identity arises through free dialogue with texts, not by submission to them or by constraining them through a priori categories.
Boyarin expresses his independence and freedom in certain programmatic considerations. The first of these emphasizes that tradition is a "process" rather than a "content." While the "corpus" of Judaism is textual, Boyarin sees the process of Judaism as a continual speaking. He calls for "reverbalization, reinscription, and ethnography" to create anew the Jewish body through the use of language. 36 This technique illustrates how postmodern sensitivity to the other moves from passive data to a creative activity. Being aware that bodies rather than just ideas construct the subject matter, Boyarin uses words carefully and avoids reifying what he investigates. Boyarin's reverbalization of Judaism reconstitutes its boundaries. Whereas some bodies--those of women, for example--may fall outside of some inscriptions of Judaism, the postmodern ethnographer will reinscribe Jewish identity to include those previously marginalized.
Boyarin closes his investigation with a generalized statement about the purpose of Jewish learning. "The task of Jewish study," he claims, "is to create community among Jews through time via language." This challenge animates many of his studies but need not become the absolute purpose of every investigation of Judaic studies. Boyarin provides an example of how a postmodern ethics might apply to the academic study of Judaism. By its very nature such a postmodern ethics would reject any grandiose "mission" or ultimate purpose. Boyarin's scholarship, however, does point in a positive direction. He suggests how a postmodern view of Judaism as ethics, as halacha, works itself out in the academic setting. A postmodern consciousness leads to a dissatisfaction with the structures of modernity. It provides a law, that is, a sense of the way that stories presuppose rules and rules presuppose stories, that urges a great flexibility and caution in the study of texts. This new Jewish process gains its identity from the texts it investigates, and its ethics from its unwillingness to define any text or meaning as ultimately satisfying. This halacha of the postmodern Jew entails a process of disciplined study, of academic pursuit of an ever elusive truth. It combines distance and nearness, objectivity and engagement.
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Publication information: Book title: Toward a Jewish (M)orality:Speaking of a Postmodern Jewish Ethics. Contributors: S. Daniel Breslauer - Author. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of publication: Westport, CT. Publication year: 1998. Page number: 75.
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