Return to a Foreign Home

Presented at: Homelands: Diasporas Return. Kultrans 2010, University of Oslo. Oslo, Norway.

Abstract: Historically, the Jewish People identified with a multiplicity of places simultaneously, carrying a sense of the familiar into the foreign, and navigating between seemingly contradictory states – interior/exterior, permanent/transient, mind/body, local/foreign. This is what Daniel Boyarin has called the Diasporic consciousness of the Jewish People. In this context home is understood as a mediator in a nuanced existence between the perceived and constructed dualities of life, and facilitator of transition – a journey rather than a rooted existence. Following the Babylonian exile, in a struggle to re-institute continuity among the already fragmenting people, the patriarchs redefined what united them as a People, what would later become known as Rabbinic Judaism. Under this new conception of Israel, the foundations of the place of Divine dwelling were not rooted in the site but rather in the cite – an architecture that precedes architecture, i.e. the plans/Divine blueprints of the Torah. Permanence and continuity were therefore located and maintained in the portability and flexibility of this architext. The symbolic relocation of dwelling in text does not condemn Home to an immaterial, indeterminate, or aspatial construct. Home does not become a purely metaphysical or metaphorical experience. Nor does it preclude a connectivity to place. Roots of this tradition carry through into the works of modern Jewish philosophers such as Emmanuel Levinas who defines habitation as the being’s sojourn in a dwelling suggests a meeting between permanence and impermanence and the complex spatio-temporal relationship between the transient (meuble) and the stationary (immeuble). The home becomes the intersection of the transient self and the stationary architecture where the self is free to recollect in its interiority and simultaneously position itself in relationship with the exterior elements. Both the function and form of the architecture of home are understood as a (1) mnemonic device to evoke recollection and (2) facilitator of physical relationship with the other through its openings and transitional spaces. The re-construction of a Jewish home is therefore intrinsically tied to a re-collection of the fragmented cultural and tectonic memories of house images carried by the Diaspora, such as the importance attributed to the mezuzah, talit, tefilin, the sukkah and the eruvim.

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