Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Negation of the Jew

Shlomo Sand's latest project is to "cease considering myself a Jew". Hey, as far as I'm concerned, all power to him. While his arguments bear an alarming resonance with those of "proud self-hating Jew" Gilad Atzmon, Sand's rationale for why he wishes to disavow his Jewish identity also sound as extensions of his prior scholarship (The Invention of the Jewish People). There, as here, Sand takes general characteristics common across a variety of different cultures and ascribes at worst a uniqueness, at best a special virulence, as applied to Jews. Sand's desire for a universalist identity may well be sincere; I don't pretend to know his heart. But I can say with confidence that he is chasing a fool's errand. The type of unmarked universalist human identity Sand claims Jewishness stands in fundamental conflict with (and should ask here what makes Jewishness, amongst all of the other identities humans claim to possess, so special here) is chimerical; it does not exist. I understand its allure, but its practice has long since been revealed to be a mask for the dominant culture -- those who have dominated the conversation for so long that they mistake the sound of their own voice for silence. If Judaism stands out as a distinct chord, that is nothing but a function of its backdrop.

Some folks have been responding to Sand's missive by declaring that no matter what he might prefer, anti-Semites will never stop considering him to be a Jew. I think that probably depends on the anti-Semite -- apostates can be very useful, after all. But while Sand may succeed in ceasing to be a Jew, he will never stop being an ex- Jew. The fact of his former Jewishness will never cease being part of how he relates and is related to global conversations; whether it is as the irredeemable traitor who followed the well-worn path or as the bold rebel who speaks truth to Jewish power. In this respect, Sand will remain marked, remain partial, remain "special" -- for the rest of his career. More than a little poetic, if you ask me.

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