answer to Paul's challenge was, therefore, to renounce any possibility of dominion over Others by being perpetually out of power:
As before, my impulse is only to slightly change the nuance of Davies's marvelously precise reading. The renunciation of temporal power (not merely “recognition of powerlessness”) was to my mind precisely the most powerful mode of preservation of difference and, therefore, the most effective kind of resistance. The story of Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai being spirited out of besieged Jerusalem to set up the Academy at Yavneh rather than staying and fighting for Jewish sovereignty is emblematic of this stance. The Natorei Karta, to this day, refuse to visit the Western Wall, the holiest place in Judaism, without PLO “visas,” because it was taken by violence. And, I would argue: This response has much to teach us. I want to propose a privileging of Diaspora, a dissociation of ethnicities and political hegemonies, as the only social structure which even begins to make possible a maintenance of cultural identity in a world grown thoroughly and inextricably interdependent. Indeed, I would suggest that Diaspora, and not monotheism, may be the important contribution that Judaism has to make to the world, although I would not deny the positive role that monotheism has played in making Diaspora possible. The very current example of eastern Europe should provide much food for thought, where the lesson of Diaspora, namely, that peoples and lands are not naturally and organically connected, were it taken to heart, could prevent much bloodshed. Diaspora can teach us that it is possible for a people to maintain its distinctive culture, its difference, without controlling land, a fortiori without controlling other people or developing a need to dispossess them of their lands. Thus the response of rabbinic Judaism to the challenge of universalism, which Paul, among others, raised against what was becoming in the end of the millennium and the beginning of the next, an increasingly inappropriate doctrine of specialness in an already interdependent world, may provide some, by no means all, of the pieces to the solution to the puzzle of how humanity can survive now as another millennium draws to its close with no Messiah yet on the horizon. I would argue, therefore, that only a precise reversal of the synthesis of domination and racism could provide any answer to the question of how humanity might continue to survive. Renunciation of sovereignty, autochthony, indigeneity (as embodied politically in the notion of self-determination), on the one hand, combined with a fierce tenacity in holding onto cultural identity, on the other, might yet have something to offer. For we live in a world in which the combination of these two kills thousands daily, yet where the renunciation of difference seems both an impoverishment of human life and an inevitable harbinger of oppression.
Just as with seeing the return in terms of the restoration of political rights, seeing it in terms of redemption has certain consequences. If the return were an act of divine intervention, it could not be engineered or forced by political or any other human means: to do so would be impious. That coming was best served by waiting in obedience for it: men of violence would not avail to bring it in. The rabbinic aloofness to messianic claimants sprang not only from the history of disillusionment with such, but from this underlying, deeply ingrained attitude. It can be claimed that under the main rabbinic tradition Judaism condemned itself to powerlessness. But recognition of powerlessness (rather than a frustrating, futile, and tragic resistance) was effective in preserving Judaism in a very hostile Christendom, and therefore had its own brand of “power.” (Davies 1992, 82)
Toward a Diasporized (Multicultural) Israel
For those of us who are equally committed to social justice and collective Jewish existence some other formation must be constituted. I suggest that an Israel which reimports diasporic consciousness, a consciousness of a Jewish collective as one sharing space with others, devoid of exclusivist and dominating power, is the only Israel which could answer Paul's and Lyotard's and Nancy's call for a species-wide care, without eradicating cultural difference. I would propose an Israel in which individual and collective cultural rights would become an essential part of its structure, no longer coded as a Jewish State but as a bi-national, secular, and multicultural one. For historical models, one might look to the millet system of the Ottoman Empire, on the one hand, and to that multiculturalism now struggling to be born in the United States on the other. The point would be precisely to avoid both the coercive universalism of a France, the Pauline option, on the one hand, and the violence of a joining of ethnic particularism and state-power, contemporary Israel, on the other.
Reversing A. B. Yehoshua's famous pronouncement that only in a condition of political hegemony is moral responsibility mobilized, I would argue that the only moral path would be the renunciation of near-exclusive Jewish hegemony. This would involve, first of all, complete separation of religion from state, but even more than that the revocation of the Law of Return and such cultural, discursive practices that code the state as a Jewish State and not a multinational and multicultural one. The dream of a place that is ours founders on the rock of realization that there are Others there, just as there are Others in Poland, Morocco, and Ethiopia. Any notion, then, of Redemption through Land must either be infinitely deferred (as Natorei Karta understand so well) or become a moral monster. Either Israel must entirely divest itself of the language of race and become truly a state which is equally for all of its citizens and collectives, or the Jews must divest themselves of their claim to space. Race and space, or genealogy and territorialism, have been the problematic and necessary (if not essential) terms around which Jewish identity has revolved. In Jewish history, however, these terms are more obviously in dissonance with each other than in synergy. This allows a formulation of Jewish identity not as a proud resting place, indeed not as a “boast,” but as a perpetual, creative, diasporic tension.
1. See Sander Gilman, who writes, “The concept of ‘race’ is so poisoned in Western society that it is difficult to imagine how it can be resurrected” (Gilman 1991, 242). [BACK]
2. Witness the “ethnic cleansing” of Muslims and Croats from the space of Serbian “autochthony.” This double-edged sword of accounts of origin is precisely captured by Spivak: “The notion of origin is as broad and robust and full of affect as it is imprecise. ‘History lurks in it somewhere,’ I had written, but now I think that sentence would have to be revised: History slouches in it, ready to comfort and kill” (Spivak 1992, 781). [BACK]
3. Augustine, Tractatus adversus Judaeos, vii, 9. [BACK]
4. For the disturbing nature of women, see Saxonhouse: “The poets introduce the female as a constant reminder of the diversity out of which the world was made and as a constant warning against the attempt to see the world as a uniform whole and, therefore, subject to simple answers and rational control” (1992, 53, and see also 57). See also Bloch 1991, 31–32. [BACK]
5. At least until new “pagans” were discovered in the early modern period. See next note. [BACK]
6. Lawton 1993 is, inter alia, a remarkable documentation of this process. One of the most stunning moments in this book (from my point of view) is Lawton's citation of the recent (1985) translation of the gospel for the benefit of the Panare People of the Amazon, a translation that reads:
Lawton cites this text from Lewis 1988, and then glosses it:
The Panare killed Jesus Christ because they were wicked Let's kill Jesus Christ said the Panare. The Panare seized Jesus Christ. The Panare killed in this way. They laid a cross on the ground. They fastened his hands and his feet against the wooden beams, with nails. They raised him straight up, nailed. The man died like that, nailed. Thus the Panare killed Jesus Christ.
The new theology is used to predict the Panares' punishment; and that punishment is of course the destruction of their rainforest habitat and the traditional life-style that goes with it. God wants the Panare to wear American clothes, use soap, and have sweet-smelling orifices. The discourse of guilt for the Crucifixion is treated here as a transferable discourse justifying persecution and exploitation. Seeing it in this form, we can recognise it for what it is, and so identify the traditional role of the Jews in it. The Panare are non-Christians; they are therefore blasphemers, and so must be the subject of conversion whether they wish it or not. As blasphemers, they are able to assume the role of the Jews in the trial of Jesus. From the gospels onward, blasphemy is Greek for Jew.
7. This “Jewish” resistance to dualism and the Ideal can even be claimed for the christology of the Jewish Christians, the Ebionites, who into the third century claimed that Jesus was the crucified and risen Messiah but “solely and normally human.” This insistence on a single, physical, literal existence for Christ was paralleled, of course, by literal observance of Jewish Law including, of course, circumcision. (Fredriksen 1988, 213). [BACK]
8. The analogy itself has been previously remarked by Anthony Appiah (1985, 35). [BACK]
9. Cp. Balibar (in a quite different historical context): “In fact racism figures both on the side of the universal and the particular” (1991b, 54). Also Connolly (1991, 41). [BACK]
10. Fredriksen cites abundant evidence to the effect that in antiquity Jews permitted gentiles to attend the synagogue without conversion, even if they continued to worship idols (1988, 149–51)! “As long as a group thinks that its moral code applies only to itself, it will make no effort to impose it on others. Orthodox Jews, believing that the dietary laws of kashrut are binding only on Jews, have never tried to prevent gentiles from eating pork and shellfish” (Greenberg 1988, 6–7). [BACK]
11. Thus, as Marc Shell points out, “Moses Mendelssohn in his Jerusalem tried to steer the ideology of a universalist Enlightenment…away from what he took to be its probably inevitable course towards barbarism.…In the Germany of his day Jews were pressured to renounce their faith in return for civil equality and union with the Christian majority. The pressure was kindly, but it was also a form of intolerance towards non-kin” (Shell 1991, 331). [BACK]
12. On this point see Gilman (1991, 25–27). [BACK]
13. In California, certain missionaries had thousands of Indian babies killed, so that their souls would be saved before their bodies could sin. [BACK]
14. “Virtually” no one, because Judith Butler (1990), for one, denies precisely this reality. See also Butler 1991b, 19. My position seems to me closer to that of Luce Irigaray, for instance, who writes, “The human species is divided into two genders [sic] which ensure its production and reproduction. To wish to get rid of sexual difference is to call for a genocide more radical than any form of destruction there has even been in History” (Irigaray 1993, 12). I have my problems with the apocalyptic tenor of this comment; even disaggregated bodies can, after all, get pregnant. But I do think that it answers to a fundamental sensibility of how culture has always been built on the material base of reproduction, and how, therefore, the difference between male and female may indeed be somatically “hard-wired” into our psyches/cultures. See also in quite a different vein E. Cohen: “You see, I feel there is something ‘different’ about the body: I believe feeling is the difference that bodies make, a difference that moves people to action” (1991, 84). [BACK]
15. I am not ignoring the qualification in the “may be.” This leaves room for positions such as that of Judith Butler. [BACK]
16. It is important for me to emphasize that it is a category error to assume that social constructionism is coextensive with the notion that gay and lesbian people can change if they want to (Epstein 1992, 242). Sedgwick (1990, 40) has remarked the confusion of these two categories, which she refers to as the “phylogenetic” and “ontogenetic” questions. She is absolutely correct in the ways that the debate has been willy-nilly implicated in homophobic projects, but only, I would claim, insofar as the question of “ontogeny”—the determination of the causes of heterosexuality in the individual—is concerned. I, for my part, think that this question of “ontogeny” has never properly been part of the issue to start with. Below I will return to this question, for I think that in this distinction lies the key to a proper understanding of Aristophanes's speech in the Symposium as well. I could not agree more with Sedgwick when she says “that gay-affirmative work does well when it aims to minimize its reliance on any particular account of the origin of sexual preference and identity in individuals” (41). The historical constructionist position has nothing whatsoever to say about the origin of sexual preference in individuals. It has only to do with the sociocultural characterizations which determine whether people who prefer this or that kind of sexual behavior are anatomized as a taxonomically significant human type. Preferable, perhaps, to thinking of the issue as a question of the origins of homosexuality would be thinking of it as having to do with the origins of homophobia—or maybe with the origins of heterosexuality. It certainly has nothing to do with “gay [!] origins” (pace Sedgwick 1990, 43). Insisting on a constructionist position will not, then, deprive gay people of the right to their identity but only of homophobia of its claims to be natural. [BACK]
17. Similarly, Epstein seems to me right on target when he writes that “a gay or lesbian identity might have a clear resonance for individuals without necessarily binding them to any specific definition of what that identity ‘means’” (274). I would suggest that this is true of other types of identity as well. [BACK]
18. “A racism which does not have the pseudo-biological concept of race as its main driving force has always existed, and it has existed at exactly the level of secondary theoretical elaborations. Its prototype is anti-Semitism. Modern anti-Semitism—the form which begins to crystalize in the Europe of the Enlightenment, if not, indeed, from the period in which the Spain of the Reconquista and the Inquisition gave a statist, nationalistic inflexion to theological anti-Judaism—is already a ‘culturalist’ racism” (Balibar 1991a, 23). See also Thompson (1989, 16). [BACK]
19. This last point is, however, an excellent argument for the social constructedness of races, because only fifty years ago there were physical characteristics that marked Jews' bodies off from the bodies of others. Sander Gilman's recent book (1991) is a sustained demonstration of this point. Not only gentiles but Jewish doctors were absolutely convinced, for instance, that the Jewish foot was constructed differently from the gentile one. [BACK]
20. On this point, see also the very moving and convincing discussion by Sedgwick (1990, 42–43). [BACK]
21. In his remarkable Identity \ difference: Democratic Negotiations of Political Paradox, William E. Connolly has asked the same question in quite different terms. Referring to the formation of identity as an attempt to solve what he calls the “first problem of evil,” he argues that this very formation often produces “a second problem of evil,” namely, the violence toward Others that shores up identity. Then, “the Augustinian definition of Manicheanism as heresy and of Greek polytheism as paganism provides two exemplifications of the politics of identity and difference. That politics contains the second problem of evil moving silently inside the first one. The question now becomes: Is it possible to counter the second problem of evil without eliminating the functions served by identity” (8). Although I read Connolly's book just as I was finishing this manuscript, it seems to me that he anticipated in quite different terms some of the directions of my argument here. It is fascinating to me to see the different results achieved when Augustine and not Paul is the starting point for the inquiry into identity and difference, since Paul, after all, did not set out to define an abject Other in quite the same way that Augustine did. [BACK]
22. As Connolly argues, “to engage the second problem of evil [see above n.21], it is necessary to practice the arts of experimental detachment of the self from the identity installed within it, even though these are slippery, ambiguous arts hardly susceptible to full realization” (9). [BACK]
23. And as such was hotly contested within Spanish Christendom. See Balibar (1991b, 52). Also Simms (1992, 45–46). [BACK]
24. Among the telling points that Shell makes is the very fact that Spain was defined as a Germania, that is, a union of siblings-german, siblings by seed, consanguinity (311). [BACK]
25. This move is not by any means limited to gentile critics. Certain “liberal Zionists” blame everything that has “gone wrong” with Israel on the residues of biblical sensibility that have not been eradicated successfully enough. [BACK]
26. Note how such an utterance completely reproduces precisely the ideology that it would question, for the societies under consideration would have us believe that Scripture underwrites their practice directly. Akenson's position, which I will further criticize below, demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of, at least, traditional modes of Jewish biblical interpretation. In general, his reading of the Bible is highly unbalanced. He is certainly right in opposing apologists who would gloss over the corrosive or “sulphurous” aspects of the Bible (10), but he is hardly justified, for instance, in his conclusion (based on one verse in a psalm) that “it is a small and natural step in covenantal thinking to affirm that the possession of might (whether in the form of economic prosperity or military power) is evidence that one is morally right” (16), since myriad biblical texts that directly contravene such a claim could be adduced. In other words, those who would derive the “Protestant ethic” from Hebrew Scripture are not obeying a genetic code but producing a reading of the text, one that, like all readings, is tendentious and ideologically informed. By suggesting that it is a “genetic code,” then, Akenson simply endorses the hermeneutical stance not only of the society but of its most reactionary elements. [BACK]
27. The attempt of some modern ultranationalist groups calling themselves Orthodox to reconfigure the Palestinians as the “five nations” and thereby reactivate the command to drive them out of the Land is thus an act of radical religious revisionism and not a continuation of rabbinic Judaism. The so-called ultraOrthodox in Israel reject such views—as indeed many Orthodox nationalists do also. As I correct proof (in March 1994) I note that such nationalist revisionism has now borne the bitterest fruit of all—the Hebron mass murder. [BACK]
28. This proposal, of a diaspora deterritorialized Jewish identity, is hardly new. It has a genealogy ranging from the historian Shim‘on Dubnov to George Steiner and Philip Roth. [BACK]
29. “It is easy for us now to read, say, Proust as the most expert operator of our modern technologies for dismantling taxonomies of the person. For the emergence and persistence of the vitalizing worldly taxonomic energies on which Proust also depends, however, we have no theoretical support to offer. And these defalcations in our indispensable antihumanist discourses have apparently ceded the potentially forceful ground of profound, complex variation to humanist liberal ‘tolerance’ or repressively trivializing celebration at best, to reactionary suppression at worst” (Sedgwick 1990, 24). [BACK]
30. It should, however, be emphasized that political Zionism is not the only form that the movement historically took. Prior to the formation of the State of Israel, there were various movements calling themselves Zionist that proposed creating concentrations of Jews in Palestine without seeking political hegemony or statehood, including some, indeed, for whom such aspirations were anathema. The ideas of some of these groups, including the highly progressive ones of Judah Magnes and Martin Buber, could come much closer to my notion of multicultural—Diasporized—states than the eventually dominant political Zionism has. [BACK]
31. A highly ingenuous, or more likely egregiously disingenuous, claim of Abba Eban's (from a letter to W. D. Davies) is given the lie in every page of Israeli history and particularly the last ones. Beersheba may have been “virtually empty,” but that provides little consolation to the Bedouin who were and continue to be constantly dispossessed there and in its environs, and the refugees in camps in Gaza as well as the still visible ruins of their villages would certainly dispute the claim that Arab populations had avoided “the land of the Philistines in the coastal plain…because of insalubrious conditions.” Abba Eban quoted in Davies (1992, 76). [BACK]
32. Early in the Intifada, the Palestinians, acknowledging that the Zionists would never accept a secular, democratic, binational state in all of Palestine, reverted to the notion of two separate ethnic states. The Palestinian version of this vision still expresses much more interdependence and contact than most “liberal” Zionist versions. [BACK]
33. As this is being written (June 1993), the Palestinian people are being held behind military roadblocks, cut off from sources of livelihood and even from their cultural, administrative, medical [!] center, Jerusalem. This so-called “closure” has divided the Palestinian West Bank into three hermetically sealed Bantustans—and this by the so-called liberal Labor government with the full support of its coalition partner, “The Citizens' Rights Party.” Advertising campaigns in Israeli elections for parties that support “two states” tend to portray their solution as one of (relative) ethnic purification of the Israeli state. Nor, obviously, is this only true in Palestine/ Israel, since it is also taking place in both south-central Europe and central Asia as well. (Nor has much changed, in my opinion, as I review these observations in December of that year, famous handshakes notwithstanding.) [BACK]
34. Note that this point is not incompatible with the notion of Zionism as a national liberation struggle (a description that I neither fully ascribe to nor entirely reject). Balibar has shown the complicity, indeed implicature, between national liberation struggles and racisms. “Racism is constantly emerging out of nationalism.…And nationalism emerges out of racism, in the sense that it would not constitute itself as the ideology of a ‘new’ nation if the official nationalism against which it were reacting were not profoundly racist: thus Zionism comes out of anti-Semitism and Third World nationalisms come out of colonial racism” (Balibar 1991b, 53, and see also 57). Following this line, it is not only anti-Semitism that is “the socialism of fools.” [BACK]
35. For the ideological functions of myths of autochthony, see Saxonhouse (1992, 51–52, and esp. 111–31). [BACK]
36. Davies remarks there that this sense of “bad conscience” can be found in texts as late as the first century B.C. I think that he underestimates; this factor can still be found much later. The classical midrash on Genesis, Bereshith Rabba, a product of the fourth and fifth centuries c.e., begins with the question: Why does the Torah open with the creation of the world, and answers, so that when the Nations will call Israel robbers for their theft of the Land, they will be able to point to the Torah and say: God created the earth and can dispose of it at his will! [BACK]
37. See Schwartz (1992, 142) for an even more nuanced reading of tensions within the Davidic stories themselves. Schwartz's forthcoming book will deal with many of the themes of identity in the Bible that this chapter is treating, albeit with quite different methods and often with quite different results. [BACK]
38. It is important to emphasize that this analysis is indifferent to the historical question of whether there were nomadic Israelite tribes to begin with or the thesis (made most famous by the work of Norman Gottwald ) which ascribes to these tribes a “retribalization” process taking place among “native” Canaanites. For discussion of this thesis, see Berger, 131–32. For my purposes here, the representations of the tribes as nomadic and the ideological investments in that representation are indifferent to the “actual” history. [BACK]
39. Classical Zionism was, after all, a secular movement. This is why claims that Zionism is based on the Promised Land theology fall rather flat. [BACK]
40. Also: “The desert is, therefore, the place of revelation and of the constitution of ‘Israel’ as a people; there she was elected” (1992, 39). Davies's book is remarkable for many reasons; one of them is surely the way that while it intends to be a defense and explanation of Zionism as a deeply rooted Jewish movement, it consistently and honestly documents the factors in the tradition which are in tension with such a view. [BACK]
41. I think that Davies occasionally seems to lose sight of his own great insight, confusing ethnic identity with political possession (90–91n.10). The same mixture appears also when he associates, it seems, deterritorialization and deculturation (93). It is made clear when Davies writes, “At the same time the age-long engagement of Judaism with The Land in religious terms indicates that ethnicity and religion…are finally inseparable in Judaism” (97). I certainly agree that ethnicity and religion are inseparable in Judaism, but fail to see the necessary connection between ethnicity, religion, and territoriality. Moreover, a people can be on their land without this landedness being expressed in the form of a nation-state, and landedness can be shared in the same place with others who feel equally attached to the same land! This is the solution of the Natorei Karta, who live, after all, in Jerusalem but do not seek political hegemony over it. [BACK]
42. This has led, moreover, to a discourse within Israel whereby liberal Israelis, such as the followers of the Meretz party, blame Judaism itself for the racism of Israeli political and cultural life, not noticing the difference in meaning between expressions of dominated minorities and the same expressions in the hands of a dominating majority. [BACK]
43. I dissent from the conclusion of W. D. Davies that, “For religious Jews, we must conclude, The Land is ultimately inseparable from the state of Israel, however much the actualities of history have demanded their distinction” (1992, 51). Clearly, many religious Jews have not felt that way at all (Rodinson 1983, 56). Although I do not deny entirely the theological bona fides of religious Zionism as one option for a modern Jewish religious thought, the fact that Zionists are the historical “winners” in an ideological struggle should not blind us to the fact that their option was, until only recently, only one option for religious Jews—and a very contested one at that. Even the theological “patron saint” of religious Zionists, the holy Rabbi Loewe (Maharal) of Prague, who, as pointed out by Davies, “understood the nature and role of nations to be ordained by God, part of the natural order” and held that nations “were intended to cohere rather than be scattered”; even he held that reestablishment of a Jewish state should be left to God (33). Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav's desire to touch any part of the Land and then immediately return to Poland hardly bespeaks a proto-Zionism either (33). Davies seriously nuances his own statement when he remarks “Zionism cannot be equated with a reaffirmation of the eternal relation of The Land, the people, and the Deity, except with the most cautious reservations, since it is more the expression of nationalism than of Judaism” (64). Davies is surely right, however, in his claim that something vital about historical Jewish tradition is surely missing from Petuchowski's statement that there can be a “full-blooded Judaism which is in no need to hope and to pray for a messianic return to Palestine.” The desire, the longing for unity, coherence, and groundedness in the utopian future of the Messianic Age is, as Davies eminently demonstrates, virtually inseparable from historical Judaism (66). There is surely a “territorial theological tradition.” At issue is rather its status in pre-Messianic praxis. There are (at least two) historically viable and religiously authentic responses. Religious Zionism is only one. The following document will make this alternative Jewish theology absolutely clear:
Statement of the Palestinian Jewish (Neturei Karta) Members of the Palestinian Delegation to the Middle East Peace Conference in Washington, D.C.
We, the Neturei Karta (Guardians of the City—Jerusalem), presently numbering in the tens of thousands, are comprised of the descendants of the pioneer Jews who settled in the Holy Land over a hundred years before the establishment of the Zionist State. Their sole motive was to serve G-d, and they had not political aspirations nor any desire to exploit the local population in order to attain statehood.
Our mission, in the capacity of Palestinian advisers, to this round of the Middle East Peace Conference, is to concern ourselves with the safeguarding of the interests of the Palestinian Jews and the entire Jewish nation. The Jewish people are charged by Divine oath not to seek independence and cast off the yoke of exile which G-d decreed, as a result of not abiding by the conditions under which G-d granted them the Holy Land. We repeat constantly in our prayers, “ since we sinned, we were therefore exiled from our land. ” G-d promised to gather in the exiled Jews through His Messiah. This is one of the principles of the Jewish faith. The Zionists rebelled against this Divine decree of exile by taking the land away from its indigenous inhabitants and established their state. Thus are the Jewish people being exposed to the Divine retribution set down in the Talmud. I will make your flesh prey as the deer and the antelope of the forest (Song of Songs 2:7). Our advice to the negotiating contingent of the Palestinian delegation will remain within the framework of Jewish theology.
Zionist schoolings dictate a doctrine of labeling the indigenous Palestinian population “ enemies, ” in order to sanction their expansionist policies. Judaism teaches that Jew and non-Jew are to co-exist in a cordial and good neighbor relationship. We Palestinian Jews have no desire to expand our places of residence and occupy our neighbors' lands, but only to live alongside the non-Jewish Palestinians, just as Jews live throughout the world, in peace and tranquility.
The enmity and animosity towards the non-Jewish population, taught to the Zionist faithful, is already boomeranging. King Solomon in Parables 27:19 describes reality: “ As one's image is reflected in water: so one's heart towards his fellow man. ” (so an enemy's heart is reflected in his adversary's heart). The Intifada is exhibit A to this King Solomon gem of wisdom. We hope and pray that this face to face meeting with imagined adversaries, will undo the false image created, and that both Jew and Arab in Palestine can once again live as good neighbors as was the life of yesteryear, under a rule chosen by the indigenous residents of the Holy Land—thus conforming with G-d's plan for the Holy Land.
The last word is the traditional Muslim prayer: “May it be God's [Allah's] will.” The document has been transcribed here from the New York Yiddish weekly יד טפירשנכאוו עשידיא issue dated September 4, 1992. [BACK]
44. Cf. Judith Butler, “How is it that we might ground a theory or politics in a speech situation or subject position which is ‘universal’ when the very category of the universal has only begun to be exposed for its own highly ethnocentric biases” (Butler 1991a, 151). [BACK]
45. This is not to be taken, of course, as an uncritical affirmation of all aspects of Natorei Karta society, specifically their gender practices. [BACK]
46. Shell argues, following Spinoza, that temporal power is necessary for toleration (1991, 328n.75). I am suggesting the opposite: that only conditions in which power is shared between religions and ethnicities will allow for difference within common caring. [BACK]
47. There simply is no gainsaying that Israeli definitions of who is and who is not a citizen are most similar to those of Germany, with two major differences: the spouses of ethnic Germans are automatic citizens, while the non-Jewish spouses of Jews are not, and Palestinians living within the Green Line are citizens of Israel, and others (but not Palestinians currently living “outside”) can become naturalized as citizens of Israel. Cp. Balibar: “Racism underlies the claims for annexation (‘return’) to the national ‘body’ of ‘lost’ individuals and populations (for example, the Sudeten or Tyrolean Germans) which is, as is well known, closely linked to what might be called the pan-ic developments of nationalism (Pan-Slavism, Pan-Germanism, Pan-Turanianism, Pan-Arabism, Pan-Americanism.…)” (1991b, 59 [ellipses in original]). Zionist liberals have tended to think that the solution is a change in the definitions of “Who is a Jew?”—a topic of Israeli public life since the foundation of the State—whereas the whole force of my argument is that traditional definitions of Jewishness have to stand, or Jewishness ends up meaning nothing and depriving people of “their” identity, and the answer to the Israeli problem is to completely sever Israeliness from Jewishness! Definitions such as “born of a Jewish mother or converted by a Rabbi (even if Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist Rabbis are included—the solution of the ‘liberals’)” cannot possibly be constitutive in any way of citizenship in a democratic state. [BACK]
48. The first option was the program of the group called “Canaanites,” who argued for a total break between the Israelis and the Jews both past and present and the invention of a new People, the Canaanites, former Jews and former Palestinian Arabs, who would together restore the glory of our common “indigenous” ancestors. This is a coherent—if to me unattractive—project in ways that Zionism is not. [BACK]