When we think of Jews and Judaism, a community formed around texts and memory immediately comes to mind. From texts and memory, a religious and ethical practice evolved that grounded and sustained a small and often suffering community. This practice also bequeathed a witness to the world, often unnoticed or maligned, but whose value is increasingly recognized today.
That belated recognition comes at a time when these very same religious and ethical practices are in disarray. Over the last decades, and increasingly so today, contemporary life, especially modernity, politics and statecraft, have become the engines of Jewish history. Texts and memory have undergone a transposition, from the grounding of a religious and ethical practices into servants of state and power. Thus the thrust of texts and memory has been reoriented, violently dislodged and dislocated by recent history, especially the Holocaust and the creation of nation-state, Israel, whose policies, like other states, are not easily controlled by the community or responsive to the ethical demands of a religious tradition.
This reorientation has brought an interesting and perhaps tragic juxtaposition. Whereas texts and memory can be subversive of power and injustice in the present, too often the reverse is the case. In the Jewish community, texts and memory have become a phalanx to legitimate a Jewish state enterprise which is spiraling out of control. Or rather, texts and memory have become a way of explaining Israeli policies which, if carried out by any other state, would immediately be condemned by the Jewish community.
Traditions of suffering and struggle are often powerless in the face of the modern state and here Jews share a fate similar to other religious and ethical traditions that have sought or been dragged into alliance with the state and power. One need not rehearse the sad history of the Constantinian synthesis of church and state that continues to define Christian history to point out the dangers and compromises that befall empowered religion. There are many Christians today who flee from Constantinian Christianity like people who flee from a burning building. It is paradoxical, even tragic, that Jews, who have suffered from Constantinian Christianity, have, at the moment when Christians have finally awoken to the devastating effects of that synthesis, plunged headlong into a Constantinian Judaism. Like Christianity in its Constantinian phase, Constantinian Judaism orients its texts and memory, and with that its religious rituals and intellectual endeavors, to serving the state, legitimating power, arguing in moral terms for policies that displace and disorient others, and silencing dissent.
Like Christian reformers within Constantinian Christianity, in Constantinian Judaism, Jewish dissidents are dismissed as traitors and heretics. The proposal by Jewish dissidents that an alteration of unprecedented proportions is occurring in our time is met with an iron fist, the same iron fist that is turned outward toward those on the other side of Jewish power. An uncertain future is announced by the dissidents, by Jews of conscience who refuse the transposition of Jewish life into a Constantinianism that is Christian in its origins and yet seemingly universal in its application. Does this dissent, most often carried on by "secular" Jews who refuse religious language, represent a deeper refusal that is largely inarticulate and cut-off from the greater Jewish community and Jewish leadership? Is this a refusal, again without articulation but at its base rooted in the most ancient texts and memory of Jewish history, of the final assimilation which Constantinian Judaism proposes? And is this final assimilation, ancient and modern, less related to Jewish particularity of worship and speech, than it is to power and the state? Do these "secular" Jews of conscience recognize what most religious people do not, that Constantinian Christianity and Judaism, and for that matter any religion or secular synthesis that is Constantinian in its policies and effects, is the same religion? One to be rejected as a cover for a politics of injustice? One that demands a refusal of the God who blesses injustice?
To some, these understandings might seem harsh. Can a community be called to justice, especially a community that has suffered so grievously and so recently? How are a religion and community, scattered and diverse, to be held responsible for a nation-state? Like any religion, community and nation, Judaism, Jewish life and Israel are complicated, evolving over time and destined to continue changing in the future. Even the definition of J ewish dissidents as "Jews of conscience" can be suspect. Do other Jews, in and out of community leadership, lack conscience? Can disagreements that are seemingly political in nature be primarily be seen as religious, impinging on the very heart of the covenant? And since Judaism and Jewish life have a variety of trajectories within their long history, including ethics, justice and power over others, can one legitimately term justice as the essence of Judaism, condemning other views to a Constantinianism defined in the negative? Though difficult and controversial, decisions are made in each generation as to the definition of what it means to be Jewish and the challenge of fidelity. What it means to be Jewish, the very shape of Judaism and Jewish life, are often seen in a continuity that belies fractures and divisions, discontinuities, if you will, that mark the essence of the Judaic as foundational and contextual. Texts and memory are diverse and interpreted differently. Often as not the social, cultural and political are defining in the strands of texts and memory that may be highlighted or downplayed. In hindsight, as another interpretive framework evolves, bias can be discerned. Still patterns emerge overtime, a trend of discussions which clarify and challenge previous interpretations and may even overturn understandings that were perfectly reasonable in another time and place. Within the panoply of choices and directions, decisions are made by the community and by individuals within the community who influence the future. In the end, informed by texts and memory, conscience also plays a role. Here context and conscience join in a search for a viable way of religiosity and integrity. And it is here that a community stagnates or moves forward, is defensive or generous, retreats into a past as a way of unaccountability, or advances into unchartered religious and ethical territory.
It is here, also, that leadership emerges. The challenge of leadership is to guide and find a way forward within the tradition and for the community. For if either tradition or community is split away, than only half a life is lived. Texts and memory languish and are used to reinforce a way of life rather than as a challenge to move toward a deeper covenantal affirmation. When tradition and community are in a reasonably stable relationship, when the context and culture is conducive to a mutual sharing or even corrective interchange of tradition and community, then leadership can probe the difficulties and possibilities of communal life in a reasoned manner.
Yet even these two possibilities elude Jews in the present. A way of life is hardly lived at all, at least in terms of Jewish religious practice, even if the broadest parameters of practice are embraced. The momentous history that Jews have lived through in the twentieth century has severed, at least for the near future, any stable relationship between context and culture, again defined as Jewish even in the broadest sensibility. What Jews have instead is a clarion call for unity in remembering the Holocaust and supporting Israel, whether in a return to Jewish orthodoxy or a complete secularity. But as most Jews live in Europe and America, the Holocaust and Israel are abstract realities lived through others. As time goes on in Israel, as well, the history of the Holocaust and the birth of Israel are experienced as historic symbols rather than a present reality. Holocaust survivors and those who pioneered the state are dwindling in numbers. Slogans and ideologies, once deeply felt as defining moments for a generation, become more and more ephemeral and tenuous for the generations after.
These events, now dwindling in direct experience and consciousness, have defined a generation of Jewish leaders, politicians and thinkers. Revisionist historians and the new situation of empowerment further complicate and weaken the hold of these events and ideologies on ordinary Jews. Jewish leadership finds itself in a time warp, invoking realities that have passed and contexts that are shifting so quickly that identification has become almost cliche rather than heart-felt and mobilizing. Because there is little to take the place of these events and because there is so little left of Jewish practice, only an anger remains, unleashed especially on those who point to this void in Jewish life.
Jewish leadership is thus caught between a disappearing Jewish culture and religiosity and a time frame that with every passing year decreases the urgency of formative events of the Holocaust and Israel. In fact, though the Holocaust, at least in the context of Jewish history, is in recent memory, and Israel continues to exist, at times in a hyper reality, Judaism and Jewish life is, in many respects, post-Holocaust and post-Israel. It is important to note that Judaism and Jewish life on the threshold of the twenty-first century comes after the Holocaust and Israel, and the center of this post-Holocaust and post-Israel life is difficult to discern. For Jews cannot continue on as if the Holocaust and Israel did not happen, or as if these events have disappeared. Though past, they are also present.
The fading of the intensity of these events is normal. Yet the pairing of the Holocaust and Israel in Jewish memory is problematic because Israel continues on as a nation-state. The imperatives of the state do not end because the centrality of its existence for Jews and Judaism fades with time. The emergency years of the Holocaust and post-Holocaust world are over, but the possible emergencies facing Israel, however differently defined by various Jewish constituencies within and outside of Israel, will continue. It is almost as if Jewish history and the contemporary Jewish world are permanently held hostage to a nation-state entity that only partially and sometimes remotely represents Jewish concern and advocacy.
Further, having its own political, social and cultural system, and an evolving national Israeli, rather than specifically Jewish identity, the space between Jewish Israelis and Jews in different parts of the world is already wide and bound to widen further in the coming years.
Theological reflections on contemporary Jewish life have attempted to deal with these disjunctions and all, with the passage of time, have failed. The first, Holocaust theology, developed in the 1960s and reaching its strongest intensity in the 1970s, sought to argue for the Holocaust as defining of Jewish life and as a unique, reorienting event in Jewish history. Israel became a leit motif in light of the Holocaust, as a response to the catastrophe, and a place to which all Jewish efforts must be devoted. Thus the Holocaust and Israel were a summons to Jewish survival and continuity, though the summons and the reasons for that effort were grounded in the historical moment. After the Holocaust is remembered and Israel secured, little guidance is offered. Why be Jewish after the summons is answered? In the continuation of Jewish life, what will be the guiding principles for individual and communal existence? Can Jewish communities be held accountable to anything beyond this survival? What can Jews within or outside Israel say about domestic or foreign policies of the state? How will Jews live outside of the state in their daily and political life as Jews and citizens of other countries? What allegiances can Jews have and how will they orient their lives beyond remembering the Holocaust and supporting Israel? Can a Constantinianization of Judaism be recognized in Holocaust theology or, if recognized, be called to account? If Constantinianization is recognized, can it be opposed without impacting remembrance of the Holocaust and support of Israel?
For all its depth on questions of God's presence or absence during the Holocaust, on the practical level Holocaust theology is best seen as a holding action, maintaining Jewish identity and identification with the Jewish tradition in a time of crisis. But it must also be stated that the holding action itself allowed a further erosion of the foundations of Jewish life, especially in the ability of Jews and Jewish leadership to think through a future beyond the Constantinian Judaism that developed during the period of Holocaust theology's ascendancy. We continue to experience the fall-out of this failure, as arguments for the Holocaust and Israel continue without the special energy and haunting power that accompanied the emergence of Holocaust theology. It is important to remember that with all its difficulties, Holocaust theology arrived as a subversive and controversial theology, for the most part opposed by Jewish leadership, and took the community by force because it spoke to the needs of the community in a time of crisis. Today it exists as a rearguard, almost reactionary theology that protects its own turf from the questions of Jewish power that it can not answer.
As important as its inability to answer the questions, the questions themselves were largely unanticipated, because the Holocaust theologians' own sense of Jewishness and Jewish life revolved around the beauty of an ancient tradition and the fear of that tradition's destruction in the Holocaust. That Jews could emerge from the Holocaust with power and use that power to dislocate and destroy in ways once used against Jews, and that a Jewish state would arise that did not respond to their theological insistence on Jewish innocence, was unthinkable to the major Jewish Holocaust theologians. Because of their pairing of Jewish innocence in suffering and empowerment, even what appeared to be unjust and unsupportable policies toward Palestinians had to be just and supportable. A Judaism that had survived the death camps could not act unjustly and, as importantly, because of that suffering, could not be called to account, by others or even by Jews themselves.
It is important to note that the failure of Jewish leadership and Jewish theology was perhaps inevitable, at least once the Constantinian bargain was joined. And who can blame Jews, who individually and collectively suffered for so long, for abandoning ethics for power? After all, a major element of Holocaust theology is the inability to trust humanity or God. Though morality is often invoked and Jewish innocence argued for in the most circuitous ways, the underlying theme is a cycle of power and weakness within which Jews have suffered and now are bidden to overcome. In Holocaust theology the end of Jewish suffering is a religious mandate.
It is also important to note that the failure of the nation-state to live up to its theological legitimation is hardly peculiar to Israel. All states fail theology, and when theology ties itself to the state, all theology fails as well. Nor is the present struggle in Israel-Palestine preeminently biblical, as some claim today; there is nothing in the Jewish psyche that leans more toward violence or land claims than is true of other peoples or nation-states. Though particular to Jewish and European history, Israel is no better or worse than other countries around the globe.
Nor is Holocaust theology to be singled out for its failure to guide the Jewish people after the catastrophe of the Holocaust, or for the failure of Israel to rise above the fate of nation-states in the ethical realm. Other theologies, including Jewish renewal movements that link texts and memory in a more critical and progressive way, have also failed. Like Holocaust theology, but absent its depth and anguish, renewal theologies celebrate a text and mystically-oriented Judaism that appeals to the affluent and disenchanted, a Judaism that reinforces the cultural and religious aspirations of those who ride the crest of Western freedoms and security. Though much more engaged in critical thought, renewal Judaism is strictly contextual to the 60's generation of alienation and the struggle to overcome that alienation through a fascinating and sometimes invigorating eclecticism of diverse spiritualities and psychologies.
Though the foundational elements of Jewish life were to a large extent absent in Holocaust theology, at least Holocaust theology addressed the contemporary formative events of Jewish life. Renewal Judaism engages the Holocaust and Israel in order to transcend these events. Moreover, there has been an explicit competition between Holocaust theology and renewal Judaism to be or become the next Jewish establishment. In that competition, many issues have been clarified and others have been left to languish. Often the arguments have devolved into what has become a continuing civil war among competing interpretations of what Judaism is and what it means to be Jewish. And clearly the explosive points have been the Holocaust and Israel.
With all the contributions of both sides, the middle ground has been lost. And the exile to which many Jews are consigned remains unarticulated. Judaism and Jewish life cannot live in a past that is receding nor can it join itself to a nation-state enterprise, as if land and power are redemptive. Nor can the Jewish community leap over the legacy of emancipation and secularity into a religiosity that is avant-garde and mystical. The fascinating and peculiar agnosticism of Jews and Jewish religiosity remain even among the majority of Jews, and especially among secular Jews of conscience. Where apathy and economic success inform and guide the former, the latter pursue the margins as a mission and as a witness.
We can see in these populations - those who subscribe to Holocaust theology, renewal Judaism, Western success, and conscience - diverging aspects of Jewish life that are part of a Jewish future only when defined in the broadest parameters. But internally, these are communities apart, a gulf to grow only wider in the coming decades. If we add to this mix the variations of orthodox Jewish life that flourish as we enter the twenty-first century, the recipe takes on another flavor, even as the divisions multiply.
It is important to dwell on orthodoxy here for a moment, if only to dissuade those who feel, in a positive or negative way, that this is the Jewish future. Though it may well be a defining element of what it means to be Jewish when the Orthodox speak of themselves or when outsiders to orthodoxy, Jewish or otherwise, think of the future of Judaism and Jewish life, it lays no greater claim than any of the preceding communities. And their fidelity, in the largest and most important sense of that term, is no greater than in other communities. Like other theologies and movements, they, too, have misjudged many of the elements of Jewish life, including the severity of the Holocaust and the injustice of Israeli policies. They have neglected and often denigrated the Palestinian people, judging the covenant to belong to the Orthodox in prayer and power. They pretend that a Constantinianism is absent simply because the category is absent in their community and language. But as beneficiaries of an empowered Judaism, orthodox Jews live off the bounty of modern power even as they pretend to live in an ancient tradition that transcends petty politics.
What future is there when Jews pretend to a particularity, exhibit it in dress and custom, even in synagogue attendance, yet are throughly assimilated to the state and power? Though assimilation is discussed often in the Jewish world in terms of intermarriage and lack of synagogue affiliation, it is perhaps here that the final assimilation is taking place. Could it be that assimilation in our time is as much the assertion of particularity where particularity in ethics and action is absent, as it is among those whose apathy toward Jewish life and success in the modern world is defining?
Surely, this understanding of assimilation is as dependent on definitions of assimilation as it is on definitions of Jewish religiosity. For is Jewish religiosity to be defined according to traditional understandings of Jewish law, Talmudic study and Sabbath observance? Is it to be defined by Jewish renewal movements where innovative rituals are celebrated with socially relevant content? Where the mikvah is shared in a river at a ret reat center in the country? Or where the Jubilee year is proclaimed as the forgiveness of third world debt by protestors in Washington D. C.? If we add to this picture Jewish lives lived in the ordinary, with sporadic synagogue attendance, indifference to things Jewish, and a general desire for security, citizenship and comfort, then a large part of contemporary Jewish life outside of Israel is covered.
Of course Israel is a special case. Or is it? Though in a context with heightened visibility, the same trends seem to be in evidence. The great majority of Jews want what most Jews outside of Israel want: a freedom to be secular, ordinary and successful; to be citizens in a democracy; to be secure. There are those whose religiosity is at the center and here a politicized reality takes on the form of what one commentator labeled "settler Judaism." The other side of this settler Judaism is an extreme secularity that is Israeli in identity rather than Jewish. An Israeli sociologist has labeled this identity as the first appearance in Jewish history of "Hebrew speaking Gentiles." Thus in Israel assimilation to the state and power in religious and secular form continues on pace with the Jewish world outside of Israel.
After the Holocaust and Israel, we are therefore forced back to foundational questions about what it means to be Jewish. This is especially true as we face the failure of Jewish leadership, theologies and the state - failures that other religious traditions and communities are facing today as well. For is it true that Christianity or Islam, or other religions in the modern period, have fared better than Judaism in these arenas? Are not their fates a Constantinianism and assimilationism known to the Jewish world? And as with Jews, don't these communities also share segments of their community who seek depth and commitment but are increasingly alienated from the traditions that give rise to their protest? Isn't the condition of seekers of justice and community, Jewish and otherwise, a condition of exile?
Perhaps this has always been true. Religions emerge in the crucible of events that chart new paths of justice and community only to quickly lapse into old patterns of hierarchy and division. Religions often begin as movements that subvert the religions of their day with no intention of becoming a new religion and then, as generations pass and the definition of the formative events becomes of great importance, institutional forms and canonization of texts, memory and ritual become the norm. The subversion of the original event itself is then read and enacted in a different context, a context of truth assertion, right belief, and, too often, an ordered and judgmental God. Revolutionary insights become normative even as the meaning of these insights is transformed into an assimilationist bargain with the state and power. Exodus becomes Sinai, not as a fluid and continuing journey involving transformative politics and a critical religious search, but as a conclusive orthodoxy. Jesus becomes the church where Christianity and truth rather than the prophetic is proclaimed. And so it goes.
Whatever the sociological theories point to, or whatever the facts may be discerned from Jewish and Christian history, the question of fidelity remains. And fidelity can only be discerned in its context, listening to the conversation that has preceded one's arrival, and participating in the contemporary conversation that is ongoing. Texts and memory are always interpreted within the context of the present in the light of conscience. It is this latter sensibility, always biased to be sure, but in a reflective capacity, that is the difference. This difference will, of course, be seen in different ways by people who occupy diverse vantage points of geography and class. Personality enters here as well, for bias related to personality is hard to eliminate even when a communal sensibility is taken into account.
From this perspective the exile of Jews of conscience is to be taken seriously as one possible option in the struggle to be faithful as a Jew. But it is also more important than simply an option among options; it is the only option that takes as its starting point - and without colorful detours and diversions - a refusal to participate in the assimilation of Judaism and Jewishness to the state and to power. This refusal is only one way of being Jewish, to be sure, yet it is, I think, the most serious engagement with the foundational elements of Jewish history as they can be lived within contemporary history. The refusal of piety, of religious ostentation, of injustice, and a God that has been silent and/or legitimated oppression, in short an agnosticism toward ultimate claims of religion or the state, is fundamental to the evolving patterns of Jewish thought and life. Paradoxically, this leaves Jews of conscience in a nowhere place, in between so many ideologies and theologies that the list is too long to enumerate.
Jews of conscience say a profound "no" to the twisting of Jewish history and claims that deprive others of their land and dignity, to helicopter gunships that fire rockets into refugee camps, towns and cities, to the calls for unity that have recently appeared, almost daily, in the New York Times. It is almost as if this "no" is a covenantal obligation and that speaking that "no" in religious language would cloud the issue or place the question in a terrain where arguments could twist and deprive the very force of that "no."
Yet the future calls for more than a "no." Is that "no" a "yes" as well? And what would that "yes" look like if articulated in Jewish language and symbol? Here the issue is joined as to a future of Judaism and Jewish life. Jews of conscience are giving everything they have to the present, to the "no" that seems isolated and that few outside this stream of thought and action hear. Their fidelity is found neither in carrying on a tradition that they have inherited or passing it beyond themselves to the next generation. How could they do either when they experience, in the action and silences of the Jewish state and Jewish leadership, the end of Jewish tradition as they have inherited it? For the transformations of Jewish life have been so trying and so radical in the suffering of the Holocaust; the tribulations of Israeli power have brought an ending so striking and definitive that the mouthing of words and the play of ritual are beyond the ability of Jews of conscience to continue and be honest.
Rather, these exiles embody the present crisis as sometimes mute, sometimes outrageous witnesses to the end of Jewish history as they have inherited it. Though difficult to describe, the image one is left with is these Jews of conscience carrying the covenant in silent procession into exile with them. With this image, a further and equally stark question comes to the fore: Is this the last exile in Jewish history?
For the return has already occurred in a violence that is startling and offensive to the evolving Judaism we have inherited and to the modern conscience as well. Thus the biblical motif of exile and return that contributes so heavily to Jewish images, texts, rituals and memory is no longer available. The covenant therefore can no longer be seen as awaiting either exile or return. Nor can the God of history, periodically present or absent, be seen as the guiding hand in the contemporary journey into exile. For Jews of conscience, the God of history, so sorely tried in the Holocaust, cannot be affirmed in the "return" to Israel. To affirm this return is to affirm a violence to the other who is now part of Jewish history and intimate to a Jewish future. For how can Jews live and claim an ethical base without ultimately embracing the very victims of our return?
The liturgy of destruction, so often recited in prayer and theology, has now expanded beyond the borders of the Jewish world to include the Palestinian people. In that inclusion, the covenant has also expanded beyond Jewish borders. It is no longer possible to be faithful as a Jew only within the Jewish framework, and even those who reach out from that framework in gestures of solidarity fall short of the obligation incumbent upon Jews today. Could it be that only a solidarity with the Palestinian people that envisions a joint life of Jews and Palestinian in Israel-Palestine can fulfill this historical mandate of Jews living after the Holocaust and Israel? So, at least, the exile places these understandings and vision before the Jewish community and the world.
Jews in exile are not alone. The twentieth century created exiles in abundance, exiles from place and culture as well as from religion. In fact an exilic community has formed in our time, a boundary and border crossing community that will continue to grow in the twenty-first century. Though exiles usually believe they will be returning home, the history of exile, including the history of Jewish exiles, contradicts this hope. Exiles do not typically return home and, if they do, the cultural and political landscape has changed so radically that the place they return to is more like the exile they have returned from. At some point, and this may be happening today, exiles begin to recognize that their birth community is no more the locus of their spirituality or future. Exiles from different communities begin to understand that those with whom they are thrown together, initially seen as interesting "others," are in fact the community of their future. A shared present, coupled with the realization that exile is permanent, forces a turning and the formation of interim engagements that open up a sharing of experiences and aspirations.
As time passes it simply becomes understood that the exilic community is the community for exiles, and value formations are recognized within the community and outside of it as well. How and where, today, do we place Mahatma Gandhi, Marin Buber, Deitrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King, Jr., for example? On the one hand, we understand each in their own particularity, as Hindu, Jew, German Christian and African-American Christian. On the other hand, they are also seen together, closer in their outlook and fidelity - closer in the witness they carried and the hope they engender - than they are to the communities they were born within. In their universality, they are messengers to humanity; in their particularity they are bonded together even though their geographic and religious commitments differ.
To be sure, Gandhi, Buber, Bonhoeffer and King are lifted out of their context by historians of commitment and those who struggle to be faithful in the present. But the passage of time has increased the numbers of those who find solace in the witness of these figures and most who benefit from their witness, of course, are and will remain unknown. In the twenty-first century, partly because of the exilic community inherited from the century just completed, the claim on this pantheon by others of diverse backgrounds is taken for granted; it is a particularity in the making, a community in exile that is becoming a new community, one that may be called a new diaspora.
As it turns out, with the return of exiles delayed endlessly, and the disarray of traditions that has occurred across boundaries and borders because of the violence and dislocation of the twentieth century, a community has formed, though, as yet, is unnamed. It is almost as if the naming of the community makes permanent the exile, or, better stated, the naming of the community is a final severing of previous particularities and the acknowledged beginning of a new particularity. All fidelity today draws from diverse sources, locations and traditions, demonstrating implicitly that the resources of the ancient particularities are not enough to face the complexities and globalization of our age. To name this community, however, is difficult for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is its newness and the uncertainty of what will become of the particularities from which the exiles came.
Loyalty to a particularity is another aspect of this difficulty, as is the accusation of traitorous behavior in joining with others. Exiles are forced to ask whether their new community is in fact an abandonment of their original community and the values found their. Don't exiles have as their first responsibility the fight for the values and sensibilities that their community has debased and forgotten? If the new community is affirmed, what happens to these values so important in the communal formation of the exile's people and so critical to the sense of self and mission that the exile carries within?
These fears and complexities are real. For Jews, especially, the question of particularity, of ancient texts and memory, are primary. If Jews in exile affirm their community as somewhere else, if the new diaspora is the place where life and hope for Jewish exiles can be found, what will become of Judaism and Jewish life? Will a different form of Jewish particularity evolve, one that is recognizable and able to be passed onto to future generations, or will the new diaspora vitiate that particularity, paradoxically becoming a place of assimilation to those fleeing the assimilation endemic to Constantinian Judaism?
Over the next fifty years a more precise definition of exile and the new diaspora will appear and perhaps even be named. It is doubtful that this community will carry the label Jewish or Judaism. It is even more doubtful that institutions or establishments will form around the new diaspora, at least ones that will be identifiable as successors to Judaism or other world religions, Christianity, for example. Of course, the community identifications of Jewish or Judaism will continue to be claimed in a community more throughly assimilated to power and the state than any other Jewish community in history. Synagogues and institutions bearing scripted Jewish titles will abound, be heavily endowed, recognized by governments in memorialization and universities in programs devoted to Jewish studies. Jewish identity will be found within this assertion and acceptance, as the foundations of Judaism and Jewish life atrophy. Shells of ancient traditions are fascinating to behold and claim, even demonstrate, in public rituals of sacrifice and devotion.
Perhaps in these years the exile will be forgotten and the new diaspora will make little or no claims at the gates of the now empowered religion that resides quietly in the halls of empire. By then the Palestinians will be finally subdued, the question of catastrophe and return quieted. The accusing questions of Jewish power and the power that it aligns with will haunt Judaism and Jewish life no more. Affluence and achievement will become the norm, the center of individual and communal life.
So it is and so it may be. Who dares to pose a path different from this traveled way, traveled by the peoples and religions of the world and now by Jews as well? Perhaps no one will notice that the covenant has fled this temple, as it did before for so many communities and traditions. What is true in history, and perhaps this will become obvious in the next fifty years, is that the covenant always await a rebirth and a new embrace. Where that embrace will come from, who will seek that embrace, what the community who embraces the covenant will call itself, is unknown. Or perhaps the covenant will continue to reside in exile with all those who suffer and all those who struggle to be faithful in their time. Across borders and boundaries that time may be like ours, awaiting a new religious sensibility that responds to the ancient in the context of the now.