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The Break-Up of American Jewish Identity.

My approach to clarity is to go to the ambiguous side, or to put it more high-mindedly, to turn to Wittgenstein's concept of "family resemblances." "The Jews," in other words, exemplify the sort of social entity Wittgenstein spoke of as "a complicated network of similarities overlapping and criss-crossing." There are, in the case of the Jews, as Wittgenstein said, "overall similarities," and he went on: "I can think of no better expression to characterize these similarities than 'family resemblances'; for the various resemblances between members of a family: build, features, colour of eyes, gait, temperament, etc. etc. overlap and criss-cross in the same way." All manner of qualities and boundaries are stirred together in that "Etc. etc."doctrinal, institutional, legal, textual, ritual, national, and whatnot. Seen from within or without, there are resemblances but not identity. Curious, then, and interesting, that concepts like "Jewish identity" should be hazy at the boundaries. It is not irrelevant that Wittgenstein was himself baffled about being a Jewthree of his four grandparents were Jewish, but one of them, his paternal grandfather, born Moses Meier, became a Protestant and changed his middle name to Christian. This might well be a biographical root for his interest in family resemblances.


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Author:Gitlin, Todd
Publication:Tablet Magazine
Date:Mar 28, 2016
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