Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Exile vs. Redemption

By Susan Esther Barnes

Last week I attended a fascinating lecture at the Osher Marin JCC by Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. The lecture, and the excellent Q&A afterward, covered a broad area. Below is a summary of his main theme, on exile and redemption. I hope to write about additional topics from the evening later.

Rabbi Hartman explained that, for about 2,000 years, Jews looked at the world through two lenses: exile and redemption.

After the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem, Jews dispersed throughout the world, and lived in exile. No matter what country we lived in, we were a small minority, subject to the whims of the leaders of whatever country we inhabited. We could only live in certain areas and hold certain jobs, sometimes we had to wear certain identifying badges or clothing, and at any time we could be killed. We were without power.

During those 2,000 years, we believed that our exile would end during the time of the Moshiach (messiah), so at the end of exile there would be redemption. Redemption meant perfection, with no more sickness, war, or suffering. In the time of redemption, everything would be fine.

When Israel became a country, Rabbi Hartman says, Jews continued to see the world through the same two lenses.

Some say our exile is over. We were able to gather in our own land, we have power over our own lives, so therefore, redemption has come. Everything is perfect, these people say, and anyone who criticizes Israel is either uninformed, or a traitor. This is all they see.

Others say we are still in exile. Israel is surrounded by enemies. We could still be attacked at any moment, and in fact, rockets continue to fall in Israel on a regular basis. We don’t have the time, these people say, to worry about things like morality when what we need to focus on right now is survival. Redemption has not come, so therefore we are still in exile. This is all they see.

Rabbi Hartman suggests that we need to recognize that the Jews in Israel are no longer in exile. They have power, and they are home. The Jews in North America are not in exile, either. We also have power, and we also are home. However, things are not perfect, and we have not found redemption, either.

We need to find a new lense through which to view the world – one that is neither exile, nor redemption – in order to focus on reality.


  1. Interesting--how do you reconcile limitations on the concepts of exile and redemption with the siddur?

  2. Interesting question. I'm not sure what you mean. Just because the end of exile is not the beginning of redemption does not mean redemption will not come later.

  3. We don’t have the time, these people say, to worry about things like morality when what we need to focus on right now is survival.

    Nobody with any power says this! It's an asinine statement considering that the IDF is the most moral army that has ever existed in the history of the world.

  4. Mark -

    You are right. The rabbi's point was that kind of statement is made by those who feel they are still in exile, and are powerless.

    I agree with you about the IDF as well. Some people think that, while Israel is in exile and fighting for its survival, the IDF shouldn't concern itself with morality. Fortunately, the leaders of the IDF don't hold this view, nor do I.

  5. Sorry, I wasn't clear. The siddur assumes that we are in exile and our exile will end with the coming of the Messiah, (or for non-Orthodox, a messianic age),where there is peace, health, all know G-d, etc. These two "lenses" are part of our everyday prayers. Can one escape the two "lenses" and still have a Jewish experience?

  6. Thanks for the clarification. I think we can use a difference lense and still have a different experience. Perhaps its time to revise the prayer book to reflect the new reality.