- The Wandering Jew Comes Home
Jewish "exile" and "return" have been analyzed from a variety of perspectives that often fall into two interpretive standpoints: historical readings focusing on how Jews throughout the ages understand the causes and repercussions of Jewish displacement, and religious readings that see Jewish exile and return as connotative of larger things. Instances of religious readings include Jewish perspectives in which exile and return became galut and "homecoming," with the displacement read through the lens of sanctified Jewish history; and Christian understandings in which the Jewish wanderer is the Wandering Jew, forced to roam the earth for having hurried Christ [End Page 362] along on the way to Calvary. The Wandering Jew is both dignified and debased-dignified for becoming a repentant Christian, and debased for originally being a Jew.
Historical interpretations of Jewish exile and return include W. D. Davies's The Territorial Dimension of Judaism,1 in which Davies seeks to assess "the nature and place within Judaism of the doctrine that in various ways asserts that there is a special relationship among the God of Israel, the People of Israel, and the Land of Israel";2 and Arnold Eisen's comprehensive Galut: Modern Jewish Reflections on Homelessness and Homecoming,3 a "history of Jewish exile"4 that traces the development in Jewish thought of ideas of exile and homecoming from the Bible through the twentieth century. Though historically anchored in their interpretations, Davies and Eisen assert that they have chosen the theme of exile and return for personal and political reasons-Davies as a means to work through his feelings about Israel in the wake of the Six-Day War,5 and Eisen to further the debate between American and Israeli Jews about galut and homecoming, and to find a middle ground between the two sides.6 The writings of Daniel Boyarin and Jonathan Boyarin on exile and return lie somewhere between ideological and historical interpretations. Their examinations into the socio-historical basis of Jewish concepts of Diaspora seek to "privilege Diaspora" against Zionist consciousness.7
In the 1970s, a new reading of exile and return became popular, generated from literary critics, rather than rabbis, priests, historians, and theologians. In the "nomadic" perspective, as occasioned in the writings of Deleuze and Guattari and taken up by a variety of poststructuralist and postmodern critics, exile and return become extra-historical. For instance, in the writings of George Steiner and Edmond Jabès, the literary and the real, the text and the world, unproblematically merge together rhetorically, with the text becoming the home and writing an act of return. The narrative is the world rather than the marker of a real world beyond the book, while the real exile is submerged into literary notions of fluidity and slipperiness that are instrumentally utilized to break down entrenched precepts. Exile is no longer merely a historical situation but, as in a religious interpretation, becomes representative of something else. Exile is "good" because it resists fixed concepts and works to corrode stability, while return is "bad" because too much stability brings on nationalistic and fixed agendas that lead to abuses of power. [End Page 363]
In opposition to nomadic readings of exile and return, a broad array of postcolonial, diaspora, Jewish, and feminist critics have pushed for a return to historically anchored readings. Starting in the 1980s, postcolonial critics such as Gayatri Spivak showed how in nomadic thinking, as generated from French poststructuralists, critics appropriate the historical displacements of those with less power for their own theoretical ends (much as the colonialist instrumentally views the native).8 Diaspora theorists such as James Clifford and Edward Said challenge critics historically to ground their interpretations and not to dehistoricize real exile.9 Philosophers such as Susan Shapiro point out the troubling way that postmodern critics, particularly Jean-Françcois Lyotard, continue the Christian tradition of viewing the Wandering Jew as a positive figure of dislocation, thus erasing the real suffering of the Jews.10 Feminists such as Caren Kaplan show how modern, postmodern, and poststructuralist theories that...