Accepted paper:

Interrogating diaspora and the case of a 'new emerging' Jewish diaspora


Daniel Lis (University of Bern)

Paper short abstract:

Throughout the world a number of individuals and groups claim Jewish ancestry and start practising Judaism. Rumours of an individual’s or group’s Jewish ancestry maintain a latent possibility of joining a diasporic discourse and contributing to re-negotiations of Jewish scapes.

Paper long abstract:

As Jewish organisations speak of an annual loss of 50'000 people to the Jewish community of somewhat 13 million through low birth numbers, intermarriage and assimilation this turns out to be just one side of the coin. Throughout the world a growing number of individuals and groups start practicing Judaism and make claims of a Jewish ancestry. It is by the discussion on the boundaries of a group that communities constitute themselves and where their essentialilism can be put under critical light. This discussion is echoed by the question of "Who is a Jew?" The case of Ethiopian Jewry has for instance received wide media coverage and is in significant ways changing conceptions of what it means to be Jewish and about Judaism. Many judaising groups around the globe refer to the case of Ethiopian Jewry to make their claims of inclusion stronger. The proliferation of judaising individuals and groups has been explained by an ongoing communications revolution; easier access to world travel; advancements in genetic, ethnographic and anthropological scholarship; the gravitational pull of the State of Israel; and the proliferation of outreach-minded groups committed to seeking out "forgotten" Jews. It has been argued that most converts to Judaism draw their attachment to Judaism by linking themselves to an imagined Jewish ancestry. Many new communities and individuals therefore speak of a "return" to the ancestral faith. Rumours and transgenerational narratives of a Jewish ancestry maintain a latent possibility to construct Jewish identities. As the Jewish condition outside Israel can be understood as diasporic, "new" Jewish individuals find themselves into a diasporic condition without them or their families having moved recently. With their now diasporic existence and in contacts to Jewish communities and organisations transnational practices start to emerge. Thereby they produce themselves on a Jewish map or scape.

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Interrogating diaspora