March 7, 2023

The Necessity of Exile

By Shaul Magid

Cover design by David Benarroch

A timely, progressive collection of essays on the Jewish relationship to Zionism and exile.

What is exile? What is diaspora? What is Zionism? Jewish identity today has been shaped by prior generations’ answers to these questions, and the future of Jewish life will depend on how we respond to them in our own time. In The Necessity of Exile: Essays from a Distance, celebrated rabbi and scholar Shaul Magid offers an essential contribution to this intergenerational process, inviting us to rethink our current moment through religious and political resources from the Jewish tradition.

On many levels, Zionism was conceived as an attempt to “end the exile” of the Jewish people, both politically and theologically. In a series of incisive essays, Magid challenges us to consider the price of diminishing or even erasing the exilic character of Jewish life. A thought-provoking work of political imagination, The Necessity of Exile reclaims exile as a positive stance for constructive Jewish engagement with Israel|Palestine, antisemitism, diaspora, and a broken world in need of repair.


About the Author

Shaul Magid is Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College, Kogod Senior Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of World Religions (CSWR) at Harvard University, and rabbi of the Fire Island Synagogue. He works on Jewish thought and culture from the sixteenth century to the present, focusing on the Jewish mystical and philosophical tradition. His three latest books are The Bible, the Talmud, and the New Testament: Elijah Zvi Soloveitchik’s Commentary to the Gospels (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019); Piety and Rebellion: Essays in Hasidism (Academic Studies Press, 2019); and Meir Kahane: The Public Life and Political Thought of an American Jewish Radical (Princeton University Press, 2021). He writes regularly for Religion Dispatches+972 Magazine, and other topical journals. He is an elected member of the American Academy for Jewish Research and the American Society for the Study of Religion.

Praise for The Necessity of Exile

“Magid’s willingness to broach inconvenient truths is enriched by his deep knowledge of debates around Israeli politics and history. The result is a must-read for those concerned about Israel’s future.”
Publisher’s Weekly, starred review

“If it wasn’t clear already, these essays establish Shaul Magid as America’s most insightful writer on the relationship between Zionism and Judaism.”
Peter Beinart, author of The Crisis of Zionism

“The complex relationship between exile and diaspora, so brilliantly articulated with regard to Afro-Caribbean experience by George Lamming, is fruitfully and rigorously revisited in Shaul Magid’s forceful essays on contemporary Jewish thought and politics. His efforts to bend difficult pleasure toward transformative necessity deserve admiration and rigorous critical attention.”
Fred Moten, cultural theorist, poet, and Professor of Performance Studies and Comparative Literature at New York University, and author of the consent not to be a single being trilogy

“Shaul Magid’s essays on exile, Israel, and Zionism make a vital contribution toward reimagining Jewish futures unmoored from the moral failures of so-called liberal Zionism. Well-argued, well-written, and deeply nuanced, these essays collectively move us forward on the most vital dialogues that Jews must be having right now. ”
Daniel Boyarin, author of The No-State Solution: A Jewish Manifesto

The Necessity of Exile reopens urgent intra-Jewish conversations concerning the meanings of Jewish self-determination, exile, antisemitism, and sovereignty. Most profoundly, Magid invites the reader to consider and interrogate how Jewish redemption narratives came to be predicated on Palestinian dispossession. In this timely collection, Magid powerfully rethinks proprietary Zionism by reading exile back into Jewish history, ethics, and spirituality—offering an essential critique and alternative to state violence.”
Atalia Omer, author of Days of Awe: Reimagining Jewishness in Solidarity with Palestinians

“Countering both Israeli ethnonationalism and American diasporism, Magid calls on Jews everywhere to renew their sense of estrangement from the current state of the world—to rediscover The Necessity of Exile.”
Elad Lapidot, Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Lille and author of Jews Out of the Question: A Critique of Anti-Antisemitism

“With great precision and lucidity, these essays lay the groundwork for a desperately needed Jewish liberation theology of exile.”
Rachel Z. Feldman, author of Messianic Zionism in the Digital Age: Jews, Noahides, and the Third Temple Imaginary

“Magid reaches back into history, reclaiming exile, offering it up to the present. This, to me, was one of the most compelling parts of the book: the argument that Jews all over the world, including but not limited to the United States, can remember that being in exile isn’t lesser, and especially isn’t less Jewish.”
Emily Tamkin in The Forward

“Magid’s concept of exile invites those in the Diaspora—as well as those within Israel—to rethink a sense of not yet being home, keeping possibilities of other existences and avoiding a ‘culture of domination.’”
Etan Nechin in Haaretz

“Magid’s project—overthe wide-ranging, moving, and learned essays that constitute the collection—is to do what Jews have always done when they want to mute or subdue the radicalism of a disruptive proposal: he locates the source of his authority in traditional antecedents.”
Gideon Lewis-Kraus in The New Yorker

“For many secular Israelis and non-Israeli Jews in the diaspora, Israel is all there is to define what it is to be a Jew. However, Magid aligns himself with those who see value in a permanent state of exile, one that can spark continued creativity.”
Martin GreenJewish Book Council

“Magid builds on the work of Hannah Arendt, Judith Butler, Martin Buber, and others to explain why Zionism, however necessary it seemed to traumatized Jews after World War II, is now doing more harm than good…He insists that being a counter-Zionist doesn’t mean being anti-Israel, and he calls for a new ideological framework that embraces that exilic character of Jewish life.”
Jessica Mesman in The Christian Century

“[Magid’s] new book, ‘The Necessity of Exile: Essays from a Distance,’ is a record of his painful surrendering of Zionism, a project that he compares to Manifest Destiny. He traces the now largely forgotten history of Jewish movements against statist Zionism: religious anti-Zionists, for example, who believed that a return to the homeland should come only with the arrival of the Messiah, and that anything else was a sacrilege. Magid advocates for what he gingerly calls ‘counter-Zionism,’ and for a solution to the conflict that allows for the self-determination of both Israelis and Palestinians. The state’s character, he writes, ‘would not be structured on the notion that this land “belongs” to anyone, it would be a true democracy.’”
The New Yorker, “The Best Books of 2023”

Book Details

309 Pages | Paperback | 8.25 x 5.5 | ISBN: 979-8-9867803-1-3 | e-ISBN: 979-8-9867803-3-7
Publication Date: November 14, 2023