This Year in Jerusalems

Writing on Max Blumenthal’s “bleak exchange” with the revered Israeli writer David Grossman, described in Blumenthal’s new book Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, Corey Robin finds himself unsettled by a settlement, vexed by our great unvexing of the once-upon-a-time “Jewish question”:

[Blumenthal] also exposes the deeper impasse of the eternal outsider—from whom the most ancient cries of justice, justice were heard—come in from the cold. Whether in Israel or at the highest levels of American power, Jews have become insiders. Whether we’re in Israel or without, that’s what Zionism means for us: we’re on the inside. The people of exile, the wandering Jew, has come home.

To reach this Inside, to “come home” in this way, is to lose touch with the tradition that prophesied the selfsame homecoming. The new identity replaces the old one, and, where it does not appear as an amalgam of contradictions and imitations, it puts dimly grasped and highly uncertain possibilities ((…reiteration and un-reiterability approaching indistinction asymptotically.)) next to moral deprivation: self-realization as self-annihilation in the current epoch, an epoch which also cannot be understood except as a product or sum – result, not mere aftermath – of another equation in a parallel format. To use Blumenthal’s term, our double and divided “Golden Age” of Judaism is the greatest thing ever to happen to the Jews since the commencement of Jewish history, or since the commencement of history at all in the specifically modern sense, specifically modern because the specifically post-modern “sense” of history is the sense of senselessness, but this greatest thing is or would be necessarily the end or culmination of a uniquely Jewish purpose in the world as the Jews had understood it, and as had made the Jews understandable to themselves: So also a loss that neither “inside,” or neither half of this peculiarly distributed Inside, which is also an outside of the Outside, can now comprehend without threatening or seeming to threaten all that has been gained since the worst thing to happen to the Jews, or at all to anyone, since the commencement of Jewish history, or ever.

17 comments on “This Year in Jerusalems

Commenting at CK MacLeod's

We are determined to encourage thoughtful discussion, so please be respectful to others. We also provide a set of Commenting Options - comment/commenter highlighting and ignoring, and commenter archives that you can access by clicking the commenter options button (). Go to our Commenting Guidelines page for more details, including how to report offensive and spam commenting.

  1. The Jews have been conquered by the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Egyptians, the Persians the Romans,
    you would think that Blumenthal would remember those stations, it’s always been a tough neighborhood, the alternative is annihilation,

    • In this story Blumenthal stands for a younger generation of American Jews who’ve known Israel only as an occupier, far superior militarily to any potential adversaries, and mainly aligned with immediate adversaries both on the right and within the Democratic coalition. Deep down, if not right on the surface, many don’t believe in Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, on general anti-theocratic, pluralistic, and multi-cultural principle. The events of thousands of years ago don’t register for them as relevant, except in negative ways, in association with attitudes and assumptions held to be obsolete if not simply barbaric.

  2. Well as his father furthered Phillip Agee’s lies two generations ago, which curiously matched the Soviet disinformation strategies, later propagated by Oliver Stone,

  3. ” a uniquely Jewish purpose in the world as the Jews had understood it, and as had made the Jews understandable to themselves”

    Could you expand on this a bit. What is the “uniquely Jewish purpose…”?

    • Summed up in the concept of “the Chosen People,” also tied to the old notion of “The Wandering Jew,” and to the traditional statement from the Passover Seder about returning to Jerusalem, but not yet. As a theological or prophetic idea, it is or was that the homelessness, statelessness, outsider status of the Jews was intimately related to the universality of monotheism, which transcends nation or tribe. Prior to the messianic age – the time in which all nations (finally) turn to the eternal – to be the bearer of the universal, eternal truth is paradoxically to set oneself apart, to experience isolation, difference, and, finally, danger. It forces the tribe whose message – its “light unto the nations” – is of the oneness of humanity in relation to the One and Eternal Being, to define and maintain itself separately.

      Historically, the Jews would sooner or later be recognized as an enemy of the pretensions of any merely tribal or national gods. Zionism and assimilation are two defenses against that moment of danger, but, from the prophetic perspective, are also always on the border between capitulation and triumph, which can be hard to tell apart. Zionism is also itself a kind of assimilation to the age of the nation-state, on the level of the nation-state rather than below it, but its temporal success at the same time announces, despite itself, the next age, the global or universal or messianic age. Because, possibly, the end of time as redemption is a process rather than a single instant, or a process in relation to an instant always yet to come, its phenomenal forms take on the appearance, especially to each other, of the worst treason and betrayal, the contradiction of everything Judaism ever stood for: for the Diaspora Liberals, the illberal and particularistic character of the “apartheid” Jewish state; for the Zionists, the utter loss of sympathy, loyalty, and understanding from the Diaspora Liberals.

      • It’s possible that I’m just unable to really follow this.

        I’m kinda stuck on the idea that Christians became self consciously messianic only from the influence of Gentile Paul. Jews don’t recognize Jesus as the messiah so how does the age of monotheism (if it is that and I’m not so sure) become a Jewish accomplishment rather than just some heresy?

        I just don’t know enough about Judaism to penetrate certain points. How pervasive is the “light unto nations” sentiment as a living daily aspect of Judaism? Judaism is about biological lineage as well as belief. Doesn’t this set it apart from other tribes more than its monotheism, which existed in other places and other times as well?

        I hope I’m not just being dense about this. I would like to understand it better.

        • The “biological” question is the paradox of monotheism, and the paradox of Judaism concretely, though you might say that historically the difficulties of conversion, including the very real, living question of circumcision, express it even more concretely. It is a live, debated, and schismatical question whether Jews should seek converts even among Gentile spouses, and how difficult such conversion should be. Yet in the prophecies there are also statements that Jewish law itself will disappear come the Messiah.

          Prior to such a moment, the duty or role of the Jews isn’t, under the praxis of “light unto the nations” (Isaiah), to make all the other tribes or nations Jewish in the tribal sense, but to lead them to the right path as expressed in the seven Noahide commandments. Here is a representative mainstream interpretation:

          Idolatry is forbidden.
          Man is commanded to believe in the One G-d alone and worship only Him.

          Incestuous and adulterous relations are forbidden. Human beings are not sexual objects, nor is pleasure the ultimate goal of life.

          Murder is forbidden. The life of a human being, formed in G-d’s image, is sacred.

          Cursing the name of G-d is forbidden.
          Besides honoring and respecting G-d, we learn from this precept that our speech must be sanctified, as that is the distinctive sign which separated man from the animals.

          Theft is forbidden. The world is not ours to do with as we please.

          Eating the flesh of a living animal is forbidden. This teaches us to be sensitive to cruelty to animals.

          Mankind is commanded to establish courts of justice and a just social order to enforce the first six laws and enact any other useful laws or customs.

          On the question of universalism, it’s necessary to recall the mythological setting of Noah, since these commandments are offered to a symbolic entirety of humanity. The Jewish question comes later.

          There have, of course, been other monotheisms. If monotheism is true or a truth, then why shouldn’t people come to understand it without having been born Jews or without having been converted to Judaism or even having been exposed to it? The Jewish role in the world, or the task of the Jews, would be to express and realize not just an idea of monotheism, however, but the Will of God to use the Christian terminology, whose workings include the peculiar privilege-burden of being a Jew or member of the Chosen People.

          To return to the Blumenthal/Grossman theme, if being a Jew is no longer a burden, because Jews can be completely assimilated and live in a Golden Age, and because they have a nation like all the other nations, then it’s also no longer a privilege, and the question is raised whether this is the end of Judaism in principle along with the end of history in principle.

          The philosophical-historical idea would be that the Enlightenment or modernity, as “the universal under the principle of thought” (Hegel), would be the Noahide Commandments under cover, with Reason, like Hegel’s world “Spirit,” another in a long series of names for the Unnameable. So Cohen defines Judaism as Religion of Reason, and defines that same “history” that modernity (for Hegel) ends in principle as being announced in prophetic Judaism (the spatialized reversal of historical time, now progressive ascent to redemption rather than mere descent from the glorious origins).

          Cohen and in a different and even more esoteric way his successor Rosenzweig bring Idealism and Judaic prophecy together in a truth too universal and beneficent to be absorbed except via world war and holocaust – the latter indicatively producing a vast crisis of faith among the grossly victimized custodians of its truth. Rosenzweig in a peculiar way duplicates Dual Covenant Christianity, holding that Judaism and Christianity express two equally valid, quite properly co-existing truths, Judaism being the proper truth for Jews, Christianity the truth for Christians. He has problems, however, with the other religions, and, for all of his criticism of German Idealism, adopts somewhat familiar judgements as to the comparative deficiencies of other great religious or cultural-religious philosophies.

          • This is helpful. There is still the question for me about Jesus as Not-The-Messiah and Christianity as a heresy. So the Jews now would still be prior to being the light of nations? and no Golden Age just yet?

            So if so, wouldn’t it be premature to go past tribal Judaism to various expressions of universalism?

            • Mmmm, complex topics. In historical time or the pre-messianic age, if we imagine a strict sequence, being a light unto the nations is necessary only until the nations are enlightened. If you ask Blumenthal, the Golden Age for the Jews is here. If you ask certain Jews, including some who were minding their own business in the Holy Land when the Zionists showed up, and whose descendants have been known to appear in anti-Israel propaganda videos, that is a false and treacherous belief, equally false in America and in the so-called Jewish State.

              That group obviously represents an extreme minority. If we identify, as I think is supportable but not as simple as it looks, the age of globalization as the age of the realization of the prophecy, then we face the possibility that even the coming of the messiah is not the end of suffering and injustice immediately, or the end of danger and illusions, and even less the coming of a particular individual, but more a drawing-nearer to redemption that still would need much more time to come to fruition both in reality and in the souls of human beings. So we would be in the end times, but the end times might last another 1,000 years (rough estimate!) or even arrive unevenly.

              As for how Judaism, as viewed conventionally by Jews and viewed speculatively or prophetically by someone thinking in the Cohen-Rosenzweig vein, works in relationship to Christianity and Christian apocalyptic teachings, that will have to be a subject for another day!

  4. Well why use the term ‘Nakbah’ it was a war, for the survival of the new Jewish state, which was a precarious affair, the Arabs have now problem celebrating the cleansing of the Khaybar valley, they’ve even turned into a catchy chant, as for the US’s stance on the proper handling of settlements, pot calling kettle,

  5. That tome, is like a congeiled mass of Mondoweiss, the Maleficus Maleforum, (sic) of BDS, it’s original authors in Arabic, are embarassed.

Commenter Ignore Button by CK's Plug-Ins

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *