The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Particularism, Partial Translation, and the Maintenance of Opposites

Avinoam has written a fascinating, groudbreaking book proposing a new approach to the assimilatory tendencies of Jews in the West. He claims that this is happening because of the imperialism of the liberal mind-set in contemporary Jewish thought and consciousness, and the tendency to "over-translate" the tradition such that any Jewish particularism ultimately gets "lost in translation." As an alternative - he proposes a fully particular, yet comprehensive and all-inclusive, mode of Jewish thought that "merges" opposites and creates an "immanent" Jewish world-view. In my response - I will point out the limitations of this strategy, call for genuine dialogue between the Western and Jewish traditions - wherein the integrity and "right of self-determination" of both traditions are maintained, and wherein opposites are not "unified" but maintained in a dialectical, and hopefully dialogical, tension.