Remaking Jewish Identity in France

Irwin Wall

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:
Remaking Jewish Identity in France

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This chapter contends that any attempt to locate anything like the correct account of Jewish identity, or the correct Jewish identity, is doomed to failure. There is no—and from the ancient world there never has been—single or uniquely correct Jewish identity. Both in postwar France and elsewhere, one can find many pegs on which to hang one's Jewish identity: the consciousness of a shared history; a sense of Jewish community as having survived all manner of disasters, most notably the Shoah; a sense of solidarity with the State of Israel; minority status vis-à-vis Christianity; the political and cultural prophetic tradition of social justice; solidarity based upon shared language (Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino); finally and quite prominently for some, traditional Jewish religious identity. The chapter strongly criticizes views of identity that fail to observe this multi-identity structure, for example, the “essentialist” characterizations of non-Jewish thinkers like Sartre and Lyotard who attempt to fashion an identity for Jews from the outside. It discusses a number of modern French thinkers who have addressed the following question: Where then is the secular French Jew to turn for a rich Jewish identity? Two of the most prominent are Finkielkraut and Finkielkraut's teacher, Emmanuel Levinas.

Keywords: Jewish identity; Jews; France; Finkielkraut; Emmanuel Levinas

Chapter.  13640 words. 

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies

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