Perhaps this is because audiences have come to expect Yehoshua’s provocations. But mainly, it appears to be a sign of maturity and self-assuredness on the part of this young, engaged American Jewish audience. Diaspora Jews who set aside the time to spend more than a week or two here have little trouble finding the flaws in Yehoshua’s argument. Even those “partial Jews” who decide to make aliyah know that in many ways they will be sacrificing parts of their Jewish identity on the path to becoming “total” ones. Israel, with its almost bipolar lack of religious options on the spectrum between orthodox and secular, isn’t always particularly welcoming to Jews of more eclectic flavors. Yes, olim will be surrounded by a miraculously reincarnated Hebrew (something Anat Hoffman of Women of the Wall, who also spoke at the conference, called one of Israel’s single greatest achievements). But even if Israel’s 1950s-era assimilationist doctrine is no longer official policy, the country that banned Yiddish from the public sphere still has a long way to go in its acceptance of non-sabra ethnicities. While there is much to be gained from aliyah, to suggest that the potential sacrifices involved will only make one more Jewish is to grossly equate Israeliness with Jewishness. That equation is just too easy, and allows for sidestepping of “the question Yehoshua desperately wants us not to ask: what is the Judaic significance of the Jewish State?” as Rabbi Shai Held of Mechon Hadar succinctly put it.
By shrugging Yehoshua off, the audience called his bluff, and by doing so also called Israel’s: Diaspora life can be just as inherently Jewish as life in Israel, sometimes even more so. The question of how best to lead that life, though, remained unanswered.
Related: A.B. Yehoshua Should Pipe Down [Tablet]
Tal Kra-Oz is a writer based in Tel Aviv.