The No-State Solution: A Jewish Manifesto
Daniel Boyarin
Yale University Press, $30 (cloth)

“I have never in my life ‘loved’ any people or collective,” Hannah Arendt famously wrote in a 1963 letter to Gersom Scholem, embracing Scholem’s accusation that she was a daughter of the Jews who failed to love the Jewish family as a whole. Besides the circularity and the meanness entailed in such self-love, Arendt made clear, the love of an abstraction made no sense to her: “I indeed love ‘only’ my friends and the only kind of love I know of and believe in is the love of persons.” Daniel Boyarin’s latest book, The No-State Solution: A Jewish Manifesto, can be read as the reply that Scholem, who stopped talking to Arendt, never sent—an attempt to describe a Jewish love of the Jewish people that somehow turns on the love of persons.

“I have never in my life ‘loved’ any people or collective,” Hannah Arendt wrote. Boyarin’s book can be read as his reply.

“Putting it somewhat crassly,” Boyarin explains, “I am interested here in ‘real Jews,’ Jews who live and breathe, eat and make love and get pregnant (or don’t), get sick and die, and on the way, behave in various ways: singing, dancing, writing books, reading books, speaking quaint languages, and arguing constantly.” “Real Jews” might be crass, but it is a term of art in Jewish Studies, usually used to cordon off living, breathing Jews from the Jew of non-Jewish imaginations. In The No-State Solution, though, Boyarin is interested in the Jew of Jewish imaginations—and in giving that figure flesh and bones. Above all, his manifesto sets itself against the mode of self-attention that Boyarin calls “Jewish pride.” So many Jews today seem to be fixated only on the emptiest projection of the Jew, Boyarin observes, eager for the pleasures of identity without labor. (American Jews provide his main example.) Put in traditionally Jewish terms, Jewish pride counts among the worst forms of ahavat Yisrael—the love of one’s fellow Jews as variously imagined by rabbinic culture.

Pride practices nothing, Boyarin argues, and loves even less, filling unoppressed Jews with a sense of self always one breath from supremacy. And were he to end the argument there, he would remain with Arendt entirely. But where Arendt refused to believe that ahavat Yisrael (or anything like it) could ever be real love, Boyarin wants nothing more than to save ahavat Yisrael from its prideful counterfeits. To do that he has to assume that Yisrael—“the thing called the Jews,” Boyarin happily badly translates—remains concretely in the world. This is the beginning of Boyarin’s proposal in The No-State Solution: however fleshly different, differently busy, and scattered across not only space but time, Jews living and dead generate one equally real entity, a whole beyond the sum of its parts, which can be held and known like any one of us.

That is not the only part of Boyarin’s argument that is going to alienate some readers. As his title suggests, Boyarin’s manifesto starts not with Yisrael, but with the state of Israel—and the ethnic cleansing that gave and gives it life. Jews who find every form of Zionism intolerable, as Boyarin does, will already be doubtful that Jews everywhere and all at once can be the object of an actually practiced love. But there is a proposal within Boyarin’s proposal, and this second one risks sounding like even deeper nonsense to the readers closest to his heart: the thing called the Jews needs to be newly defined, not as a religion or race, but as a nation (“I can think of nothing but ‘nation’,” Boyarin insists), because Jewish nationalism is the best way to end Zionism.

Boyarin, seventy-six, is a prolific scholar of religion and historian of Judaism. His work has tended to thrive on dissolving its organizing objects. In Imagine No Religion (2016), written with Carlin A. Barton, he argues that the English word “religion” needs to be dropped from the study of ancient Greek and Roman cultures, in favor of native words like religio and threskeia, unless scholars want to continue studying an abstraction of their own invention instead of actual ancient practices; in Judaism (2018), he argues that Judaism was invented by ancient Christians to serve as Christianity’s false double, and that “Judaism” only became a Jewish name for the Jewish religion at the end of the nineteenth century, when certain German-speaking Jews found themselves compelled to reduce their form of life to a church. Besides genealogizing, Boyarin’s favorite way of doing the history of Judaism has always been to dance across Christian anti-Semitism, turning its claims upside down as he goes: the Jews are obsessed by fleshly things, he thus agrees in Carnal Israel (1993), rendering an accusation made famous by Augustine into the highest compliment.

Above all, Boyarin’s manifesto criticizes the mode of self-attention he calls “Jewish pride.”

In The No-State Solution, Boyarin reprises this strategy in order to claim that the thing called “the Jews” is a real object in the world. The anti-Semitic intuition is right, Boyarin insists—the Jews are definitely out there—but it badly misunderstands the gift of its own knowledge. Anti-anti-Semitism only worsens the misunderstanding. As Boyarin observes, closely following philosopher Elad Lapidot, key thinkers in the anti-anti-Semitic mode—post-Holocaust writers including Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, and Jean-Paul Sartre—insist that every statement about the Jews as a whole, in fact, points to little more than a projection of anti-Semitism’s sick mind, having no living referent: for the sake of real Jews, nobody should be allowed to talk about the Jews. “In contrast to the thinkers of anti-anti-Semitism,” Boyarin explains his anti-anti-anti-Semitism—thinking of the Latin root of manifesto—“this manifesto is dedicated to making the Jews appear.”

Manifesting the thing called the Jews turns on giving it definition. (Boyarin tells us that he tried to title this book What Is the Jews?, and you have to believe him.) One way to free realities buried beneath so much standard language is to make up words. The No-State Solution brings back some of Boyarin’s best coinages while debuting others. Against the joylessness of Jewish pride, in order to emphasize the extreme pleasures of being a Jew in a body wrapped up in other Jewish bodies, Boyarin reproposes “Jewissance.” In order to describe the Christianization now entailed in defining the thing called the Jews as a religion, whereby Jews find their fleshly practices privatized into churchy beliefs, Boyarin renames Judaism “Jewtheranism.” Still, the task that Boyarin gives himself has to be collective before it can be personal. Beyond reprising his own moves and ideas, then, The No-State Solution obsessively cites other people’s, too, carrying on six conversations at once. Boyarin writes as he reads—not so much writing as frantically transcribing—which means you have to follow him lost. He knows this (“My text is written in a style that is—I am learning—not only strange but off-putting”), so he goes out of his way to make his sources transparent and his ideas accessible, although this effort to compensate can be equally strange, as if Boyarin were a visitor from a distant kingdom politely forcing himself to use the common tongue.

You follow him because the messy warmth of his conversation feels like the point. The experience creates a kind of microcosm of the form of life that Boyarin wants to define into existence generally: an ever evolving community of students and teachers, separated by space and time, yet somehow sharing breath, bound into an intimacy bordering on kinship by a shared object of study. Such an object has to be in radically multiple places at once, and endlessly on the move. In works like A Traveling Homeland (2015), and now passingly in The No-State Solution, Boyarin claims that practices produced and modeled by the Babylonian Talmud—the wildly miscellaneous collection of rabbinic conversations, arguments, and teachings about Jewish life first written down in Babylonia in late antiquity—are what bind Jews everywhere and at all times into the thing he calls a diaspora nation. The Talmud shows itself to be the true Jewish homeland, proliferating Jewish homelands wherever taken up: the Jews’ first “diasporist manifesto,” Boyarin argues. The No-State Solution—even this review—continues the talmudic nation with other means.

Pride practices nothing, Boyarin argues, and loves even less, filling unoppressed Jews with a sense of self always one breath from supremacy.

At one point, rereading the Black philosopher and poet Fred Moten alongside the German Jewish philosopher and theologian Franz Rosenzweig, Boyarin very sincerely names talmudic style “Jewish jazz.” Risked dissonance, even disgust, is central to his call for Jewish nationalism: “my insistence on using the word ‘nation’ puzzles—and even repels—many of my associates, colleagues, and friends and very likely many of you, my readers, as well,” Boyarin writes. There is no arguing that he is sounding the wrong note. Even as others on the Jewish left have started to rethink the absoluteness of Arendt’s refusal to love the Jews as a whole—to wonder what it would look like for a Jew to love the Jews without idolizing an abstraction, while remaining entirely committed to ending the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians—the word “nation” has been kept obviously off the table. Boyarin wants us to be repelled, exactly, and then wonder why. Amid its riffs and feints, The No-State Solution has an answer: the enemy is not nationalism, but nation-statism. The variously ancient concept of nationhood remains badly clouded by the recent and parochially European concept of the nation-state, Boyarin insists, such that every living nation forced into the shape of a state is at risk. Our ordinary language produces the worst confusions. In the case of Boyarin’s nation, the bogus right to a state regularly passes itself off as the right to exist, while every statement about hating the state of Israel finds itself automatically translated into a statement about hating Jews, and any statement about loving the Jewish nation finds itself automatically translated into a statement about loving Israel.

What if the synonymy fell apart? What if the Jewish nation made itself unassimilable to the Jewish nation-state? What if it had to? For Boyarin, the state of Israel lives not only on the destruction of the Palestinians, but on the disappearing of the Jews.

At first The No-State Solution looks like Boyarin’s entry into the growing genre of efforts by Jewish philosophers and activists to unlink being Jewish from being Zionist. One especially relevant precedent is Judith Butler’s Parting Ways (2012), which aims to recover a mode of Jewishness given life by its own repeated lack of sovereignty. Butler and Boyarin are longtime colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, and the first footnote of Parting Ways cites Boyarin’s Powers of Diaspora (2002), which he co-wrote with his brother. Like the Boyarins, Butler wants to invert our attitude toward diasporic identity. But where they want to overturn the modern credo that diaspora is a sickness to be cured—the Jewish nation has remained healthy and whole precisely through statelessness and scattering, the Boyarins show—Butler wants to find a Jewish ethics in the historical experience of diaspora. To live a Jewish life, Butler argues, entails “depart[ing] from a concern only with the vulnerability and fate of the Jewish people,” first and foremost by departing from a concern only with the vulnerability and fate of oneself. Jews are most Jewish when not.

The anti-Semitic intuition is right, Boyarin insists—the Jews are definitely out there—but it badly misunderstands the gift of its own knowledge.

In Parting Ways, Butler’s Jewish critique of Zionism makes itself turn away from its Jewishness at every turn lest it close up into another claim to Jewish exceptionality. Justice and equality cannot be Jewish things. Butler’s anti-Zionism can be done in the name of Jewishness, then, but never for the sake of Jewishness, because before Judaism can part ways from Zionism, Jewishness has to part ways with itself. It ends up not being clear why we have to talk about Jewishness at all. From a perspective like Boyarin’s, Butler’s ethical Jew starts to feel too invented for the purpose, too lacking in what Boyarin calls Jewish “doings,” or, that growing assortment of things that Jews do (and have done to them) to make themselves really Jewish. When Boyarin turns to Jewish sources, he turns toward their Jewishness like a hungry teenager, rereading the Babylonian Talmud and medieval Spanish legends about the Babylonian Talmud, himself, his brother, Yiddish art songs from their childhood, even Theodor Herzl and Asher Ginsberg—two of the founding fathers of Zionism. In the beginning, Boyarin shows, Zionists imagined not a Jewish state but a Jewish substate carved out within an existing, multinational empire. And when they imagined that substate, they did not see all the world’s Jews tightly collected in one place, but assumed and even hoped that whole communities of Jews would remain wherever they were in order to keep the nation alive and diasporic.

The No-State Solution finds an even fuller expression of its own dream of a diaspora nation in Leon Pinsker, a figure usually understood as the first father of Zionism, before Herzl even. Pinsker is famous for Autoemancipation (1882), his Zionist manifesto, but Boyarin latches onto Pinsker’s call to enlightened Russian Jews in the 1860s “to become the sons of their time and their immediate homeland without ceasing to be true Jews.” Where Butler describes Jewishness as incessant and individual self-departure, Boyarin imagines being diasporic in terms of a collective self-doubling. The scene is contorted, doubled back, pointing in multiple directions at once, but somehow—Boyarin insists—untortured:

I propose diaspora as a kind of cultural situation in which a group of people—the Jews, for instance—are doubly situated (culturally) at home and abroad, located in their doikayt—here and now—but also culturally and affectively bound to similar collectives that are in other places, and perhaps others times as well, which we could name their Yiddishkayt, their Jewishness, or, in order to avoid Ashkenazocentrism, their Judezmo or Judaïté.

This is no longer Pinsker’s language but that of the Bund—a socialist, often armed, movement of Jews that generated chapters across Central and Eastern Europe in the first decades of the twentieth century, then formed anew as an international organization after World War II, and yet which has been almost entirely erased from Jewish memory. Doikayt, a Yiddish word that had a range of political uses for interwar Jews, is usually translated as “hereness.” Boyarin adds time to the ordinary translation (“and now”) and expands the Bundist use of the word “to denote commitment to the welfare of the people and their culture among whom one lives.” This interpretation stretches what the first Bundists meant—some will counter that doikayt denoted first a commitment to the welfare of the Jewish people among whom one lived—but Boyarin wants to find new meanings in the old word, especially for what sometimes gets called neo-Bundism, an unofficial and scattered movement of Jews today committed to Jewish socialism and Jewish anti-Zionism. In this spirit, The No-State Solution adapts a Bund election poster used in Kiev around the turn of 1918 for its frontispiece, the poster’s Hebrew letters reprinted above the image of a hard-looking Jew framing his open mouth with both hands, the man screaming in English now: “Wherever we live, that’s our homeland.”

The revived poster has become a central piece of iconography for the Jewish left, while doikayt has been translated into the organizing principle of a radical Jewish diasporism. But Boyarin’s own neo-Bundism is tricky—he wants more than doikayt. And he doubles Jewish hereness not with Jewish thereness (dortikayt, the traditional alternative), but Jewish everywhereness. In order to complete his manifesto’s vision of the Jewish diaspora nation, then, Boyarin repurposes a different Yiddish word, also a word historically used by Bundists, sometimes un-translating the word into Old Spanish and Tunisian French (to save the Jewish whole from being consumed by its Yiddish, traditionally whiter part): Yiddishkayt, or Yiddishkayt/Judezmo/Judaïté. The diasporic Jew finds his heart entirely trained on two realities at once, and in both cases, against his will. Boyarin comes together again with Butler, here, insisting that unchosen cohabitation defines Jewishness. But the truest Jew, for Boyarin, is not only called by the non-Jewish neighbors he never chose, but by the gigantic Jewish family he never chose. Doikayt binds the Jew to the oppressed people he finds himself sharing space with (Boyarin sometimes slips into describing this aspect of the condition as being bound to oppressed people everywhere), where Yiddishkayt/Judezmo/Judaïté binds the Jew to Jews everywhere in space and time, who live through him whether he likes it or not.

The enemy is not nationalism, Boyarin argues, but nation-statism.

The image is persuasively weird: a Jewish Janus smiling in both directions, constantly being made to depart from an exclusive concern for the Jews while constantly being made to return there. But simultaneous loyalties do not mean equal loyalties. Boyarin has a difficult time deciding the ratio between the poles of his Jewishness. At the beginning of this book, he insists that he sees “no contradiction whatever” between a passionate commitment to the welfare of one’s nation—“even caring a bit more for ‘one’s own’”—and an equally passionate commitment to the welfare of the non-Jews the Jew lives among; by the middle he insists that the doubledness of Jewish diasporic identity “opens a productive space for maintaining . . . this contradiction” between doikayt and Yiddishkayt, the two critiquing and informing each other without resolution; and on the last pages we read that the Jew has a “primary ethical responsibility” to whoever surrounds him, wherever his heart lies. In every case, the Jewish two-ness that Boyarin describes (and in describing, wants to bring into the world) does not entail anything like an inner split in the Jewish subject, or feeling torn.

Two-ness might not mean tornness, and doubled bonds might not mean a double bind. But in practice, in feeling, it is almost impossible to imagine a situation in which the Jew’s belonging to his translocal nation does not ground his participation in his local community. The Talmud will always be the Jew’s mother tongue, as Boyarin would put it. His formulations slip here, too. What is “bad for the Jews” continually comes first in The No-State Solution, a fact only underscored by Boyarin’s addition of certain afterthinking parentheticals (“[and for everyone else]”); you love your nation, while only feeling totally responsible for everybody else. In turn, Boyarin’s anti-Zionism repeatedly tilts toward Israel’s destruction of the Jewish nation, even as he names the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. The stance finds its extreme in Jewish anti-Zionists like the Satmar Hasidim, who understand the state of Israel to embody the Satanic arrogance of fake Jews forcing God’s work with secular tools: remaining “Torah true” means carving out Jewish substates (in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, for example) until the messiah actually comes. Closer to home, Boyarin’s suggestion that Israel embodies the greatest existential threat to the Jews today echoes the postwar International Jewish Labor Bund, for whom the primary victims of 1948 were Jews everywhere.

You have to love Jews everywhere with your whole heart, not just strategically, for anti-Zionism like Boyarin’s to work. He really means all of us. Boyarin rejects the Jewish division of humanity into Jews and goyim, and he equally rejects divisions within Jewry, whether the Satmar characterization of Zionists as Satan worshippers or the recent Zionist invention of the un-Jew. The radical inclusivity of Boyarin’s love makes it impossible for him to name Jewish enemies—even as the intolerability of the world’s emptiest forms of Jewishness (pride, Zionism) clearly gives his nation definition. Assimilation is another of his defining enemies. In The No-State Solution as elsewhere, Boyarin describes assimilation as extinction, a loss as painful for him as the loss of a species of bird is for other people. On the last page of The No-State Solution, Boyarin thus calls Jews today to newly take up old ways of “living differently from everyone around us” (some of us will have to de-assimilate first), in order to save us—to become true Jews, as Pinsker would have it, while feeling exactly nothing about the value of the truth that we embody. Boyarin wants Jews everywhere to practice an opposition to assimilation without asserting even the slightest betterness, in other words, lest superiority consume us.

He has to know that this is not how people work. Setting yourself apart tends to mean setting yourself above—if only emotionally—and most human Jews are just not capable of defining themselves by living differently from everyone around them without slipping into contempt. When we were oppressed, Boyarin argues in this direction, referring to an old diasporic tradition, spitting on churches sustained us, but not now. (Now Jewish spit can only aim down.) Condemning petty inhumanity is not hard though. The example of a certain psychological inhumanness remains at the core of Boyarin’s aspiration. For an actual, individual Jew in the world, diasporic nationalism not only demands totally belonging to two worlds at once but loving the Jews as a whole while constantly divesting that whole of every and any quality that makes it special. Who loves like that?

If the word “nation” is going to repel the readers closest to Boyarin’s heart, so is his use of “family.” Throughout The No-State Solution, the two words are tightly linked, and sometimes synonymous. What makes the Jews a nation across time, Boyarin insists, is the brute and unchosen fact of genealogy: we are the sons and daughters of our mothers and fathers, unquestionably. (You almost never hear, “My parents are Jewish, but I’m not,” he points out.) Boyarin cites a scene with his four-year-old granddaughter (zaidie is Yiddish for grandpa), goading you:

SELAH HANNAH BOYARIN: Are you Jewish, Zaidie?
ZAIDIE: Yes, I sure am.
SELAH: Because you’re in the family! I’m Jewish too, because I’m in our family.

Hardened hearts keep us from what children easily know. Anti-anti-Semitism keeps us from what anti-Semitism knows, too. In this moment, again, Boyarin reprises that strategy from his earlier work: assuming a traditionally anti-Semitic insight about the Jews in order to turn that insight inside out—although in this case, in fact, he is reciting an already Jewish doubling of the anti-Semitic vision. As Arendt observes in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), reflecting on the way the German Rothschild family was made to embody Jews everywhere across the nineteenth-century European imagination, “the antisemitic picture of the Jewish people as a family closely knit by blood ties had something in common with the Jews’ own picture of themselves,” since not only non-Jews, but Jews, too, understood secular Jewish survival to depend on making family circles into fortresses.

Boyarin imagines those circles proliferating, so many Jewish households spinning off one superhuman family. Blood is the stuff of his family-nation. Boyarin’s strategic attraction to those moods and objects that repel his readers picks up here, as he moves from the Scylla of religion toward the Charybdis of race. The argument for Jewish blood as Jewish kinship relies on two passages from Franz Rosenzweig’s The Star of Redemption (1921)—passages that at first and also second glance seem to “blow a staggeringly racist dog whistle,” Boyarin promises, while actually offering Jews a unique way out of Jewish racism. The first seemingly “grotesquely and egregiously racist” claim that Boyarin assumes, then inverts, has to do with Rosenzweig’s explanation for the radical continuity of the Jewish people across time: where Christianity has to propagate itself by laboring to spread the belief in Jesus as Christ, the Jews propagate their truth through procreation alone. Jewishness is carried in wombs and veins, not words: Rosenzweig is definitely saying this. But for Boyarin, the key is that Rosenzweig understands procreated Jewishness to be entirely lacking not only in superior content, but content generally—Jews are born bearing nothing other than “the sheer existential fact of being genealogically a Jew.” Jewish blood cannot be translated into a statement about Jewish race, then, because lineal Jewishness remains all existence and no essence.

Boyarin imagines a sort of Jewish Janus, looking away from exclusive concern for the Jews while also being made to look back there. Who loves like that?

But why blood? One answer is Boyarin’s taste for using words inappropriately. Blood is an ironically modern image for eternally Jewish ties, since premodern Jewish texts, following the Hebrew Bible, only ever talk about kinship in terms of seed, flesh, and bone. Another answer is that Jewish self-rooting in blood alone provides Boyarin with a critique of modern Zionism. Rosenzweig famously insists that the Jewish people has secured its future by virtue of being the only community on Earth to have “trusted in blood and abandoned the land”—German Jewish blood, for one, dissolving the long-standing German nationalist marriage between Blut and Boden. Boyarin, in turn, hears a call to the diaspora nation: the utterly transtemporal family of Jews will live on only so long as its blood remains untied to sovereign territory. As the argument progresses, it becomes clear that Boyarin can only mean biological continuity as a metaphor for cultural continuity. Midway through his dance with The Star of Redemption, he descends into the world of the chief rabbinate in Israel, citing a 2019 scandal much covered in the Israeli press, when certain rabbis in charge of issuing marriage licenses turned out to have been demanding that immigrants and sometimes the children of immigrants from the former Soviet Union take a mitochondrial DNA test in order to prove their Jewishness. (Israeli liberals took to the streets to protest the treatment of Russian-speaking Israelis as second-class citizens.) What should horrify us about the Israeli Inquisition, Boyarin suggests, is “the biologization of a cultural conception,” or, the idiocy in the rabbis’ claim that Jewishness literally runs in the veins of Jewish mothers in an unchanging and unstoppable line down the generations.

Boyarin flirts with the devil’s language: his manifesto sounds like a call to arms to the Jewish nation’s breeders, while gathering us for the true labor of culture. In addition to refusing religion and race, we should refuse to reduce the thing called the Jews to a people, too, Boyarin explains, because peoplehood “reeks . . . of neoliberalism,” or, “an unhealthy focus on natality as virtually the only marker of the continuity of the Jewish People.” You will think this sounds like Rosenzweig’s proposal. But where Rosenzweig suggests that the Jewish woman, as Jewish wife, materializes “the foundation of Jewish life even without the conscious renewal of ‘learning’ necessary for the man”—that it remains the married Jewish mother alone, because “firmly rooted in the soil of the natural,” through whom Jewish blood is sent in a line down the generations—Boyarin wants his readers to forget actual, biological birth-giving and hear the argument only in terms of metaphorical birth-giving. Really, Jews mother themselves into the Jews they are. Singing like our ancestors, dancing like our ancestors, reading, writing, and speaking like our ancestors especially, we create our ancient roots, filling ourselves with the eternally motherly blood of Jewishness through practice.

Over the course of The No-State Solution, in turn, Jewish family goes from being a bare fact of existence, to the name for a bond that feels procreated (but is exactly not), to simply the best available analogy for the ties generated between Jews through shared tradition. Rosenzweig remains entirely right, Boyarin repeats, but in order to ensure that the image of Jewish-blood-as-Jewish-kinship does not harden into racial Jewishness, his argument requires a further turn inspired by “the classic move that feminist philosopher Judith Butler made vis-à-vis sex and gender.” The kaleidoscope budges, and suddenly the blood ties that bind Jews into a family are understood not as the one-off feats of impregnation but as facts produced by so many repeated performances in the world. If it sounds like Boyarin has been saying that Jews are born Jews, not made Jews, what he has really been saying is that Jews make themselves into born Jews.

The problem is that metaphors tend to retain the logic of their referents. First there is the Christianity. This is strange, given that Boyarin is among our greatest scholars of the Christianity of everything we hold dear. Boyarin names the philosopher of religion Gil Anidjar’s Blood (2014) as one of his manifesto’s main conversation partners, but when it comes to super-consanguineous communities, Anidjar’s thesis is that every modern nation of blood will be made in the image of the medieval Christian family: across the Middle Ages, repeating the sacrament of the Eucharist, Christians discovered that drinking Jesus’ blood (also eating His body) could make all of them one.

The problem with Boyarin’s metaphors is that they tend to retain the logic of their referents.

Then there is the family. Boyarin wants his readers to listen for the possibilities buried in those big words that repel us—nation, family—but metaphorization might not be powerful enough to make those words usable again. Nationalism’s organizing mood remains natal, even divorced from nation-statism: “nation” still has its Latin root (nasci, to be born) to properly pervert. Family might be even more unsavably repulsive. Ever proleptic, Boyarin passingly acknowledges the harm that families do to their own, besides taking care of their own, only to insist that self-defining as a family remains supremely better for the Jews than race thinking. He points to the world’s “halakhically doubtful Jews,” too, including the queer Jews, and the radically queer Jews, out there inventing homes for themselves from within their unchosen family. You stick with him, because if ever a radically queer Jew graced the Earth, it’s Boyarin. You know that if he knew you to be family he would take immensely good care of you. But the straight lines of descent cannot accommodate the worldly spinning of family resemblances. Even made metaphorical, the choked logic of lineage squeezes out so many of the Jews Boyarin wants in his nation.

Barring generational waves of mass conversions, in other words, the Jewish performance of Jewish genealogy will always depend on birthing more Jews. Mothering yourself into the Jew you are still presumes your origin in a Jewish womb. Reading the parts of The No-State Solution that call for more Jewish families, you start to think of the scattered care that fills the empty spaces of family trees, the visiting and talking and physical closeness that people gift—and just as often sell—in order to make lives livable (often despite parental inheritance). Even when those other forms of kinship become visible, they look small next to genealogy, which is why a project dedicated to making the Jews appear as a whole has to play Houdini with the language of biological reproduction. Some readers are going to find Boyarin’s promise of futurity bad for the present.

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