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Exile and Redemption: Meditations on Jewish History by Jospeh Grunblatt by Professor Yoseph Udelson
Exile and Redemption: Meditations on Jewish History by Jospeh Grunblatt

Volume 3 , Issue 1

Exile and Redemption: Meditations on Jewish History by Joseph Grunblatt

Hoboken: Ktav Publishing House. 1988. Hard cover, 168 pp. Reviewed by Joseph Udelson.

Since the waning years of the eighteenth century, Jewish historical experience has often been utilized as the primary resource for modernist attempts to delineate the particular features of Judaism and of defining Jewish identity. Left unstated by scholars employing this historicist approach is Romanticism's presupposition that the essential qualities of all peoples are circumscribed within their history and that the ambit of this history can be comprehended by means of the mere collection and collocation of discrete objective atomic units usually labelled ?facts.? However, Joseph Grunblatt is one of those still very rare scholars who recognizes that just as the antiquated postulates of nineteenth century atomic physics have undergone radical reformulation in our century, so too the Romantics' atomic historicism equally requires drastic reappraisal.

In this study of 3500 years of the Jewish historical experience of repeated exile and redemption, Grunblatt addresses both the historian and the interested nonspecialist. Recognizing that any determination of historical ?facts? actually reflects, at the least, an implicit anterior set of value judgments, Grunblatt states his own values explicitly: any meaning derived from Jewish history can only be interpreted properly from the perspective of the teachings of the Torah, that is, through recognition of the causative force of the supernatural within the natural. In particular, he provocatively argues that the treatment of Jewish history as ?normal? must lead one astray, just as the Jewish people's repeated attempts to become ?normal:? to be ?like other nations"? has invariably led them astray. Rather, it is essential knowledge that the Jews are in reality a metahistorical people whose history can only be grasped through a constant awareness of the active participation of divine Providence within this history.

Grunblatt's survey of the pattern of Jewish history illustrates the claim that exile is always the result of some intractable transgression against fundamental Torah injunctions and that redemption always possesses the teleological imperative to initiate the Messianic redemption through faithful adherence to the Torah's commandments. Optimistically, Grunblatt suggests that while each exile may indeed be a further expression of the traditional Rabbinic concept of ?the decline of the generations? since the Siniatic revelation, in its wake there also develops a compensatory growth in spiritual sophistication that facilitates the rectification of the prior transgression and provides the opportunity for Messianic redemption. Nevertheless, as the era of the Second Temple and its eventual destruction illustrates, the opportunity may be missed through still further transgressions, and redemption remains confined within the causative strictures of the merely historical, postponing the final metahistorical redemption once again.

Cogently and concisely, Grunblatt explains the Holocaust and the rise of the modern secular State of Israel in accord with this paradigm. Only after considering differing interpretations and with great circumspection, he proposes that the Holocaust, like the earlier destructions, must also have been the result of transgressions by the majority of the Jewish people, although not at all necessarily by the direct victims of Nazi genocide themselves. Similarly, he argues that the establishment of the secular State of Israel, although possessing the potential for Messianic redemption, currently represents only an imperiled historical achievement.

Courageously, Grunblatt challenges religious Jews to eliminate from within their own ranks all traces of that transgression, causeless hatred, which engendered the destruction of the Second Temple and which has so prolonged the ensuing exile. Through such an effort will be created the proper conditions for achieving widespread adherence to the Torah's commandments among the Jewish people. And by this means the contemporary ?third return,? the secularists' State of Israel, a precarious historical redemption, will become transformed into the final and complete metahistorical Messianic redemption of all the Jewish people and of the world itself.

Joseph Udelson is Professor of History at Tennessee State University.



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