A View from the Fleshpots:
Exploratory Remarks on Gilded Galut Existence

How should the religious Jew, and particularly the religious Zionist, think about his existence in the Diaspora when the opportunity exists to move to Israel? Rabbi Carmy begins by assuming that, all things being equal, it is better for the committed Jew to reside in the Holy Land. He calls for self-examination with regard to this issue but not for the chronic self-justification or the wallowing in guilt that replaces true heshbon ha-nefesh (introspection). Guilt can be valuable, but not as an end in itself.

This essay outlines and critiques different religious models for the Jew living in the galut. Some have seen the exile as an opportunity to be a "light unto the nations" but we might argue that this can best be done in the modern context as a political entity. Others have argued for exile as overcoming the problems inherent in a cloistered upbringing, but this too can be accomplished in Israel proper. Viewing exile as a punishment is difficult in our comfortable Western homes, and in all cases we usually try to escape punishments. Declaring ourselves in a prefatory mode before the return raises the self-fulfilling danger of constantly evaluating ourselves as unworthy. Staying in the exile in order to maintain "pure spirituality" untouched by the dirt of the mundane is both anti-halakhic and ignores the fact that we are often thrust into history by forces beyond our control. Rabbi Carmy concludes by arguing for seeing galut as a bedieved (ex post facto and non-ideal) opportunity for a purgative experience.

Rabbi Carmy also contrasts the American experience, in which the essential category is the religious individual, with the Israeli experience which forges a greater sense of communal responsibility. He cautions against the tendencies to reduce the challenge of one’s Jewishness to either making aliyah or to belonging to a particular Israeli political party. In a shift from the communal norm, he suggests that Diaspora Jews get to know Israeli culture not only in the political realm but in the world of its literature as well. We should not foster our sense of exile through emphasizing the specter of anti-Semitism which leaves us in the unproductive mode of victimhood and the culture of resentment. Finally, this essay challenges us to hear the Divine knock in history, and find some way of responding, by moving from the periphery of history to its center.

Click here to read the essay (PDF 2.1MB).

Tradition 26:4 (1992): 39-66. (© Rabbinical Council of America, with permission.)

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