Coming to Terms with Exile

Howard Wettstein

in Diasporas and Exiles

Published by University of California Press

Published in print October 2002 | ISBN: 9780520228641
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520926899 | DOI:
Coming to Terms with Exile

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This chapter explores a Jewish identity for which galut is one central pillar. It contends that even in modern times, galut cannot and should not be avoided. Rather than steering clear of the almost inbred Jewish sense of dislocation—one that we cannot quite lose even in our own Western diasporic setting—galut must be reckoned with. But such a reckoning does not necessarily issue in a bleak outlook. An ultimately positive take on the human and Jewish conditions requires that we give substantial weight to unpleasant, stubborn facts about human and Jewish dislocation. The chapter distinguishes two galut phenomena. First there is in the human condition called “normal dislocation.” Being the sorts of all-too-human creatures that we are, living in the sort of world we find ourselves in, has always meant big trouble. The second and specifically Jewish galut phenomenon is not normal; it is extraordinary. It relates to the following cataclysmic sequence of events: the churban, the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 c.e., the defeat of Bar Kochba in 135, and the attendant dispersion. The chapter sketches aspects of the Rabbinic response to the cosmic jolt and explores how a tradition smitten by and obsessed with galut develops practices and an outlook to cope. It focuses on a crucial theological aspect of the rabbinic response, specifically the super-anthropomorphizing tendency one sees so clearly in the commentary, Midrash Rabbah, on the Book of Lamentations.

Keywords: Jewish identity; galut; dislocation; churban; rabbinic response; Midrash Rabbah

Chapter.  6662 words. 

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies

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