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The contributors in this volume have set out to present the current state of affairs in an intellectual discipline, that of modern Jewish philosophy, and to offer programmatic lines for future inquiry on the part of its practitioners. Like its companion The Cambridge History of Jewish Philosophy, Volume 1: From Antiquity to the Seventeenth Century, this volume is organized thematically. The guiding thread that connects the chapters in this volume is the recognition that the field of modern Jewish philosophy is a dynamic territory built up around concepts, not around a history of “great thinkers” arranged chronologically. To navigate a philosophical territory is not to master a history, in the sense of knowing what a chain of figures have stated about these or those philosophical/theological topoi. Rather, it is about tracing, critically assessing, and justifying theoretical and practical instances of concept-use across diverse bodies of thought in the modern period and in our contemporary age. The authoritative role played by primary figures is secondary to this other kind of mastery, premised on the consciousness of the field's analytical dynamism.
It is perhaps easier to describe modern Jewish philosophy along these lines than premodern Jewish philosophy because the field, both as an active practice and as a scholarly discipline, of modern Jewish philosophy is a young and emergent one; it is also because, frankly, its nature and purpose have been unclear and contested.
The idea of divine transcendence, that on a literal level God is completely beyond human conceptual and emotional reach, appears very early in the history of Jewish tradition. This chapter explores the opening remarks about Luzzatto to an investigation of the Talmudic and Maimonidean patterns of argument. It elucidates the theoretical currents of early modernity that contribute importantly to shaping Luzzatto's work. The chapter explains the new course in Maimonidean and rabbinic scholarship by uncovering and examining from multiple perspectives the implicit logical connection between negative theology and mysticism. Luzzatto's innovation consists in reading the beraita of R. Pinchos b. Yair explicitly in the light of assigning primacy to the idea of method. Finally, the chapter summarizes Maimonides' naturalistic approach to prophecy as it relates to a whole range of unconscious mental processes. There is a conceptual linkage between the methodism of Mesillat Yesharim and the tenets of negative theology.
This chapter explains the limits and weaknesses of the arguments of twentieth-century Jewish philosophers influenced by phenomenology. It reviews that scholars should have a healthy caution toward giving this kind of philosophical move too much magical power. Husserlian phenomenology lies in a space between introspection and natural science. Treatments of Buber's intellectual heritage customarily focus on his debt to sociology and late nineteenth-century philosophy. Emmanuel Levinas's oeuvre marks a shift from messianism to apocalypticism, and this shift is associated with a shift of the place of phenomenology in his work. Franz Rosenzweig deserves brief treatment in a study of the appropriation of phenomenology by Jewish philosophy. The scene of revelation described by Rosenzweig would be implicit in every liturgical experience. If fulfillment, a defense of claims to experience the supernatural, is what Jewish philosophy sought in phenomenology, then phenomenology has let it down.
This chapter explores the limits and claims of reason as a paradigm in Jewish philosophy. It describes the Enlightenment rationalism of Moses Mendelssohn, Immanuel Kant, and the great Jewish neo-Kantian, Hermann Cohen. For Hegel, freedom in Kant's sense, self-appropriation of the moral law, cannot be understood apart from the ideals and social institutions of the Enlightenment culture out of which it grew. It is often said that the Holocaust destroyed the Enlightenment's faith in the powers of reason. Under the aegis of new thinking, Rosenzweig went still further: the center of religious life is not reason but revelation, the experience of being loved by God, being commanded by God, and surrendering oneself in obedience to God. The crux of the rationalist position comes to this: in distinguishing reason from revelation. Buber argues that revelation does not pour itself into the world through its recipient as if he were a funnel.
Halakhah has been the main arena for the expression of the religious, moral, and practical achievements of the Jewish people. The change regarding Halakhah seems to have begun toward the 1950s, with the publication of philosophical works by Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Yeshayahu Leibowitz. The philosophy of Halakhah endorse the following two strategies: rely on the achievements of positive research in the field, or ignore them and turn Halakhah, as a family name, into its object of study. Some of the scholars involved in the field known as the philosophy of Halakhah were, explicitly or implicitly, aware of the problem. Seeking solutions, they suggested that, instead of Halakhah, the object of the philosophy of Halakhah is the halakhists' self-reflection about their pursuit. The schematic account of hermeneutics lays the ground for solving the methodological problem in the philosophy of Halakhah by recognizing it as typical of the interpretation project.
The critical significance of the trajectory of Jewish philosophers in the Enlightenment lies precisely in the way they use their particular perspective to examine reason's universalist claim. Judaism may have been seen as a regrettable but nevertheless instructive version of philosophy, in all its aberrance and falsity. The history of the Spinoza reception became the conflicted story of a philosopher's reduction to stereotype or moral exemplarity. The Theological-Political Treatise examines the difficult relationship between theology and the politics, a relationship, Spinoza suggests, that cannot simply be severed once and for all. In Jerusalem, or On Religious Power and Judaism, Mendelssohn not only discusses the role of religion and more specifically of Judaism in modernity, but also grounds it in a critical revision of political philosophy. The Jerusalem introduces Mendelssohn's modern conception of Judaism, and examines the theoretical foundations of social and political theory.
This chapter introduces Jewish textual reasoning (TR) and scriptural reasoning as an approach to contemporary Jewish philosophy (CJP) and as the kind of Jewish philosophy. It explains that this kind of the Jewish philosophy begins with talmud torah, or rabbinic practices of study. The talmud torah in times of crisis offers a rereading of torah, both in the sense of scripture as Tanakh and in the sense of rabbinic text-study of Mishnah, Talmud, and Midrash. TR adopts various elements of rabbinic and scriptural study as first principles for CJP and, as guidelines for conducting Jewish philosophy as reparative reasoning. The chapter provides some illustrations from the work of Moses Mendelssohn, Hermann Cohen, and Franz Rosenzweig. Scientific study of the scriptural traditions had its roots in the medieval period, most likely in Muslim, then Jewish and Christian, sciences of scriptural interpretation.
The second volume of The Cambridge History of Jewish Philosophy provides a comprehensive overview of Jewish philosophy from the seventeenth century to the present day. Written by a distinguished group of experts in the field, its essays examine how Jewish thinking was modified in its encounter with modern Europe and America and challenge longstanding assumptions about the nature and purpose of modern Jewish philosophy. The volume also treats modern Jewish philosophy's continuities with premodern texts and thinkers, the relationship between philosophy and theology, the ritual and political life of the people of Israel and the ways in which classic modern philosophical categories help or hinder Jewish self-articulation. These essays offer readers a multi-faceted understanding of the Jewish philosophical enterprise in the modern period.
In times of geopolitical conflict, attempts to translate religion are often attempts to heal. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, Muslims in Western nations, as well as U.S. President George W. Bush and other non-Muslim Westerners, engaged strenuously in an effort to translate: “Islam is peace,” or “Islam means peace.” This was not the first attempt to defuse crisis through religious translation. The rise of religious studies as a discipline is intertwined with the belief that this discipline itself could bring about peace through its acts of translation. But this is a myth scholars of religious studies ought to protest strenuously.
The notion that religious studies can avert or relieve social and cultural crises goes back to the early days of the organization of the field in the United States. In his 1949 lecture on “The History of Religion in the Universities,” for example, George F. Thomas, chair of Princeton's Department of Religion at the time, noted that religious studies is a difficult discipline to organize pedagogically, for “our students are now being moved to take our courses in religion not only by intellectual curiosity but also by religious need.” In the context of the Cold War, “the religious and moral confusion of our time and the threat of secularism to our civilization have made it necessary for us to find our way back to the wellsprings of faith that have given meanings to the lives of our fathers.”
Near the close of the sixth book of Plato's Republic (508d–509c), Socrates declares that the idea of the good is the cause of all truth and explicates this statement by drawing an analogy between the good and the sun. As the sun provides for the “coming to be, growth, and nourishment” of visible objects but is not itself any of these processes of becoming, so the good is the source of both existence and being without being either of these. Indeed, the good is defined as beyond being (epekeina tēs ousias, 509b). By stating that the good is superior to being, Plato leaves the Republic open to an interpretation that holds that discussions of the good – ethics – are superior to epistemological or metaphysical discussions. This view that “ethics is first philosophy” is perhaps the most common distillation of Levinas's thought. It appears throughout Levinas's writings, with specific reference to this section of the Republic. In Totality and Infinity, Levinas writes that “the Place of the Good above every essence is the most profound teaching – the definitive teaching – not of theology, but of philosophy” (TI 76/103). In the précis of the argument of Otherwise than Being, Levinas continues along these lines by asserting that the humanist reduction of the person to the historical fact is a forgetting of “what is better than being, that is, the Good” (AE 23/19).
Now it is clear that Levinas is not a thoroughgoing Platonist.