Further footnotes on Zionism, Yoder, and Boyarin.
Israel's separationist policies, it should be clear, are not attempts to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: they are about managing it. In 2004, top aide to then--Prime Minister Sharon, Dov Weisglass, stated bluntly that the "disengagement" plan was a way to put the peace process in "formaldehyde." (3) Nor, one might add, are Israel's current practices of separation particularly new. Indeed, one could argue that they are integral to any Zionist project in which Zionism is understood in nation-statist terms, that is, in exclusivist terms linking demographic concerns and territorial control: space must be created, borders must be drawn, in which one national group will have hegemony over resources, moves that spell dispossession, expulsion, and at times death for others. (4)
The irony of the present-day manifestation of the Zionist project of separation is that even as its walls and fences sever, they also bind Palestinians and Israelis together, as they erase the territorial basis for a two-state solution based on the 1949 Armistice Line (the so-called "Green Line"). If the wall has been marketed as a security measure, its appeal to the center-right and the center-left in Israeli policy circles has in large measure been the promise of controlling the demographic "threat" posed by Palestinians, with the attendant danger of a gradual creep towards a bi-national reality. However, by building a barrier leaving Palestinians in discontiguous, land-locked islands, doomed to economic stagnation, islands no Palestinian leadership would ever accept as the basis for an end to the conflict, Israel unwittingly brings a bi-national future closer. As former Jerusalem deputy mayor Meron Benvenisti observes, a bi-national state isn't a nightmare of the future, it's the current reality, with one sovereign state, Israel, ruling over all the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, a state in which over 3.5 million Palestinians are denied basic rights of citizenship, whose mobility is tightly constrained, and whose economic future is bleak. (5)
A bi-national reality founded on the walls and fences of a separationist ideology won't, of course, be stable. It won't ultimately bring security to Israelis (and it certainly brings insecurity to Palestinians). It won't provide a basis for resolving the conflict. A juncture has been reached, I would therefore suggest, where a change of perspective becomes necessary. What if, one might ask, the possibility of a bi-national future was viewed not as a horrific prospect to avoid at all costs, or a fate to which Palestinians and Israelis have been doomed, but rather as an opportunity for reconciliation? (6)
The work of Daniel Boyarin will, I believe, prove to be an invaluable resource in helping make this shift in perspective. Boyarin's notion of "diasporized states" points away from nation-statist projects with their obsessions with demographic and border control and towards "a notion of identity in which there are only slaves but no masters," a political model in which one's identity is shaped through one's opening to and encounter with the other, one which is a decisive "alternative to the model of self-determination, which is, after all, in itself a western, imperialist imposition on the rest of the world." (7) Furthermore, for those of us who have learned from and been shaped by the work of the late John Howard Yoder, Boyarin's work helps us better understand the promises and possible pitfalls of Yoder's posthumously published work on the Jewish-Christian encounter: first, by helping us see better than Yoder did the importance of Jewish-Christian difference even in the midst of efforts to heal theo-political schism; and second, by showing how Yoder's proposed "Jeremian politics" is a way of living faithfully in the land, not, as his critics suggest, a way of abdicating responsibility to landed existence.
I will spend the remainder of this essay looking at how Boyarin's work supplements, corrects, and nuances Yoder's understanding of diaspora. After briefly summarizing Yoder's embrace of galut as vocation and its implications for his understanding of Zionism, I will then look at probing critiques of Yoder regarding difference and land raised by two thinkers well acquainted with Yoder's work, Michael Cartwright and Peter Ochs. I will then turn to an examination of how Boyarin's work not only helps to nuance Yoder's work on the question of difference, but also helps us to see that a diaspora politics is not about a flight from the land but instead offers a concrete way of living faithfully in the land. I will conclude with the claim that both Boyarin and Yoder are indispensable guides for Jews and Christians reflecting together about a future of justice, peace, and reconciliation in the land of Palestine-Israel, one not captive to exclusivist ideologies of separation.
Building the City for Others: Yoder's Jeremian Politics
In a series of posthumously published lectures originally delivered during the 1970s and 1980s in the West Bank, Indiana, and Kansas, the late John Howard Yoder articulated a theology of Jewish-Christian relations in which he envisioned both Jews and Christians as people called to embody a particular politics, one in which God's people embraces life in diaspora as a positive mission, a mission of seeking the peace of the cities in which they find themselves. (8) The key biblical text for Yoder was Jeremiah 29:7: he read the Old Testament story as a story of God's people learning to trust solely in the Lord, a trust culminating in Jeremiah's call to the exiles in Babylon to build houses and plant trees in their new homes while striving for the shalom of the city; the New Testament, for Yoder, extends this Jeremian vision, with the church called to go out to the world in order to live as an exilic witness concerned with embodying and extending God's reconciling work throughout the empire. Both Christianity and Judaism go astray when they forget their exilic calling. The Christian version of this straying Yoder called "Constantinianism"--for Judaism, it is Zionism, which Yoder identified as the "culmination" of the "Christianization" (not a good thing, from Yoder's perspective) of Judaism. (9)
Denying Difference, Displacing the Land? Critiques of Yoder
Yoder's writings on Judaism represent a bold attempt to think of Christians and Jews as peoples with a common mission in the world, one of embodying an alternative politics while "not being in charge" of history and the death-dealing mechanisms of the state. As my purpose is not to describe Yoder's position in full detail, but rather to consider what resources he and Boyarin offer for thinking of alternatives to separationist ideologies, I'll limit my discussion here to identifying two critiques of his work on Judaism raised by Cartwright and Ochs.
First, both Ochs and Cartwright fear that Yoder, in his attempt to overcome triumphalist Christian assertions that the church has replaced the Jewish people as Israel by claiming that both Christians and Jews are called to embody a diaspora politics, tends to reduce Judaism to a mirror of free church/Anabaptist Christianity. Instead of simply noting and celebrating the fact that these two traditions can and do converge in a vision of God's people called to be radically dependent upon and faithful to God in exile, Yoder, they argue, by valorizing Judaism as the "first peace church," closes off possible learnings by Christians from Jews about what it means to be the people of God. Specifically, in Yoder's description of Jewish communities in exile as non-sacerdotal communities gathered around the text in parallel to Anabaptist ecclesiologies, the importance of Talmudic commentary as a lived, authoritative tradition through which the scriptural text is interpreted falls from view. Does Yoder's framework allow for real mutual learning between Christians and Jews, or does it instead establish in advance of lived encounter that what Christians have to learn from Jews is only what they should have already known, namely, the diaspora way of living in the world? (10)
I believe that Cartwright and Ochs have identified here the major problem with Yoder's theology of Judaism. (11) Boyarin shares these misgivings regarding the apparent erasure of difference between Christian and Jew in Yoder's work. "Yoder's way beyond supersession is for us to begin to imagine ourselves as one thing, as one community, to disinvest ourselves in difference," Boyarin observes. Recognizing that efforts to draw clear boundaries between "insider" and "outsider" routinely go hand in hand with politics of dispossession and death, Boyarin is on one level attracted to this position. "While I still see value in difference per se, in the maintenance of communal and cultural religious tradition, perhaps more than Yoder does, when such maintenance begins to produce so much harm in the world, then perhaps we need to let go, however painfully, of it." But then he hesitates: "Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps not." (12) Boyarin, like Cartwright and Ochs, worries that Yoder's embrace of Judaism as the first peace church is a "gesture of 'appropriation' that reads so many Jews somehow right out of Judaism." (13) Resisting this erasure, I will argue later, has important political implications, specifically for how one understands a "diasporized," multicultural polity and for how one envisions the future of a bi-national state in Palestine-Israel.
The second major critique leveled by Ochs and Cartwright against Yoder concerns what they view as his failure to take seriously the "burden" of Jewish responsibility for the land of Israel. Cartwright faults Yoder for "breaking" the "triad" of "Torah, land, and people," arguing that "Yoder's conception of Judaism displaces land and/or Zion in the course of accentuating the possibilities for a diaspora peoplehood." (14) Yoder's framework, Cartwright contends, precludes the possibility of a middle ground "between an ancient foreshadowing of modern nationalist sovereignty" in eretz yisrael "and Israel's forced separation from it in this world." (15) According to Cartwright, Yoder's dichotomized opposition between "the Davidic" project and the "Mosaic" or "Jeremian" projects means that for Yoder "any attempt to include responsibility for the land of Israel" must be decried as a form of Constantinianism. (16) Yoder, Cartwright argues, "effectively disengages from the deeply rooted complex of Jewish theological claims that see the land of eretz yisrael as the locus of the sacred and thereby displaces the theological unity of election, covenant, and God's promise of redemption from exile." (17) Ochs offers a similar critique of Yoder, stressing that "to be burdened with the land of Israel is not simply to apply a very modernist notion of national-political-ethnic sovereignty to the land." Jews, argues Ochs, "cannot be encouraged by Yoder's failure to think of the question of Israel beyond the stark either/or that stands between 'anti-Zionism' and the particular Zionism of Israel's right-wing nationalists." (18)
For the moment let us set aside whether or not these criticisms of Yoder are valid, apart from noting briefly that Ochs does acknowledge that there are some resources in Yoder's writings that point beyond a simple dichotomy between "diaspora-outside-of-the-land" on the one hand and "Zionism-as-nationalist-sovereignty" on the other. For now, I will simply observe that in their critiques of Yoder's position, neither Cartwright nor Ochs present extended reflections on what "responsibility" for the land would mean in concrete terms or what a "middle ground" between nationalist sovereignty and diaspora would look like. (19) To see what such a "middle ground" might be, and to understand why a diaspora politics can exercise a particular form of "responsibility" for the land, we must turn to the work of Daniel Boyarin.
Diaspora Consciousness in the Land: Boyarin's Alternative to Zionism
Like Yoder, Boyarin is concerned with reading the biblical narrative in ways which undermine triumphalist appropriations of Scripture, which subvert readings of the people Israel's history that underwrite ideologies and practices of dispossession and death. Like Yoder, Boyarin highlights how Scripture places a question mark over narratives of conquest. According to Boyarin, "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." (20) Like Yoder, Boyarin understands dominant forms of Zionism as relinquishing key elements of Jewish practice and identity. For Boyarin, the mainstream forms of Zionism, with their "negation of the diaspora," their rejection of the "feminized" Jew of the Diaspora in favor of the new masculine pioneer of the yishuv, represent "a cultural capitulation that does not honor Jewish difference." (21)
Boyarin, therefore, like Yoder, wants to uncouple Judaism from Zionism understood in nation-statist terms. Now, Cartwright and Ochs might well suspect that Boyarin falls prey to the mistake of which they accused Yoder, namely, breaking the "triad" of "Torah-people-land." Boyarin, after all, claims that while "ethnicity and religion are inseparable in Judaism," there is no "necessary connection between ethnicity, religion and territoriality. (22) One reading of Boyarin would have him maintaining only a eschatological/relativizing function for the promise of land: the mistake of Zionism, in this reading, is that it seeks to force into the present what traditionally has functioned as a future hope. "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," Boyarin observes. "The tragedy of Zionism," he continues, "has been its desperate ... attempt to reduce real threats to Jews and Jewishness by concretizing in the present what has been a utopian symbol for the future. (23)
Note, however, that just as Boyarin seems to uncouple Judaism from land, or to leave the promise of the land solely as a "utopian symbol for the future," he proceeds to point to ways in which land might be re-integrated into Jewish self-understanding. A people, he notes, "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!" (24)
This suggestive passage indicates that, for Boyarin, "diaspora" and "land" are not two categories to be thought of in opposition to one another. We should be clear that for Boyarin "diaspora" does not translate into total estrangement from eretz yisrael or from any other particular lands. "Diaspora" as a political-theoretical category allows Boyarin to name an alternative form of politics which poses a decisive challenge both to politics of nationalist sovereignty and of indigeneity.
Boyarin develops his understanding of diaspora as a political vision in his recent book, Powers of Diaspora, co-authored with his brother, Jonathan. The Boyarins propose taking "diaspora provisionally as a 'normal' situation rather than a negative symptom of disorder." (25) This means countering Christendom and Zionist historiographies which equate "history" with state control and which view Jewish life in diaspora as somehow "ahistorical." (26) By privileging diaspora as a political category, the Boyarins embrace "a dissociation of ethnicities and political hegemonies." (27) Diaspora functions for the Boyarins as an alternative to "territorialist nation-statism," to "a global and universal logic" which "seeks to fix ethnically (geneaologically and culturally) homogeneous groups within non-overlapping, neatly bounded, and permanent boundaries." (28) As Daniel observes in A Radical Jew, it also undercuts "the uncritical valorization of indigenousness (and particularly the confusion between political indigeneity and mystified autochthony)." Boyarin, like Yoder, learns the lesson of diaspora from Scripture: "the biblical story," he insists, "is not one of autocthony but one of always already coming from somewhere else ... Israelite and Jewish religion is perpetually an unsettlement of the very notion of autochthony." (29)
To counter the separationist projects of nationalisms in their various forms, be they settler-colonial nationalisms or "indigenous" nationalisms, Boyarin proposes what he calls the "diasporized" state. (30) Boyarin's concept of the diasporized state provides an important supplement to Yoder's treatment of diaspora. As discussed above, Cartwright and Ochs both accuse Yoder of failing to propose a third way between exile from the land and nationalist sovereignty in the land. The notion of a diasporized state--what we might call a diaspora or exilic consciousness within the land, one in which sharing the land with others is a normal state of affairs--is a signpost towards this third way. Yoder himself, I believe, makes some gestures in this direction, although not as successfully as Boyarin, when he insists that "Those peoples are qualified to work at the building of the city who build it for others, who recognize it not as their own turf but God's," and when he asserts that claims to possession should be judged on whom they exclude or expel. (31)
To return to where we began this paper, what would this "diasporized" state mean for Palestinians and Israelis? It would stand in opposition to Zionist projects tied to shoring up demographic control behind tightly circumscribed borders. Instead, it would champion a vision of 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." (32) One should also hasten to note that the politics of a diasporized state would undercut not only separationist forms of Zionism but also any other nationalisms, including Palestinian nationalism, understood as projects making simple equations between demography and territory, as projects aiming at establishing hegemonic control over state mechanisms. In the current context, however, in which Israel controls all of Palestine-Israel, from the river to the sea, a move towards a diasporized reality will require, Boyarin recognizes, a "renunciation of near-exclusive Jewish hegemony," (33) for "only conditions in which power is shared between religions and ethnicities will allow for difference within common caring." (34)
In the introduction to his recent book, Border Lines, Boyarin poignantly asks: "if we are for ourselves alone, what are we?" (35) Boyarin addresses this question to fellow Jews, but it is a question that Christians can and should address to other Christians, Palestinians to other Palestinians, etc. Boyarin's understanding of diaspora as an alternative form of politics helps us to affirm the particularity of difference while also affirming that identity is not self-enclosed but constituted through encounter with others. The shared life of two peoples, the reconciliation of two peoples, does not mean the erasure of difference between the two; peace is not about homogenizing or obliterating difference, but rather about breaking down dividing walls of hostility and about the formation of bridges and bonds between those who remain different.
At a time when mistrust and hostility between Israelis and Palestinians are perhaps higher than ever before, it might seem naive or utopian to offer a vision of a bi-national future as an opportunity for reconciliation. I would nevertheless suggest that a point has been reached where utopia and realism converge, for the alternatives to a bi-national future of equality and mutual concern are grim indeed: with a two-state solution based on the 1949 Armistice Line (the Green Line) overtaken by facts on the ground, one is left with either an indefinite continuation of the current distorted bi-national reality founded on a discriminatory, separationist ideology, or an embrace of the ideologies of expulsion. The hope for a future of justice, peace, and reconciliation in the context of a bi-national state might seem like a frail hope, but it is, I believe, a hope that Palestinians and Israelis alike will over the coming years find increasingly realistic and attractive. For those who nurture this frail hope, the recovery of non-separationist, pre-1948 forms of Zionism will be essential, with the work of such visionary proponents of bi-nationalism as Martin Buber and Hannah Arendt gaining renewed importance. (36) Ideologies of separation have failed to bring security to Israelis or Palestinians, and they have certainly failed to establish justice or secure peace: fostering a diaspora consciousness within the land will, I suggest, be vital in the slow, painful move away from a politics of separation and hostility towards a politics of mutual dependence and care.
1. David Landau, "Maximum Jews, Minimum Arabs: Interview with Ehud Olmert," Haaretz, Nov. 15, 2003.
2. Rashid Khalid, The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood (Boston: Beacon Press, 2006).
3. Ari Shavit, "The Big Freeze: Interview with Dov Weisglass," Haaretz, October 6, 2004.
4. The late Palestinian-American critic Edward Said framed the matter well: "Show me a scheme for separation that isn't based on abridged memory, continued injustice, unmitigated conflict, apartheid." Edward Said, "Afterword: The Consequences of 1948," in The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948, ed. Eugene L. Rogan and Avi Shlaim (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 219.
5. Meron Benvenisti, "Founding a Binational State," Haaretz, April 22, 2004.
6. For two recent arguments in favor of bi-nationalism, the first by a historian and the second by a political scientist, see Tony Judt, "Israel: The Alternative," The New York Review of Books 50/16 (Oct. 23, 2003) and Virginia Tilley, The One-State Solution: A Breakthrough for Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Deadlock (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005).
7. Daniel Boyarin, A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 248-249.
8. Yoder presented lectures on Judaism at Tantur in the occupied West Bank, at the University of Notre Dame, and as peace lectures at Bethel College and Earlham College. He gathered these together as a "desktop publication" in the mid-1990s; after Yoder's death. Michael Cartwright and Peter Ochs edited these essays for publication under the same title as the desktop packet, The Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003). I have examined Yoder's theology of Jewish-Christian relations, along with criticisms of Yoder's position, at length in my article, "John Howard Yoder's 'Alternative Perspective' on Christian-Jewish Relations," The Mennonite Quarterly Review 79/3 (July 2005): 295-328.
9. Yoder, The Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited, 106-107. See also my discussion in these pages of the ways in which Yoder's Jeremian politics and the "exilic" criticism and politics of the late Palestinian-American literary critic, Edward Said, converge and diverge. Alain Epp Weaver, "On Exile: Yoder, Said, and a Theology of Land and Return," CrossCurrents 52/4 (Winter 2003): 429-461.
10. For the developed versions of these arguments, see Ochs' and Cartwright's "Editors' Introduction," to their edited version of Yoder's The Jewish Christian-Schism Revisited, along with Ochs' responses to each of Yoder's essays and Cartwright's concluding afterword, "'If Abraham is Our Father ...': The Problem of Christian Supersessionism after Yoder."
11. I am grateful to extended e-mail conversations in which Ochs and particularly Cartwright graciously prodded me to see this problematic dimension of Yoder's work.
12. Daniel Boyarin, "Judaism as a Free Church: Footnotes to John Howard Yoder's The Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited," 19.
13. Daniel Boyarin, "Judaism as a Free Church: Footnotes to John Howard Yoder's The Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited," 19.
14. Cartwright, "Afterword: 'If Abraham is Our Father,'" in The Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited, 219.
15. Ochs, "Commentary" on Chapter 10, in The Jewish Christian-Schism Revisited, 203.
16. Carwright, "Afterword," 218.
17. Cartwright, "Afterword," 219.
18. Ochs, "Commentary" on Chapter 9, in The Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited, 180.
19. I have elsewhere discussed Ochs' insistence on the (positive) Jewish calling to bear responsibility for the land in light of his repeated critiques of the (negative) burdens of Yoder's theological project. Ochs' contrast between the burden of Jewish responsibility for the land and the burden of Anabaptist Christians to a vocation of pacifism, as a contrast between two non-identical vocations suggests that responsibility, for Ochs, is basically understood in Niebuhrian terms. Alain Epp Weaver, "John Howard Yoder's 'Alternative Perspective' on Christian-Jewish Relations," 316-318.
20. Boyarin, A Radical Jew, 255.
21. Daniel Boyarin and Jonathan Boyarin, Powers of Diaspora: Two Essays on the Relevance of Jewish Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002), 53. See also Daniel Boyarin, Unheroic Conduct: The Rise of Heterosexuality and the Invention of the Jewish Man (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997).
22. Boyarin, A Radical Jew, 335n41.
23. Boyarin, A Radical Jew, 245.
24. Boyarin, A Radical Jew, 335n41.
25. Boyarin and Boyarin, Powers of Diaspora, 5.
26. See Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, "The Zionist Return to the History of Redemption: Or What is the 'History' to Which the 'Return' in the Phrase 'the Zionist Return to History' Refers?" (Hebrew) in Zionism and the Return to History: A Reevaluation, edited by S.N. Eisentadt and M. Lyssak (Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute, 1999), 249-279.
27. Boyarin, A Radical Jew, 259.
28. Boyarin and Boyarin, Powers of Diaspora, 9.
29. Boyarin, A Radical Jew, 250.
30. Boyarin, A Radical Jew, 334n40.
31. Yoder, The Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited, 164. Ochs acknowledges that here Yoder was proposing an alternative to an apolitical, "otherworldly" notion of diaspora and "oppressive landedness."--Ochs, "Commentary" on Chapter 8, in The Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited, 167. Whether or not Ochs could embrace a diasporized, bi-national vision of Palestine-Israel is unclear from his brief discussion of land in his responses to Yoder's essays. Ochs does assert that "post-liberal" Jews would not "expect the radical reformers [like Yoder] to bear the same responsibilities for landedness that Jews bear, just as they would not expect most Jews to bear the same responsibility for pacifism that the radical reformers bear."--Ochs, "Commentary" on Chapter 9, in The Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited, 179. Could, one wants to ask, "post-liberal" Jews envision "responsibilities for landedness" being exercised in the context of a bi-national state in which Israeli Jewish hegemonic control over land, state resources, and immigration has been dismantled?
32. Boyarin, A Radical Jew, 259.
33. Boyarin, A Radical Jew, 260.
34. Boyarin, A Radical Jew, 337n46.
35. Boyarin, Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), xiv.
36. See Martin Buber, A Land of Two Peoples: Martin Buber on Jews and Arabs, edited by Paul Mendes-Flohr (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005) and Hannah Arendt, The Jew as Pariah: Jewish Identity and Politics in the Modern Age, edited by Ron H. Feldman (New York: Grove Press, 1978). For an important treatment of Arendt on Zionism and bi-nationalism, see Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, "Binationalism and Jewish Identity: Hannah Arendt and the Question of Palestine," in Hannah Arendt in Jerusalem, ed. Steven E. Aschheim (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), 181-193.
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|Author:||Weaver, Alain Epp|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2007|
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