Israel-Palestine and Liberal Judaism in North America (response to Hayyim Rothman)

The reason why I think Israel matters is because I’m thinking that the rightwing rot from over here rolls over there and the rot over there makes an impact over here. I think shoring up and projecting a North American liberal-progressive center may very well depend upon things going right in Israel-Palestine.

I don’t think the relation between Israel and American Judaism is a “causal” one. Not in a direct way. But I think it’s a kind of “leaky” overlap. In this, Rosenzweig is not helpful, because we are living under post-exilic conditions.

I’m not sure you can split the difference between American Jewishness-Judaism and Israel. It would require a terrible amputation. At any rate, affect tends to carry across these kinds of gaps. This has less to do with ideology than a more simple human element, a network of association and affection between people over here and over there. In this, I’m more interested in Israel more than “Zionism” per se.

I’m actually not being irenic here. In fact, I think the situation is even worse, much worse, than Hayyim does.

Like many on the left, he wants to think Judaism can be salvaged by de-linking it from Israel. My concern is that the problem really isn’t “Zionism” as much as it is “Judaism.” The more “Jewish” Israel-Zionism gets, the worse things turn out to be. So maybe Israel should de-link from Judaism, no?

As a rule, I’m coming to think that religion is a good thing when you keep it in a cave or a box. The rabbis in b.Sanhedrin try to do it with the yetzer ha’ra. It doesn’t quite work out, but at the very least, they feel confident that at the very least they’ve tapped down the yetzer for incest.  

At any rate, against contemporary conservative political theorists and political theologians, I can’t see how Israel does not stand out as a test case for the need to keep religion out of politics, and politics out of religion. Yeshiyahu Leibovitz was right. Zionism might be killing Judaism, but that doesn’t mean that Judaism isn’t killing Israel.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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3 Responses to Israel-Palestine and Liberal Judaism in North America (response to Hayyim Rothman)

  1. hayyim rothman says:

    I agree with you that “judaism” is the problem insofar as judaism is linked to politics. but this, in my view, is what zionism – and, again, any nationalism – is: religion without god. this is, in my view, what national identity means. what is a national identity other than the recognition of a common culture? and what is religion but the theological interpretation of a common culture? no nationalism is actually secular, much less zionism. this is, as i see it, the core of the conservative tendency of all nationalisms.

    but what if judaism, and any religion for that matter, fully embraced an exilic identity? what if it was utterly divorced from politics? would it be a problem then? If it would, its problems would be problems of interpretation, not problems of its very existence. as a politically entangled entity, on the contrary, the very existence of judaism becomes problematic because it – like any religion – must view things from one standpoint and cannot fully embrace the standpoint of the other without dissolving itself. but it is precisely the capacity to embrace the standpoint of the other that allows liberal democracies to function.

    so, in essence, i think that judaism does, as you put it, belong in a box or a cave. but that is not, in my view, a bad thing. it is what is best for judaism and best for just politics. judaism is killing israel, but zionism is as much judaism (in this regard) as haredism is because a truly liberal democracy is made impossible from either stance. its not a simple matter of secularism v.s. religion.

    the political value, as i see it, of judaism would be the demand for a pure obscurantist particularism which, by its radically myopic vision would exclude the political and, therefore, open the space in which the political can occur unencumbered – paradoxically engendering the broadest imaginable vision of space.

  2. hayyim rothman says:

    in essence, what i envision is the following: the space of the public – the commons, what is “owned” by all – is not generated by beginning with it, by beginning with the shared. Rather, it is produced out of what is “nobody’s”. what is nobody’s becomes everybody’s. i believe that the “nobody’s” must be produced and that its mode of production is by deflecting identity formation from it. this is done by directing identity formation to smaller zones of commonality: religion, culture, etc. when identity is entirely bound up with these then nobody lays claim to the public sphere, it becomes a “no-man’s-land” which can then be developed commonly and equitably without interference.

  3. zjb says:

    Nice! The problem, though, is that “hefker” always gets claimed, rightfully, by someone, not everyone. (I wrote up a longer response to your previous comment, which I’ll post tonight!)

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