The (Jewish) Christian Question

Freud cartoon
By David Levine

A comment on Gil Anidjar’s paper “Jesus and Monotheism” and its discussion at the MESAAS department colloquium on September 11th.

Murder, it soon becomes clear, goes far beyond the “who-done-it?” digressions, down which Freud (and Anidjar) takes his readers. This word designates more than a crime, far more than an action. It describes a kind of relation: the relation of a father to his sons, of a son to his father, of a people to their leader and, ultimately, of Christianity to Judaism.

What Anidjar terms “the Christian question” is an inquiry about this relation. But this inquiry is not about Christianity’s relation to just anyone. It is what we arrive at when we turn the screw of “the Jewish question” one more time. When we ask what it is about Christianity that so persistently maintains this relation—“murder”—to its Others. Certainly this question goes far beyond “the Jewish” one, but in Anidjar’s reading of Freud’s Moses and Monotheism, the “(Jewish) Christian question” takes center stage.

This “center stage” was illuminated in the colloquium discussion as well. First when Anidjar referenced “my teacher Boyarin” and his reading of Jews as another (third) gender. And next in an exchange between Anidjar and Dabashi, in which they amicably agreed Dabashi spoke from a de-colonized position, while Anidjar had not yet been de-colonized.

I will bracket the assumed relation here between decolonization and de-christianization. What I would like to highlight in this exchange is the implied agreement that, while other peoples, nations, geographies, genders (?) may speak from a de-christianized position, the Jews do not. If the claims to language, territory and autonomy were central to the decolonizing process, and set the basic conditions for the formation of other people-hoods, nationalisms and geographies, for the Jews—in the sense that they were colonized, Christianized by the West—these same claims seem not to have produced a similar decolonizing effect. (“The only democracy in the Middle-East,” to quote Anidjar, “shall remain nameless.”)

Where, then, are the pressure points at which this decolonizing effort is disrupted? Where are the nodes of Christianization that so persistently attach (“murder”) the Jewish to the Christian? Freud is a central one, argues Anidjar. And the debate about the extent of Freud’s Judaism—though by now redundant—is counterproductive to any effort at de-christianizing Judaism. To resolve the “Christian question,” one might conclude from Anidjar’s paper, would be to render “the Jewish question”—among several others—immaterial.

About Yitzhak Lewis

Yitzhak Lewis was born and raised in Jerusalem, Israel. He received his B.A. from Hebrew University in Comparative Literature, Psychology and Creative Writing (2007), and his M.A. (2010) and M.Phil (2011) from Columbia University. His M.A. thesis dealt with revealing and concealing as literary devices in the tales of Rabbi Nachman of Braslav. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. from Columbia University. His dissertation deals with the themes of literature and marginality in the writing of Rabbi Nachman of Braslav and Jorge Luis Borges.