Academic journal article Shofar

Exiled in the Homeland

Academic journal article Shofar

Exiled in the Homeland

Article excerpt

No idea is more fundamental to the Zionist sense of mission than the ending of exile for the Jewish people. But the in-gathering of Jews in their homeland acquired its meaning as an antidote to exile rather than as an act with its own defined essence. This essay analyzes how exile functioned not only as a contrast to the society created in Palestine during the period of British rule but also and more importantly, as a controlling metaphor of Zionist discourse. Exile was a powerful linguistic tool justifying a particular distribution of resources and legitimizing a political hierarchy. Exile's rhetorical force often had a profoundly unsettling impact on many immigrants unprepared for the experience of living in a Jewish homeland only to be told that they had not yet been liberated from the undesirable effects of exile.

No idea is more fundamental to the Zionist sense of mission than the in-gathering of the Jews in the land of Israel and the ending of their exile. The determination to end Jewish exile in all its dimensions is thoroughly embedded in the documentary record of Zionist history, particularly during the period of British rule in Palestine (1918-1948), the years so critical to the struggle for Jewish sovereignty. Zionists did not simply describe Jewish life in the Diaspora as exile, they judged it and expressed that judgment so starkly that they rendered this return to the ancient homeland the religious equivalent of blessing the Torah. In the Zionist view, immigration to the land of Israel constituted an absolute rejection of exile, and conversely emigration from Palestine was denounced as betrayal and a dereliction of a sacred duty.

But to conclude that the ending of exile simply required a change of domicile and physical contact with the land of Israel would be far too simple. For the term "exile" carried burdens of reference so deeply rooted in the personality of Diaspora Jewry that nothing short of negating the Diaspora, as symbol, culture, and system of authority, could truly bring Jews back to their home. The word "home" gathered its political and emotional resonance as an antidote to exile rather than as a word with its own absolute and independent essence. Zionist discourse in Palestine focused far more often on displacement and exile than on belonging and on home. Rather than project a clear vision of home, Palestine's Zionist leaders continually looked backward and organized the ways in which they thought and talked about the Jewish society being formed in Palestine in reference to exile and to the very societies and cultures they rejected and denounced. Exile, in fact, took on much of its modern connotation in the process of reshaping Jewish society in Palestine. Intending to generate a unified Jewish culture in the land of Israel, Zionist discourse, partly because of its preoccupation -- some might say, obsession -- with exile, more often than not exposed many of its own cultural contradictions and fault-lines.

Although the idea of rejecting the Diaspora may have been a consistent theme in Zionist ideology, it did not provide a unifying point to generate a common set of policies or priorities. Even as a component of Zionist ideology, the approaches to exile were complex, and Zionist activists oriented themselves in a variety of ways to this principle.(1) No matter how committed Zionists were to rejecting the Diaspora, those born in exile could not but bring to their activities an experience reflective of their society. Their notions of how to end exile often got their momentum from the very culture which marginalized them and which they claimed to be rejecting.

Exile was so central to Zionist political language in Palestine that to focus on its usage is more than a semantic exercise. The building of a Jewish state is a tale of debates, disagreements, and straggles, not a narrative of linear progress toward a preordained goal. What is important is not so much the determination of a single definition of exile as a recognition of the multiple purposes to which the idea of exile was put and how grounded these were in the diverse and ever-changing social experiences of Palestine's Jews. …

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

Oops!

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.