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Israel in Exile

Jewish Writing and the Desert

Ranen Omer-Sherman

Publication Year: 2006

Israel in Exile is a bold exploration of how the ancient desert of Exodus and Numbers, as archetypal site of human liberation, forms a template for modern political identities, radical skepticism, and questioning of official narratives of the nation that appear in the works of contemporary Israeli authors including David Grossman, Shulamith Hareven, and Amos Oz, as well as diasporic writers such as Edmund Jabes and Simone Zelitch. _x000B_In contrast to other ethnic and national representations, Jewish writers since antiquity have not constructed a neat antithesis between the desert and the city or nation; rather, the desert becomes a symbol against which the values of the city or nation can be tested, measured, and sometimes found wanting. This book examines how the ethical tension between the clashing Mosaic and Davidic paradigms of the desert still reverberate in secular Jewish literature and produce fascinating literary rewards. Omer-Sherman ultimately argues that the ancient encounter with the desert acquires a renewed urgency in response to the crisis brought about by national identities and territorial conflicts._x000B_

Published by: University of Illinois Press

front cover

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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xviii

The spirit of this project is much indebted to my first encounter many years ago with lines written by Maurice Blanchot observing Kafka’s strange attraction and repulsion toward Zionism: “his wandering does not consist in nearing Canaan, but in nearing the desert, the truth of the desert—in going always further in that direction.”1 ...

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1. Representing Desert Wilderness in Jewish Narrative: Poetics and Politics

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pp. 1-28

The Jewish textual and physical encounter with the desert is surely one of humanity’s most imaginative, spiritual, and in some ways mysterious adventures. The journey that began in Mesopotamia, traversed the Fertile Crescent, descended into the Nile, and culminated in a mysterious encounter with a demanding deity ...

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2. Justice and the Old/New Jewish Nation

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pp. 29-59

The desert experience of the ancient Hebrews was a temporal and spatial revolution that is still a catalyst for the modern literary imagination. Let us begin with the fact that the Hebrew scriptures, in their obdurate this-worldly orientation, do not lament the fall which permanently severs human beings from Eden. ...

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3. Desert Space and National Consciousness

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pp. 60-95

Any analysis of the vital cultural role played by the disruptive signifier of “desert” in the Israeli literary setting, or the Jewish canon itself, would hardly be complete without considering the rich fictional universe of Amos Oz (b. 1939). One of the most widely read Israeli novelists of his or any generation, ...

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4. Immobilized Rebels on the Outskirts of the Promised Land

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pp. 96-125

One of the most subversive moments in the long series of protests by the people against Moses in the wilderness occurs in Numbers 16, where a confrontational Dathan and Abiram reverse the leader’s privileged representation of the immediate past and the future that beckons: ...

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5. Sinai of the Diasporic Imagination

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pp. 126-158

Whereas modern Hebrew writers often make strident political uses of the desert in ways that resonate in the Israeli national scene, a significant number of Jewish writers in the Diaspora have discovered the luxury of moving in the universal tropes and renderings of “exile.” ...

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6. Wilderness as Experience and Metaphor

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pp. 159-176

In the early 1960s the Knesset member Yizhar Smilansky (b. 1916), better known as S. Yizhar, one of Israel’s most highly regarded literary figures, issued this impassioned call for the nation to preserve its deserts and other natural areas: ...


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pp. 177-192

Works Cited

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pp. 193-202


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pp. 203-210

E-ISBN-13: 9780252092022
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252030437

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2006

OCLC Number: 811410289
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Israel in Exile

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Wilderness areas in literature.
  • Israeli literature -- History and criticism.
  • Jewish literature -- History and criticism.
  • Identity (Philosophical concept) in literature.
  • Bible. -- O.T. -- Criticism, interpretation, etc.
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