In our jointly authored book, my father, a
writer, and I, a historian, took a fresh look at the mystery of Jewish survival. "Ours", we wrote, "is not a
bloodline but a textline."
Jews are not a people forged by blood and swords, but we are nevertheless an ancient
nation. This belonging can cross international borders today; it tackles the religious-secular divide and the
Israel-diaspora divide. Ours is a uniquely textual nation, whose sense of belonging comes from the Bible and a
myriad of subsequent books, interpretations, arguments and questions. For many centuries, ours was the only
pre-modern culture with universal male literacy, alongside significant female literacy.
"Tell your child": this is our oldest and best survival technique and cultural instrument. But
we do not only teach our children to read and remember. We also encourage them to think afresh, and to challenge
their elders with questions and ideas. Also to laugh: at ourselves, at authorities, and even at the Almighty.
As you know, all good Jewish families argue. Humor, irreverence, debate, originality, and text-based inventiveness:
these are the ancient codes of Jewish survival. They explain our global sense of cousinhood - or at least a shared
sense of humor - in today's world. It is the key to our three-millennia survival.
Does 'textual nationhood' mean that the Land of Israel is unimportant? That Jews ought to have remained stateless?
Not in my book. The State of Israel, which my four grandparents helped build in the fields of the kibbutz and in
the libraries of Jerusalem, is a miracle even to secular Jews like us. It came into being when young Jews of the
20th century transformed longing into activism, memory into state-building, and Talmudic reasoning into modern