Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Judaism's Other Geographies: Franz Rosenzweig and the State of Exile

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Judaism's Other Geographies: Franz Rosenzweig and the State of Exile

Article excerpt


Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929), the German-Jewish theologian and philosopher, presents us with what can be called a 'politics of Judaic theology'. Focussing on the particularities of Judaic time and space in his major work, The Star of Redemption (1921), this article argues for the importance of revisiting Rosenzweig to recuperate a history of thought opposed to the entailments of secular time with sovereign territory. Essaying between Rosenzweig's early 20th-century theology and the political present, I then bring him into dialogue with the voices of Judith Butler and Jaqueline Rose who, from the varying perspectives of ethics and psychoanalysis, insist on an originary displacement at the heart of Jewish identity and, with this, the impossibility of any project of national affirmation. Indeed, when read together with contemporary challenges to political Zionism, I suggest that Rosenzweig's theological understandings of space and time offer an alternative--and anterior--perspective from which to critique the ambitions of the Jewish nation-state.


Rosenzweig, Judaic theology, political Zionism, exile, remnant, dis-identification, temporality, nation-state


Taking up the famous motif from Isaiah 10: 20-22 according to which Israel is only ever definable as a 'remnant' or a 'remainder', Rosenzweig (2005 [1921]), declares Jewish history to be, 'in defiance of all world history, a history of this remnant' (427). But if for the Old Testament prophet, the value of the remnant is that it entails some future in-gathering or stands as the sign for some ultimate or antecedent unity, what interests the early 20th century German-Jewish philosopher, is the remnant as 'an intermediary situation' (Gibbs, 2000: 376): that is, as always present and persistent phenomenon, 'as a qualitative condition' of Judaic existence (376). The time of the remnant, in Rosenzweig's terms, is thus neither redeemed nor purgatorial time; neither time fulfilled nor time suspended but the unassumable 'reality' of time spent, time lived. Likewise, the space that the remnant occasions is not the symptomatic response to the predicament of displacement but one which might generate and sustain this very condition. But the deep structure of provisionality, here, attests to more than the poetics of biblical prophecy. Once introduced into 'historical' time and place, the remnant proposes that provisionality might itself be allowed an identity, one that remains in excess of the part-whole accounting of social formation and so fashions its own kind of political and historical understanding.

Being a remnant, then, consists not merely in thinking outside the terms of unity but of approaching temporal and spatial existence in a way that recognises and legitimises its own displacing force-fields in identity. Indeed, using Rosenzweig as a guide, I suggest that the particularity of Judaic time and space--its quality as remnant, as remainder might be carried over into a kind of contemporary 'political geography' and so registers a rupture immanent to the very forms of identification that usually defend the bonds of national and territorial community. To draw on Rosenzweig's biblical and theological language, then, is not only to bring 'older' currents to bear on debates which locate the Zionist enterprise primarily within the terms of Western nationalism and colonialism but also to say that Judaic sources themselves deliver the resources from which a paradigm of the non-national might be composed. While, on one level, the task of this proposition is primarily theoretical, the invitation it offers is a translational one. It is to identify a passage from a theological to a worldly realm and to ask what it means to live and think in the manner of a Judaic remnant; that is, in the manner of all that which remains--disruptive and left-over --in the distribution of 'proper' time and territory.

Starting on his major thesis The Star of Redemption while serving on the Balkan front in 1918 and completing it in the tumultuous aftermath of the First World War, Rosenzweig could perhaps justifiably re-view history from the perspective of the remnant. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.