Anti-anti-Semitism Forum: A Response

Elad Lapidot


he immediate occasion for writing Jews Out of the Question was my surprise, when I had set out to write a book on Heidegger and Jewish thought as intervention in the debate that ensued the revelation of Heidegger’s anti-Semitism, my surprise that the very idea of a specifically “Jewish” thought was conceived in this debate as the core of anti-Semitism. The dominant discourse of anti-anti-Semitism revealed itself as hostile to the affirmation of Jewishness, and so as anti-Jewish. This paradox appeared to me as encapsulating profound contradictions in contemporary thought, in our thinking about politics, and in our thinking about thinking. These contradictions are the object of Jews Out of the Question. As Leora Batnitzky noted in her review, the analyses presented in this book apply beyond anti-anti-Semitism to other contemporary “anti-anti-”discourses, such as anti-racism or anti-sexism, and call into question their common conceptual grounds.

The challenge of Jews Out of the Question is its insistence: (1) specifically, on reintroducing Judaism – and anti-Judaism – into the theoretical conversation, against a dominant tendency to exclude Jews – as “living,” “real,” “flesh and blood” Jews – from the realm of theory; and (2) generally, on reconnecting thought with politics, against the dominant tendency to separate them. It is therefore understandable that this book was criticized as too theoretical, and too detached from politics and life, from “the body” (see Omri Ben Yehuda’s review), from real Jews. Miranda Crowdus, acknowledging the problem of anti-anti-Semitism, comments in her review that it was “a shortcoming” of my book “not to consider how […] anti-anti-Semitic discourse manifests itself in current and lived events.” In contrast to her own discipline, ethnology, which deals with “living groups of people” in the “real world,” she locates my efforts within the “safe confines of philosophical and textual analysis.”

I note in response that a basic effort of my book consists in countering the common separation between textual study and real life, especially with respect to Jewish life. In academic life too I do not see why ethnology and philosophy must be mutually exclusive. I am grateful to Crowdus herself for showing, as the main thrust of her review, how the conceptual analysis of anti-anti-Semitism offered in Jews Out of the Question provides to ethno-musicologists useful categories for describing and analyzing phenomena “in the field”, such as the erasure of Jewish practice and beliefs in events that purport to present Jewish music. This is what I think philosophy can and should do.


nother critique of my intervention on the politics of knowledge, on political epistemology, was formulated by Vivian Liska. If the “rosy” part of her review acknowledges the “depletion” of Jewish content that I recognize in anti-anti-Semitism (incidentally, and for the sake of semantics, Liska quotes me writing of “de-semanticization;” I write of de-epistemization), in the “thorny” part she admonishes my suggesting that the erasure of Jewish knowledge committed by anti-anti-Semitism is (so Liska quotes me) “worse than extermination” – that epistemicide is worse than genocide – and expresses the hope that I was saying this only “metaphorically.” As a matter of fact, my book does not say anything is “worse than extermination.” What I wrote in the book is that the exclusive focus of anti-anti-Semitism on the physical killing of Jews risks complicity in the erasure and destruction of Judaism as episteme. I will not dare deciding what atrocity is “worse,” but I do not think that epistemic extermination – or any other intervention in the realm of knowledge – is merely “metaphorical:” doesn’t ideology produce wars? Doesn’t killing, especially mass killing, arise from justifying killing? “Death and life are in the hand of the tongue.”

In the context of anti-anti-Semitism, Hannah Tzuberi and Sultan Doughan in fact point out in their review that “epistemic violence has real world effects,” arguing that anti-anti-Semitic discourse is not limited to books of theory but informs social and political dynamics in contemporary Europe, including the deployment of direct state power. They demonstrate how the anti-anti-Semitic Jew, i.e. the de-epistemized, dis-figured Jew, functions in post-unification Germany, in what they call “the state’s conversion to anti-anti-Semitism”, as the model for minority integration and so as marking the liberal order’s limits of tolerance. In the example of the debate around the prohibition on circumcision by the German state, they show how this performance of anti-anti-Semitism co-operates in the exclusion of Islamic culture. Tzuberi’s and Doughan’s study opens up a valuable line of thought from Jews Out of the Question towards the question of “the East,” which Omri Ben Yehuda considers as a desideratum of the book.

Another provocative feature of Jews Out of the Question was the attempt, especially in the epilogue, to mobilize Heidegger for the sake of the Jewish episteme, against anti-anti-Semitism. Vivian Liska, noting that my argument indeed goes beyond Heidegger and subscribes to Lacoue-Labarthe’s critique of him, wonders why bother with Heidegger at all. Leora Batnitzky suggests that reconnecting with diasporic Jewish thought could be done just as well, if not more effectively, through German-Jewish thinkers, such as Hermann Cohen or Franz Rosenzweig. So why choose Heidegger, the anti-Semite?

My first response is that it was precisely Heidegger’s anti-Semitism that generated the debate from which this book arose. The book begins by showing anti-anti-Semitism in this debate; the book ends by proposing a non-anti-anti-Semitic critique of Heidegger, which does not seek to erase the reference to Jewish thought in anti-Semitic thought but to re-channel it. Why Heidegger: because he posits the Jews inside the philosophical question. My second and more fundamental response to “why Heidegger?” concerns the broader epistemo-political significance of this positioning. Elliot Wolfson’s review clearly indicates the seminal importance of Heidegger’s work for the contemporary struggle with the question of how to understand and how to negotiate the cultural conditioning of thought, of how to grasp philosophical universality in particular intellectual traditions. This question is essential for political epistemology, namely for thinking knowledge as embodied by historical collectives; and for thinking collectives as knowledge – in opposition to anti-anti-Semitism. Heidegger re-politicized metaphysics by identifying it as Western. His critique of metaphysics is a call for non-Western thought, that is a call to the non-West, which metaphysics excluded from the epistemic realm, to re-epistemize itself as alternative to metaphysics.

If, as Batnitzky – and also Ben Yehuda – points out, Cohen and Rosenzweig were “products of Protestant Europe,” Heidegger sought to open up a horizon beyond Protestant Europe. As my epilogue suggests, notwithstanding Heidegger’s anti-Semitism and precisely in his anti-Semitic notes, this horizon also opens space for a non-metaphysical Jewish thought, for a Jewish episteme that is different from modern and contemporary epistemic hegemony – call it what you will: European, Western, Christian, Judeo-Christian or even Jewish. I share with Elliot Wolfson’s work the recognition that central features of Heidegger’s outline for non-metaphysical thought reassemble central features of traditional Jewish, more precisely rabbinic corpora. Wolfson dedicated much thought to this apparent paradox of resemblance between Heideggerian and Jewish thought, which he conceptualized, also in his review of Jews Out of the Question, by using Heidegger’s notion of the Same (das Selbe, in contrast to das Gleiche, the Identical), which denotes togetherness in difference. Whereas Wolfson focused his attention on Heidegger and Kabbalah, juxtaposing Heidegger’s Seyn with Kabbalistic Ein sof, I think of Heidegger and Talmud, among others, as Wolfson notes in his review, by contemplating the sameness of polemos/makhloykes.


y suggestion that the core of the Jewish episteme is talmudic attracted much critical attention. As reviewers noted, the exact nature of the Jewish episteme is neither the central question nor crucial for the argument of Jews Out of the Question, which addresses a contemporary obstacle for accessing the very notion of Jewish thought, and therefore understands itself as a “negative introduction” to this thought. The insistence on offering a negative introduction specifically to “Talmud” aims first and foremost to point to Jewish knowledge beyond the epistemic hegemony within Western discourse. The positive conversation on the nature of the Jewish episteme and the talmudic one exceeds the scope of Jews Out of the Question and at this stage my responses to the questions raised by the reviews in this respect can only prepare the ground for a discussion to come.

Vivian Liska and Leora Batnitzky raise five main questions, for which I am deeply grateful. First, Liska questions the identification of Jewishness with Talmud and asks what we should say to Jews who do not identify as talmudic. This question is at the heart of Jews Out of the Question since it concerns the epistemic basis of the Jewish collective. As noted in the book, the de-epistemization of Jewishness by anti-anti-Semitism has corollaries in Jewish auto-de-epistemization, which raises corollary epistemo-political difficulties. What do non-talmudic Jews identify with? Is it a different kind of knowledge, is it no kind of knowledge, is it with “life” as anti-knowledge?

Leora Batnitzky asks – secondly – more precisely about the reason for preferring Talmud over other Jewish literatures, especially the Bible. My response is that, as noted, I’m looking for a Jewish episteme beyond “Protestant Europe”. Arguably, it is to the extent that Judaism became European and protestant that it also became biblical. Furthermore, talmudic discourse is not simply not biblical, but perhaps better described as non-biblical in the sense of enacting a certain polemic response to the (Christian? Judeo-Christian? Modern? Protestant? Jewish?) project of thinking as Bible.

Third, Batnitzky describes my idea of the Talmud as “entirely ahistorical,” indicating that talmudic literature never developed in “historical vacuum” but was shaped in interaction with other intellectual movements, such as Christianity. My response to this critique is that there is no need to assume cultural or epistemic isolation in order to speak of epistemic specificity. On the contrary, as Wolfson points out, Heidegger’s notion of “the Same” conceptualizes diversity in thought as “difference in togetherness.” More concretely, it is precisely in direct or indirect interaction with Christian, Hellenic, Roman, Zoroastrian, Karaite, Islamic and other epistemes that the epistemic singularity of the talmudic discourse has been shaped and may be assessed.

Fourth, and similarly, Liska submits that the Talmud in Jews Out of the Question appears “depleted” and “de-semanticized”, such that my own attack on anti-anti-Semitism, my own “anti-“, risks reproducing the very anti-anti-Semitic de-epistemization of Judaism that I criticize. She writes, as an example for my “depletion” of the Talmud, that I “explicitly reject conceiving of the Talmud as a document for the organization of everyday life.” In response, I first point out that I cannot find any statement in my book to this effect, explicit or implicit, and that this is not my position, unless the “organization of everyday life” excludes “philosophical and textual analysis.” On the contrary, my quest for positive political epistemology rather favors what I perceive as the singular cohabitation of praxis and contemplation in talmudic discourse. I then reiterate that Jews Out of the Question is not a book about the Talmud but about the effacement of any Jewish episteme by anti-anti-Semitism. Lastly, if this effacement is taken seriously, as stretching beyond anti-anti-Semitism to the broader and fundamental effacement of Jewish (and other non-hegemonic) thought by modern Europe’s epistemic and cultural hegemony, then the difficulties in countering this effacement should not be underestimated. Elliot Wolfson writes in his review about the challenge of “a systematic contemplation that thinks the unthinkable”. The Talmud is “unthinkable” within the epistemic hegemony of its effacement. The greatest danger of any attempt to think the Talmud within this hegemony is – as Liska points out – to reproduce the effacement. It is for this reason that I begin with a negative introduction to the Talmud, seeking to create the conditions for a conversation to come.

The fifth and last question concerns politics. Leora Batnitzky notes that Jews Out of the Question – by tracing in Heidegger a path towards non-metaphysical Jewish thought – suggests a non-Jewish site for the (re-)emergence of the Talmud, that is suggests thinking the talmudic episteme potentially as “non-Jewish Jewish.” Batnitzky argues that this vision contradicts my own quest for reuniting knowledge and politics, since it features a Jewish episteme that is “fundamentally apolitical”, namely, so I understand her, that separates Jewish knowledge from the Jewish collective, from Jews. My response is that the notion of Talmud as “non-Jewish Jewish” does not mean the separation of knowledge from politics, of Judaism from Jews. On the contrary, it calls into question the modern separation of the Jewish collective from the Jewish episteme that has been carried out under the concepts of Judaism or Jewishness. Omri Ben Yehuda justly suggests that the critique of anti-anti-Semitism extends to a critique of Jewish Studies.  If the emergence of the modern collective “Jews” was predicated on its disengagement from the Talmud, namely on the de-politization of talmudic thought, then disengaging the Talmud from modern Jews is an attempt to re-politicize it. Re-politicizing talmudic episteme does not mean separating it from the Jewish collective, on the contrary it signifies re-thinking this collective – and its politics.

Re-thinking Jewish politics is one of the major stakes of Jews Out of the Question’s intervention in contemporary political epistemology. Elliot Wolfson justly points out the inherent risk in the political notion of epistemic difference, including the politics of something like “Jewish knowledge”. In his work and in his review Wolfson – in the footsteps of thinkers such as Jacques Derrida and Emmanuel Levinas – critiqued the conceptual movement that leads from the idea of Jewish epistemic specificity to notions of Jewish exemplarity, and from there to forms of Jewish ethnocentrism, such as the one that uses the idea of special Jewish episteme or ethics “to justify persecution of others on the part of Israeli Jews.”

Gil Anidjar’s review draws our attention to how, in contemplating the constructions and reconstructions of Jewish discourses and epistemes, „we tend to overlook entire fields, fields of ruin and destruction”, and he reminds us – in Kant’s German – that the burning contemporary Jewish question is Die unter uns lebenden Palästiner. As Leora Batnitzky recognizes, a central effort of Jews Out of the Question’s epistemo-political analysis is to articulate the connection between, on the one hand, anti-Semitism, anti-anti-Semitism, and the effacement of the Jewish episteme, and on the other hand, the emergence of the nation-state and the ideology of “emancipation”. Marking the Jewish episteme as “Talmud,” as a diasporic corpus, seeks to posit it – as both knowledge and politics – not only beyond Protestant Europe but also beyond the Jewish State.

Elad Lapidot is Professor for Hebraic Studies at the University of Lille, France. Holding a PhD in philosophy from the Paris Sorbonne university, he has taught philosophy, Jewish thought and Talmud at many universities, such as the University of Bern, Switzerland, and the Humboldt Universität and Freie Univeristät in Berlin. His work is guided by questions concerning the relation between knowledge and politics. Among his publications: Jews Out of the Question. A Critique of Anti-Anti-Semitism (Albany: SUNY Press, 2020), Hebrew translation with introduction and commentary (with R. Bar) of Hegel’s Phänomenologie des Geistes, Vol. 1 (Tel Aviv: Resling Publishing, 2020), Heidegger and Jewish Thought. Difficult Others, edited with M. Brumlik (London/New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018), and Etre sans mot dire : La logique de ‘Sein und Zeit’ (Bucarest: Zeta Books, 2010).