Thursday, October 14, 2010

The New Jews

Caryn Aviv and David Shneer's book, New Jews: The End of the Jewish Diaspora, is probably more provocative in its sub-title than in its main title. 

The cozy and snug dichotomy between Israel and the Diaspora has been a fixture in modern Jewish life since the creation of Israel in 1948, and in religious Judaism, it is the cornerstone of most, if not all, messianic strains in the religion.

The book is an attempt, in the post-modern style, to topple the simple hierarchical binaries of us and them, male and female, Jew and Gentile, the chosen and the unchosen.  It takes a slice of Jewish life usually marginalized in other studies, the Jews of Moscow (aren't they all gone?), Jewish tourism in Europe and Israel, the new movement toward Jewish museums as growing centerpieces of American Jewish identity (with an emphasis on Los Angeles, the third largest Jewish city), Queer Jews, and finally New York as the premier Jewish city in the world.

What this book does is little more than try to peel back some of the Zionist ideological assumptions that the Diaspora is a dead end; that galut is only a temporary state; that eventually, assimilation or antisemitism awaits Jews everywhere outside of Israel.  It stresses that Jews are making contributions to Jewish life even outside the Jewish state, and in some ways, ones that  are more radical and groundbreaking.

I suppose one serious gap in the book is any absence of new movements in Judaism, like Jewish Renewal, that attempt to bring minority notions about God into Jewish worship, or infuse it with ideas from different (usually Eastern) traditions.  It is as if the authors have written off new-old forms of religious Judaism entirely.

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