Nelly Shulman
Nelly Shulman

The Different Land

In Leviticus 16:22 the scapegoat is sent to the אֶ֣רֶץ גְּזֵרָ֑ה an “inaccessible land”, and let free in the desert. The nature of this region has for a long time been the object of interest for the Torah commentators.

It is translated as “inaccessible” or “barren” but Chizkuni writes that, “Basically, the meaning of the word גזרה, is “radically different from other lands.” He cites as a proof for his theory the verse from Isaiah (53:8) “כי נגזר מארץ החיים, “for he was cut off from the land of the living”. The root of the word means exactly that – “to be cut or divided”.

The goat is banished from the land of living to the realm of death. A similar practice existed in Ancient Greece, where at the times of disaster such as war or famine, the slave, the cripple, or the criminal was to be expelled from the community and, in some cases, sacrificed thus bringing purification. This ritual was called the pharmakon.

Jacques Derrida adds an important dimension to the discussion of this ritual in his essay “Plato’s Pharmacy”. Derrida claims that the very act of writing is already a pharmacon, a scapegoat. By voicing the sins and transgressions of the people, the writers are forever bound to be expelled from the midst of the crowd, to leave the land of the living, and to end up in the place which is vastly different from the other lands.

About the Author
Nelly Shulman is a journalist and writer currently based in Berlin. She is an author of four popular historical novels in the Russian language. She is working on the fifth novel in this series and on her first English-language novel, a historical thriller set during the Siege of Leningrad. She a Hawthornden Fellow and an alumna of the Nachum Goldmann Fellowship.
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