Jewish Thought and Philosophy: Modern Thought
JEWISH THOUGHT AND PHILOSOPHY: MODERN THOUGHT
Modern Jewish religious thought is not simply a chronological category designating Jewish reflections that occur in the modern world. Rather, it is a category that denotes meditations by Jews about Judaism and Jewish destiny that take place within—or at least seek to take into account—the cognitive process distinctive of the modern world. Heir to the biblical image of knowledge, which is grounded in the concepts of divine creation, revelation, and redemption, modern Jewish thought seeks to come to terms with modern sensibilities and conceptions of truth. In this respect, of course, it is basically similar to modern religious thought in general. There are, however, specifics of the Jewish experience in the modern world that determine the agenda and peculiar inflections of modern Jewish thought.
Introduction to the Modern World
It should therefore be recalled that Jews first truly encountered the modern world during the protracted struggle for emancipation in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This struggle was not merely a legal process but engaged Europe in an intense and wide-ranging debate reviewing Jewry's eligibility to participate in the modern world. In the course of this century-long debate, Jews became exceedingly sensitive to the prevailing image of Judaism in European culture. Not surprisingly, modern Jewish thought was thus often guided by an apologetic motive. This defensive posture was also prompted by the rise of modern political and racial anti-Semitism, which was not confined to the mob but gained vocal support from more than a few intellectuals. The integration of the Jews into the modern state and culture, which was achieved despite persistent opposition, led to a profound restructuring of Jewish life, both organizationally and culturally. The Jews were no longer under the obligatory rule of the rabbis and the Torah. In acquiring the political identity and culture of the non-Jewish society in which they lived, the Jews tended to lose much of their venerable culture, including, perhaps most significantly, knowledge of both Hebrew and the sacred texts of the tradition. Moreover, for many, Israel's covenantal relationship to God as a chosen people presently in exile but piously awaiting God's Messiah and restoration to the Promised Land was no longer self-evident and unambiguous.
Modern Jewish thought was thus charged not only with the task of explaining Judaism to both non-Jews and Jews estranged from the sources of their tradition, but also with that of rethinking some of the fundamental concepts of the tradition that bear on the nature of the Jews as a people (covenant, election, exile, the Messiah, and the promise of national redemption) and, in general, the meaning of Jewish community, history, and destiny. These questions gained a unique urgency in the mid-twentieth century because of the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel. Thus, whereas medieval Jewish philosophy was primarily concerned with the relatively circumscribed issue of reconciling faith and reason, modern Jewish thought is broader and by necessity more protean, addressing the multiple dilemmas of the Jew in the modern world.
The beginnings of modern Jewish thought may be traced, paradoxically, to the heterodox sixteenth-century Dutch philosopher, Barukh Spinoza (1632–1677). This renegade Jew was to leave the Jewish community without taking the perfidious step of converting to another religion, a revolutionary precedent that opened the possibility of a secular, cosmopolitan Jew who, in discarding all primordial particularities, found a home in the religiously and ethnically neutral world of reason and common humanity. Universally adored by all votaries of the modern spirit, this iconoclastic but estimable figure has been an abiding challenge to the Jews of modernity to shed their ancestral faith for more supposedly noble, secular affiliations. Furthermore, Spinoza's harsh critique of Judaism as a religion has weighed heavily on modern Jews, not in the least because it has decisively influenced the negative image of Judaism in modern thought. Hence, despite his excommunication by the Jewish community of his native Amsterdam, Spinoza has remained preeminent in modern Jewish consciousness.
The First Modern Jew
In contrast to Spinoza, the eighteenth-century Berlin savant Moses Mendelssohn (1729–1786) represents the possibility that the Jew's creative participation in modern, secular culture need not negate a commitment to Judaism. Hailed by the Enlightenment as the German Socrates, he remained a proud and pious Jew. As a philosopher, he gained prominence for his disquisitions on aesthetics, epistemology, metaphysics, and psychology. Significantly, he based his arguments on reason alone, and although he made use of the metaphysical presuppositions of natural religion, his interest was strictly secular. He scrupulously refrained from introducing scriptural proof texts and certainly never referred to his Judaism. As such, he was not a "Jewish" philosopher. In fact, implicit in his writings is the assumption that his Judaism is irrelevant to his philosophical endeavor and is strictly an incidental and private affair.
Nonetheless, and to his great chagrin, he was repeatedly challenged to defend his continued devotion to his ancestral faith, a fidelity that many of his contemporaries found flagrantly inconsistent with his adherence to enlightened, philosophical culture. Mendelssohn sought to avoid confrontation on these matters, and at first he preferred to make a vigorous appeal to the principle of tolerance and not to engage in debates regarding his abiding commitment to Judaism. However, this proved insufficient to quiet his traducers, and finally in 1783 he penned his famous defense of his dual allegiance to the Enlightenment and Judaism: Jerusalem oder über religiöse Macht und Judentum (Jerusalem, or on religion and power in Judaism). Framing his argument in a careful explication of the principle of religious liberty, Mendelssohn holds that philosophical rationalism, which is grounded in the deistic assumption that the "eternal verities" and "human felicity" may be acquired without divine revelation, poses no special problem for Judaism. For the faith of Israel, as he declares, is "not a revealed religion but a revealed legislation." In contrast to Christianity, Judaism is founded not on doctrinal opinions and saving truths but rather on "laws, commandments, ordinances, rules of life, instructions in the will of God" (Mendelssohn, 1784/1983, pp. 89–90). Mendelssohn suggests that these commandments, particularly the most enduring ceremonial laws, serve as symbolic acts that alert one to the eternal truths of reason, thus preventing the Jews from succumbing to the idolatry of false ideas. Herein lies the extensive meaning of Israel's election. The Jews "were chosen by Providence to be a priestly nation … a nation which … was continually to call attention to sound and unadulterated ideas of God and his attributes. It was incessantly to teach, to proclaim and to endeavor to preserve these ideas among the nations, by means of its mere existence, as it were" (p. 118).
Mendelssohn thus reduced Judaism to a body of ceremonial laws while expanding it into a universal religion of reason. His effort in this respect characterizes much of modern Jewish thought: Unlike medieval Jewish philosophers, their modern descendents would no longer seek to reconcile revelation with reason as two distinct but homologous bodies of truth but would endeavor to demonstrate the significance of Judaism within the general framework of human reason and culture. Mendelssohn also anticipated another characteristic thrust of modern Jewish thought with his conception of Israel's mission to the nations, a notion that provided a universalistic justification of Judaism's continued particularity.
Mendelssohn's definition of Judaism, however, was not unproblematic. His delineation of the distinctive essence of Judaism as "revealed legislation" exposed the religion to the charge—first developed by Mendelssohn's contemporary Immanuel Kant (1724–1804)—that Judaism is heteronomous religion of law that finds expression chiefly in religious ritual and ceremonies. In his Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone (1793), Kant regarded genuine religion to be the cultivation of moral autonomy; he correspondingly deemed ritual and ceremony to be pseudoservice to God and depicted Judaism as a religious illusion. Kant's indictment of Judaism, based largely on his reading of Mendelssohn and Spinoza, was repeated by many modern thinkers and has accordingly troubled many modern Jews, especially those who shared Kant's philosophical presuppositions. Moreover, Mendelssohn's definition of Judaism satisfied few Jews. The traditional Jew felt he ignored the unique creedal core of Judaism; the liberal Jew was unhappy (and not only because of Kant's critique) with his emphasis on the ceremonial laws. Nonetheless, Mendelssohn's Jerusalem still stands as a monument to a Jew who sought to secure the integrity of Judaism while actively pursuing modern culture.
Eager to accommodate Judaism to the modern spirit, Jews of varying theological tendencies claimed Mendelssohn as their spiritual progenitor. For Jewish opponents of the modern world, Mendelssohn became associated with the new order as a symbol, however, of betrayal. The spiritus rector of Jewish Orthodoxy as a self-conscious movement to guard the integrity of classical Judaism while fending off the putatively corrosive effects of the modern world, Mosheh Sofer (1762–1839; popularly known as Hatam Sofer), regarded Mendelssohn as the source of the contemporary Jew's beguiling infatuation with "alien culture." In his spiritual last will and testament, he cautioned all God-fearing Jews "not to turn to evil and never engage in corruptible partnership with those fond of innovations, who, as a penalty for our sins, have strayed from the Almighty and His law! Do not touch the books of Rabbi Moses [Mendelssohn] of Dessau, and your foot will never slip!" (cited in Mendes-Flohr and Reinharz, 1995, p. 172). The document, written some fifty years after Mendelssohn's death, is still immensely popular among some Orthodox Jews (sometimes called Ultra-Orthodox, as opposed to modern or Neo-Orthodox Jews who seek accommodation with the modern world).
The militant antimodernism of these Ultra-Orthodox Jews, who embraced much of the traditional Jewish community in the nineteenth century, especially in eastern Europe, is distinguished by a deliberate self-enclosure. Although not totally ignorant of the modern world, they failed to acknowledge its most significant epistemological presuppositions and social and political values. It would be erroneous, however, to assume that Ultra-Orthodoxy was moribund or spiritually stagnant; on the contrary, in its own terms the movement was (and is) dynamic and creative. The nineteenth century witnessed a renaissance of rabbinic learning; new yeshivot (talmudic academies) were established, and new methods and approaches to learning and piety were advocated. Yeshivot were established by Hatam Sofer in Pressburg, Hungary, (modern-day Bratislava, Slovakia) and by Hayyim ben Yitshaq (1749–1821) in Volozhin, Lithuania. Also notable are the pietistic movement, known as Musar, which was founded by another Lithuanian rabbi, Yisra'el (Lipkin) Salanter (1810–1883); and Hasidism, the movement of popular mystical piety, which flourished in the nineteenth century.
The opposition of the Ultra-Orthodox to modernism is not as much epistemological as it is axiological (value-related). They view the modern world, given its sociological and cultural implications, with profound suspicion, for in their judgment it leads to religious laxity and even defection. Even Hatam Sofer did not oppose secular studies per se, as long as they did not undermine the preeminence of Torah and Jewish tradition. With few exceptions, Orthodoxy has been indifferent to the epistemological (and ontological) issues raised by modern science and technology; its sole criterion for adjudging the developments in science has been to protect Torah observance.
Neither is science a salient issue for Jewish modernists. They have been principally exercised by the need to find a place for the Jews and Judaism in the modern world. Philosophically and theologically, this objective necessitated a delineation of Judaism's relevance to the historical unfolding of a universal, human culture. Within the orbit of nineteenth-century discourse, the principal vectors of this effort were provided by Kant, Friedrich Schelling (1775–1854), and G. W. F. Hegel (1770–1831).
Judaism and Modern Historical Consciousness
Proponents of religious reform of Judaism were particularly drawn to the historiosophical teachings of Schelling and Hegel. Solomon Formstecher (1808–1889) and Samuel Hirsch (1815–1889), prominent rabbinical leaders of the nascent Reform movement in Germany (which was later divided between a radical fringe and the liberal majority, which favored moderate reform), each in his own distinctive fashion recast the doctrines in support of religious reform and Jewish integration into modern society and culture. Because the philosophical idealism of Schelling and Hegel viewed spiritual truths as developing and maturing dynamically in history, it provided these advocates of religious reform with the conceptual perspectives justifying ritual and doctrinal change in Judaism: To be true to the spiritual truths with which it is entrusted, Judaism must be dynamic and evolutionary. The proposition of philosophical idealism that the historical unfolding of these truths leads to the progressive unification of human culture and sensibility also lent support to the Reformers' call for Jewish participation in general culture. However, their affirmation of a universal culture, in turn, posed a severe challenge to account for the enduring identity—and thus particularity—of Judaism, which they, like all Reform leaders, clearly upheld.
Formstecher and Hirsch reflected their generation's characteristic interest in history as a dynamic process fraught with cultural and spiritual significance. The historical imagination, especially with its critical, scientific bent, first had its impact in Jewish circles with the founding in Berlin in 1819 of a society promoting the scientific study of Judaism known as Wissenschaft des Judentums. The primary motive of this society—many of whose members were to be associated with religious reform—was to correct the calumnious opinions about Judaism and illuminate the varied, ongoing contribution of Judaism to the shaping of European civilization. It was hoped that the objective, scholarly study of Judaism would irrefutably demonstrate that the Jews sought to participate in modern European culture not as Asiatic interlopers but that they were, by right of this contribution, culturally and spiritually as much European as any other people.
This proposition was compatible with the presuppositions of Reform Judaism, which also shared the assumption that Judaism had made a decisive contribution to the historically unfolding spirit of Europe. The proponents of religious reform naturally supported Wissenschaft des Judentums. One of the founding proponents of Reform Judaism in Germany, Abraham Geiger (1810–1874), was also one of the most outstanding pioneers of Wissenschaft des Judentums. Critical historical scholarship, he maintained, would help identify the immanent forces in Jewish tradition sanctifying the change and renewal of Judaism that were deemed necessary by the advocates of reform. Implicitly adopting the Hegelian principle that history is the progressive revelation of the divine truth, Geiger presented the study of history as an alternative to talmud Torah (study of Torah) as the Jew's mode of reflecting on God's will.
Orthodox leaders, even those who supported to some degree the Jews' entry into the modern world, objected strenuously to what they perceived to be the historicist bias of Wissenschaft des Judentums. The founder of Neo-Orthodoxy in Germany, Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808–1888) bitterly remarked that the tendency of Wissenschaft des Judentums to compare Judaism to other historical phenomena—"Moses and Hesiod, David and Sappho"—in effect reduced Judaism to a "human and transitory [fact] of a by-gone age" (cited in Mendes-Flohr and Reinharz, 1995, p. 234). Similarly, the Italian Jewish religious philosopher Samuel David Luzzatto (1800–1865) plaintively observed with reference to the the votaries of Wissenschaft des Judentums, "They study ancient Israel the way the other scholars study ancient Egypt, Assyria, Babylon and Persia" (cited in Mendes-Flohr and Reinharz, 1995, p. 236). Luzzatto, although Orthodox, was a prolific author of scholarly studies of Judaism; nonetheless, he held that Wissenschaft des Judentums "must be grounded in faith"—as such it will "seek to understand the Torah and the prophets as the Word of God, [and] comprehend how, throughout our history, the spirit of God, which is our nation's inheritance, warred with the human spirit" (cited in Mendes-Flohr and Reinharz, 1995, p. 236).
Luzzatto's indictment of Wissenschaft des Judentums for its historicist bias may have been somewhat overstated, for the early scholars of Wissenschaft des Judentums were, in truth, not utterly devoid of the existential religious commitment that he called for. Nonetheless, the thrust of Wissenschaft des Judentums was largely philological and antiquarian, and its methodological assumptions unequivocally conformed to a historicist mold (which in the twentieth century, Jewish studies would seek to break). Naḥman Krochmal (1785–1840), for one, regarded the intellectual and spiritual dilemmas engendered by the historicism implicit in Wissenschaft des Judentums as the most exigent issue facing his generation. Krochmal, who lived in the politically and socially conservative Austrian provience of Galicia where emancipation and religious reform were remote prospects, published a monumental treatise in Hebrew on the challenge posed to Judaism by critical historical research. This work, published posthumously in 1851, was indicatively titled Moreh nevukhei ha-zeman (Guide of the perplexed of our time). The title alludes to Moses Maimonides's (1135/8–1204) famous Guide of the Perplexed (1190), and like the great Spanish rabbi in his day, Krochmal sought to offer guidance to the perplexed of his generation. The reference in the title to the perplexed of our (lit., the ) time may be understood as both of our time and by time (i.e., by the category of time, by historical time).
Krochmal begins his treatise with the observation that Jewish youths are genuinely perplexed by the results of critical scholarship that cast doubt on the traditional view of events and, particularly, on the traditional view of the sacred texts, their composition, and, therefore, their authority. An observant Jew, Krochmal noted that the faith of these youths will surely not be fortified by an obscurantist response; the enjoining of dogma in the face of the fruits of scholarship would only exacerbate the estrangement of these youths. Faith, as Maimonides in his day indicated, must be allied with reason; now, Krochmal argued, faith must also be grounded in a proper philosophical understanding of history. This is what Krochmal's Guide sought to provide, hence its subtitle, Sheʿarei emunah tsurafah (Gates to a purified faith).
Judaism and Moral Theology
With a few notable exceptions (e.g., Samuel David Luzzatto), virtually all Jewish religious thinkers in the nineteenth century who sought to accommodate Judaism to the modern sensibility were beholden to Kant's conception of ethical piety as the ultimate form of service to God. Even among those thinkers whose primary concern was to develop via Hegel and Schelling a philosophy of Jewish history, one discerns an attempt to come to terms with Kant's critique of Judaism as a heteronomous pseudoreligion. Nineteenth-century thinkers associated with every tendency in modern Judaism from Reform to Neo-Orthodoxy shared a conviction that the faith of Israel properly understood actually promotes ethical piety. Even Luzzatto, a staunch traditionalist who expressly rejected the very premises of Kant's ethical rationalism, argued that Judaism is fundamentally a religion of moral sentiment. Samson Raphael Hirsch developed an elaborate exegesis of the traditional precepts of Judaism, the mitsvot (commandments), demonstrating how each in its distinctive manner fosters the development of moral consciousness.
Moritz Lazarus (1824–1903), a professor at the University of Berlin from 1873 and prominent lay leader of Liberal Judaism in Germany, devoted numerous essays and a two-volume study, Die Ethik des Judentums (The ethics of Judaism; 1898–1911), to a systematic demonstration of Judaism's inherent compatibility with Kant's conception of morality. In developing his thesis, Lazarus drew on the principles he had formulated in founding the discipline of Völkerpsychologie, the comparative psychology of peoples. With respect to the psychological study of Judaism, he proposed an examination of the literary sources of classical Judaism as they most faithfully record the will, intent, and way of life of the Jews. By insisting that only on the basis of such a study could Judaism be properly characterized, Lazarus abjured the speculative approach of Formstecher and Samuel Hirsch. He introduced Kantian categories not as speculative presuppositions of his study but merely as heuristic principles that to his mind best organize and elucidate the empirical structure of Judaism and help illuminate the objective unity of its ethical structure.
Lazarus maintained that such a study demonstrates that Judaism in effect is a system of autonomous ethics; specifically, the rites and values of Judaism foster the development of what Kant celebrated as moral consciousness. The ethical piety engendered by Judaism may be best characterized as "holiness"—a quality of life that bespeaks neither a numinous nor a transcendent reality but, rather, the indomitable conviction that a moral life is the ultimate meaning and purpose of existence.
To Lazarus's profound disappointment, his Ethics of Judaism was severely criticized by the generation's foremost Kantian philosopher, Hermann Cohen (1842–1918), the founder of the Marburg school of neo-Kantianism. Cohen faulted Lazarus for locating the source of Judaism's ethical teachings in the Jewish "folk-soul." To Cohen, such a concept, grounded as it is in psychology and history, undermines the reliability and certitude required by a genuine ethical system. Ethics must derive its validity from rational, universal concepts. What renders Jewish ethics interesting, Cohen contends, is its distinctive dependence on the concept of a universal, unique God—and not just as a phantasm of the Jewish folk-soul but as a rationally defensible concept.
Like Lazarus, Cohen was prominently associated with Liberal Judaism, especially in his latter years, and he also sought to demonstrate the fundamental compatibility of Judaism with Kant's ethical idealism. Interpreting the master's teachings in a somewhat novel fashion, Cohen understood ethics not as primarily addressing the individual but in its fullest sense as summoning society to the task of molding the future according to the principle of a rationally determined, a priori ought. According to Cohen's most mature conception of faith and ritual, however, religion—in contradistinction to ethics—does not address the individual merely as representative of rational humanity; rather, it appertains to the individual as such, especially through the notion of sin, which Cohen understood as the individual's anguished realization of his or her own moral failings. This consciousness of sin, Cohen observed, bears the danger that the individual will despair of his or her own moral worth and abandon all subsequent moral effort. The self-estrangement attendant to sin requires the concept of a forbearing God who by the act of forgiveness serves to reintegrate the individual into an ethically committed humanity. The atonement of sin is not effected by God's grace but by the individual, who in acknowledging God's forgiveness becomes rededicated to the moral task.
Religion is thus preeminently a series of acts of atonement—rites and prayers expressing remorse and repentance and focused on the belief in a merciful, forgiving God. To Cohen, the reconciliation between God and humans thus achieved requires, in turn, that God be conceived not as an idea but as a being who relates to the finite, ever-changing world of becoming, of which humans are a part. Despite the fundamental ontological distinction separating them, being and becoming are interrelated through what Cohen called correlation. God and humans are correlated when the individual cognizant of God's mercy—God's love and concern—personally rededicates to emulating in his or her actions these divine qualities. Cohen spoke of correlation as a shared holiness in which God and humans are coworkers in the work of creation.
Cohen set forth these views in his posthumously published volume, Religion der Vernunft aus den Quellen des Judentums (1919, 1929; translated in 1995 as Religion of Reason out of the Sources of Judaism ). In it he expounds his new conception of religion through a selective exegesis of the sources of classical Judaism in the Bible, the midrash, liturgy, and medieval Jewish philosophy. These traditional expressions of Jewish piety, Cohen avers, exemplify the most refined conception of religion.
The emerging portrait of Judaism as a faith of deep, personal significance has suggested to many commentators that Cohen anticipated the existentialist theology characteristic of much of twentieth-century Jewish thought, with its emphasis on the dialogic relation of the individual with a living, personal God. Cohen, however, continued to speak of the religion of reason, and his God remained the rational God of ethics. And although in a striking revision of his Kantian premises he accorded religion (defined by prayer) and ritual intrinsic significance, he still did not quite regard it as an utterly independent reality enjoying a unique ontological and epistemological status. Although not entirely absorbed into ethics, the religion of reason was for Cohen ultimately ancillary to ethics. Religion—and Judaism in particular—is conceived as an instrument for enhancing moral consciousness (i.e., moral reason) and commitment: It facilitates the acceptance of the kingdom of God.
Judaism and Religious Existentialism
Despite the fact that Cohen's concept of correlation does indeed outline some important features of twentieth-century religious existentialism, his overarching moral theology renders him more a son of the previous century. Moral reason for Cohen was the heart of religion, and thus not surprisingly he identified it with revelation: "Revelation is the creation of Reason" (Religion of Reason, 1995, p. 72). This identification of reason and revelation was typical of nineteenth-century philosophical idealism.
Solomon Ludwig Steinheim
For religious existentialists the point of departure was revelation understood as a metarational category pointing to God's spontaneous and gracious address to the finite human. In this respect, the transitional figure from nineteenth- to twentieth-century Jewish thought is not Cohen but the little-known lay scholar Solomon Ludwig Steinheim (1789–1866). A physician by profession, Steinheim was not affiliated with any ideological camp within the Jewish community in his native Germany; indeed, he spent the last twenty years of his life mostly in Rome, isolated from organized Jewish life. As Hans Joachim Schoeps noted in Vom Bleibenden und Vergänglichen im Judentum, Steinheim was "the first [truly] Jewish theologian of the modern age. … He was twenty years too late, and one hundred years too early" (Schoeps, 1935, p. 81). If one views Jewish thought from Mendelssohn to Cohen as a sustained effort to interpret Judaism as a religion of reason par excellence, then Steinheim stands alone in the nineteenth century.
In his monumental study Offenbarung nach dem Lehrbegriff der Synagoge (Revelation according to the doctrine of the synagogue), Steinheim sought to remove religion from the tutelage of reason, maintaining that religious truths are the gift of supernatural revelation. In a manner recalling Søren Kierkegaard's (1813–1855) critique of Hegel, he held that the truths disclosed by revelation are incompatible with and irreducible to reason. Furthermore, the concept of supernatural revelation posits God as the creator who, unbounded by necessity, creates the world freely and out of nothing. As such, revelation confirms the irrefragable human experience of freedom that reason—burdened as it is by the principle of universal necessity perforce—denies. Accordingly, reason must acknowledge the primacy of revelation.
In that God is the logical presupposition of revelation, Steinheim observed, the affirmation of the possibility of revelation implicitly reestablishes the dignity and authority of God: "Our task is to present revelation [such that] we are constrained … to accept God. Therefore, it is for us to make a declaration the exact opposite of Mendelssohn's and to prove the Old Testament was given not to reveal law but the living God" (Steinheim, 1835, vol. 2, p. 38). Revelation, therefore, has a unique epistemic status, and its conceptual content corresponds to the postulates of Kant's moral reason: God, freedom, and immortality. It also follows that for Steinheim not only are these postulates granted in revelation, but that also the categorical imperatives of morality derive their authority from God and revealed will. Judaism represents the ideal ethical religion, for its moral code is commanded by the living God. Steinheim's conclusions regarding Judaism are hence not unlike those of other nineteenth-century Jewish thinkers; the crucial difference is that, for him, Judaism is a fact of supernatural revelation.
Significantly, the philosophy of Franz Rosenzweig (1886–1929), whose path to Judaism from the midst of assimilation has become emblematic of much of twentieth-century Jewish religious thought, is grounded in his adoption of what he calls Offenbarungsglaube, a belief in revelation as a historical and existential reality. Such a belief must be the fulcrum of any genuine theology; otherwise, as Rosenzweig observes in his first essay on religious matters, "Atheistic Theology" (1914, but first published after his death), one arrives at the strange anthropocentric brew concocted by the nineteenth century, which by placing religion within the realm of human sensibility alone—be it called spiritual experience, moral consciousness, or national soul—is in effect godless. Theology, he contended, must proceed from the theocentric fact of divine revelation, the fact of God's address to humans. Rosenzweig developed his understanding of this address on the basis of a radical critique of philosophical idealism, with its quest for universal, timeless, abstract truths. In contrast to the logical reasoning of the philosophers, revelation is in time; it is an occurrence whereby God establishes a relation with specific time-bound individuals. Phenomenologically, this relation is what is celebrated in biblical tradition as love: the divine sounding of "Thou" to the temporally contingent "I" of the individual. God addresses the individual in his or her finite existence, calling each individual, as it were, by his or her "first and last name," which distinguishes each person existentially from all others. In revelation, the contingent existence of the individual is thus confirmed in love and blessed with the kiss of eternity.
Occurring in time, revelation is hence inaccessible to a reason that considers only timeless essences. Yet this conception does not contradict reason but merely delimits its sphere of validity. Properly understood, philosophical reason and faith are complementary. This affirmation of revelation allowed Rosenzweig to discern in Judaism what many of his generation of assimilated German Jews had denied—that Judaism was a theocentric faith of enduring existential significance. He elaborated his conception of faith and Judaism in his 1921 work Stern der Erlösung (Star of redemption).
Later, Rosenzweig sought to incorporate into his life and thought more and more extraliturgical aspects of traditional Judaism, from the commandment of keeping a kosher kitchen to that of Torah study. His approach to the mitsvot, however, was distinctive. Unlike Orthodox Jews, he could not accept the mitsvot on the basis of rabbinic authority, for, as he once remarked, "religion based on authority is equal to unbelief" (cited in Rosenstock-Huessy, 1971, p. 166). His approach to the Law, as he explained in a now-famous open letter to Martin Buber (1878–1965), was to encourage each individual Jew to explore the sacramental and existential possibilities of the mitsvot so as to determine which of these precepts he or she personally feels called on to fulfill. In an article entitled "The Builders: Concerning the Law," Rosenzweig further elaborated his position to Buber with reference to a rabbinic commentary to Isaiah 54:13, arguing that humans are not only God's obedient children (banayikh ) but also "Your builders" (bonayikh). As such, every generation has the opportunity—indeed, the task—to re-create for itself the Law (Glatzer, 1965, p. 72).
Rosenzweig's nondogmatic brand of traditionalism was, and continues to serve as, a guide to many who seek to reappropriate traditional forms of Jewish piety and to affirm Judaism as a relation to a living God. Furthermore, Rosenzweig inspired the serious, nonapologetic theological reflection characteristic of much Jewish religious thought in the twentieth century. Among those he most decisively inspired was his friend Buber, who emerged as a genuine religious thinker only with the publication of I and Thou (1923). Buber's previous writings on spiritual matters, Jewish and otherwise, belonged to a genre of Romantic mysticism that Rosenzweig had in mind when he wrote "Atheistic Theology"; these writings were virtually devoid of any reference to the God of revelation. With his treatise on I–Thou, or dialogic, relations Buber affirmed faith as grounded in the revealed word of God, and in so doing he developed a novel conception of revelation.
For Buber, revelation is homologous with what he called dialogue. God, the Eternal Thou, addresses one through the varied life experiences—from the seemingly ephemeral and trivial to the grand and momentous—that demand a dialogic response, or a confirmation of the Thou, the unique presence, of the other who stands before one. In uttering "Thou" (the actual act of speech is superfluous), the self, or I, in turn finds its own presence confirmed. As a response to the continuously renewing presence and address of another, dialogue must be born ever anew. The I–Thou response thus requires spontaneity and cannot be determined by fixed expressions, gestures, and formulations. It also follows that God's address, as being refracted (revealed) through the addressing presence of the Thou who stands before one likewise, requires such spontaneity. Buber further contends that authentic service to God is found only in such a spontaneous response to the Eternal Thou, who turns to humans through the flux of life's ever-changing circumstances. Although not utterly dismissing prayer and ritual as bearing the possibility of spontaneous and hence authentic relation to God, Buber does not regard them as paradigmatic forms of religious service.
Clearly such a conception of divine revelation conflicts radically with the classical Jewish conception of a historical revelation (viz., the Torah) enjoying preeminence and enduring authority. Furthermore, Buber's antagonism toward liturgical prayer and the mitsvot as the proper form of divine service conflicts not only with tradition but also with all expressions of institutional Jewish religious life.
Acknowledging his anomalous position within Jewish religious thought, Buber insisted that he was not in a formal sense a theologian. He claimed he sought neither to justify revealed propositions about God nor to defend revealed scriptures and doctrine. He simply pointed to dialogue as a meta-ethical principle determining the life responses of an individual, ensuring that these responses will be informed by love and justice and crowned with existential meaning (i.e., the confirmation of the Thou). He taught that this principle is at the heart of all great spiritual traditions, but particularly that of Judaism. The concept of dialogue can thus be employed as a hermeneutical principle by which to read the Hebrew Bible and other formative religious texts in the Jewish tradition, such as those of Hasidism.
As a particular community of faith, Judaism is, in Buber's view, distinguished by its millennial and clarion witness to the dialogic principle both in its collective memory (enshrined in its central myths and sacred texts) and, ideally, in its current institutions. In fact, as a Zionist, Buber held that Jewish religious life in the Diaspora had been falsely restricted to the synagogue and the home, thus losing hold of the founding dialogic principle of Judaism and its comprehensive purview of divine service. By restoring to the Jews the sociological conditions of a full communal life, Zionism allows for the possibility that the Jews' public life, guided by the principle of dialogue, will once again become the essential realm of their relation to God. The reappropriation of the public sphere as the dialogic responsibility of the community of faith is consonant with the supreme injunction of the prophets of Israel and thus constitutes the renewal of what Buber called Hebrew, or biblical, humanism.
Buber's religious anarchism and often radical politics alienated him from many Jews committed to traditional forms of worship and conventional positions. Yet his philosophy of dialogue has manifestly inspired others, especially those eager for extrasynagogal expressions of Jewish spirituality. Furthermore, his—and Rosenzweig's—conception of dialogue as a way of reading sacred texts (viz., recognizing the divine voice in a text without necessarily accepting the written word uncritically) has had a seminal effect on contemporary Jewish studies and hermeneutical attitudes. Critical historical scholarship therefore need not be bound to antiquarian presuppositions or lead inevitably to a barren relativism. Guided by a dialogical hermeneutic, historiography and philology may be employed to bare anew the inner, eternal truth of Judaism. The dean of Jewish studies in the twentieth century, Gershom Scholem (1897–1982), for example, regarded Wissenschaft des Judentums as a means of uncovering dimensions and expressions of Jewish spirituality that may have been suppressed by Orthodoxy and, later in the nineteenth century, by apologetics in defense of specific conceptions of normative Judaism. Precisely because of its objective, nonprescriptive mode of inquiry, Wissenschaft des Judentums is capable of covering the full canvas of Jewish spiritual options to inspire religious renewal. To this end, Scholem devoted his prodigious scholarship to researching the surprisingly ramified and hitherto little-known or misperceived Jewish mystical tradition, Qabbalah.
Zionism and Religious Renewal
Like Buber, Scholem was a Zionist or, more precisely, a follower of Aḥad ha-ʿAm (1856–1927; literally, "one of the people"—the pen-name of Asher Ginzberg) and his vision of Zionism as effecting the reconstruction of Judaism as a secular, spiritually revitalized national culture. Having abandoned the religious Orthodoxy of his Hasidic upbringing in Russia, Aḥad ha-ʿAm was acutely aware of the spiritual crisis afflicting his generation of Jews, whose fidelity Judaism as a religious faith had ceased to engage. In ever-increasing numbers, young Jews were being drawn to the secular-humanist culture of the West—a culture, in Aḥad ha-ʿAm's judgment, whose intellectual, ethical, and aesthetic power one could not deny. In that the secular humanism of the contemporary world was sponsored by non-Jewish languages and national communities, the adoption of this new culture, by its nature, entailed a weakening of one's ties to the Jewish people and culture. To stem the consequent tide of assimilation, Aḥad ha-ʿAm taught that Judaism must be reformulated as a secular culture grounded in the autochthonous humanist values of Judaism (e.g., the ethical teachings of the Bible and the prophets) and in Hebrew as the national language of the Jewish people. In Zion, a culturally autonomous, Hebrew-speaking community would arise and, by force of the example of its spiritually vital and creative culture, inspire the Jews of the Diaspora to adjust Judaism to the new secular reality and at the same time maintain a firm Jewish national consciousness. For Aḥad ha-ʿAm the prevailing secularism implied an irrevocable eclipse of religious faith and culture; for Buber, Scholem, and other cultural Zionists, secularism was but a necessary historical stage that did not preclude the possible renewal of Judaism as a meaningful religious faith.
The idea of Zionism as a framework for the development of a Jewish religious humanism also inspired the teachings of Aharon David Gordon (1856–1922). One of the most remarkable figures in modern Jewish religious thought, Gordon discerned unique religious possibilities in Zionism, particularly in the ethos of the idealistic pioneers (halutsim ), the select band of youths who, beginning in the 1890s, had gone to Palestine to prepare the Land of Israel for the ingathering of the exiles. At nearly the age of fifty, Gordon reliquished the comforts of affluence and bourgeois eminence in his native Russia and joined the youthful halutsim in the labor of draining the swamps and tilling the soil. Working tirelessly by day, this Jewish Tolstoy would write at night, exploring the religious significance of the pioneering endeavor. With a weave of Qabbalistic and Hasidic doctrine and Russian populist ideas about the pristine dignity of the peasantry and a life rooted in nature, Gordon developed a mystical pantheism in which he celebrated agricultural labor as a supreme act of personal, national, and cosmic redemption. Toil on the land, he taught, integrates one into the organic rhythms of nature and the universe. The resulting experience of the unity and purpose of the cosmos is the core religious experience—an experience that, he believed, had been largely denied to the Jews of the Diaspora. This cosmic experience ultimately leads one to God, regardless of one's intellectual attitude. For Gordon, an authentic relation to God has nothing to do with formal religious beliefs and ritual practices. In noting that God or the hidden mystery of the cosmos is approached through physical, especially agraian labor, he was quick to point out that biblical Hebrew employs the same word (viz., ʿavodah ) to designate both work and divine worship.
Orthodox Jews have also seen Zionism as bearing extensive religious significance. The first chief rabbi of Palestine, Avraham Yitsḥaq Kook (1865–1935), was also profoundly inspired by the halutsim, whom, despite their often demonstrative irreligiosity, he regarded as instruments of God's Heilsplan (plan of salvation). Judging history from the perspective of the Qabbalistic teaching that external events are but symbols of a deeper, hidden reality, he interpreted the secular actions of the halutsim on behalf of the Jewish people's restoration to Zion as symbolically reflecting a divinely appointed cosmic process of restoring a fragmented world to its primal harmony. Kook, in general, saw the heightened secular movement of the modern world toward social and scientific progress as part of a providential design to quicken the eschatological conclusion of history with the return of the Jews to their ancient domicile as but the most glorious symbol of the eschaton.
Not all Orthodox Jews' support for Zionism was motivated by eschatological considerations. The principal theological motive prompting the founding of Mizrahi, the movement of religious Zionists created in 1902 by Yitsḥaq Yaʿaqov Reines (1839–1915) was a decidedly mundane endorsement of Theodor Herzl's (1860–1904) program of Jewish political sovereignty as a solution to anti-Semitism. Furthermore, Mizrahi welcomed the normalization of Jewish political and social life envisioned by Zionism as encouraging halakhah (Jewish religious law) to expand beyond the lamentably circumscribed scope allowed it by the conditions prevailing in the Diaspora. The prophetic vigor of the Torah would thus be restored as the comprehensive matrix of a holy and just life for the Jewish people.
The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 generated special theological problems for Orthodox Jewish supporters of Zionism, foremost with respect to the messianic significance of the restoration of Jewish patrimony to the Land of Israel. Many regard this as a miraculous event that pointed to the imminent advent of the Messiah and divine redemption. In the flush of messianic euphoria, the chief rabbis of the nascent state took the rare step of introducing a new prayer into the traditional liturgy, blessing God for causing "the beginning of redemption to flower." To be sure, a significant minority of Orthodox opinion continues to oppose Zionism, precisely because of what it deems to be the movement's messianic pretensions and its seemingly arrogant attempt to preempt God's judgment and redemptive deeds. On the other hand, Orthodox Jews who support Zionism and yet are unwilling to view its political achievements in eschatological terms are obliged to reckon with the absence of traditional theological categories to comprehend the anomalous situation posed by the reestablishment of Jewish political sovereignty in Zion as a process that is not the work of the divinely appointed Messiah.
Since the early 1940s these issues have acquired a sharp focus and popular attention through the sustained and invariably controversial efforts of Yeshayahu Leibowitz (1903–1993), a professor in biological chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. A religiously observant and learned Jew, Leibowitz had—since his emigration to Palestine in 1935 from his native Latvia via Switzerland and Germany, where he earned degrees in medicine and chemistry—been a proponent of an approach to Zionist and religious questions that is rigorously rational and free from what he regarded as platitudes and sentimental pieties. For Leibowitz, Zionism and the State of Israel have no messianic import; he regarded messianism as fundamentally a folkloristic accretion to Judaism that is best ignored by serious, God-fearing Jews. He was particularly fond of citing Maimonides' admonition in his Mishneh Torah that one ought not preoccupy oneself with messianic speculations, for "they lead neither to fear [of God] nor to love [of Him]" (Kings and Laws 12.2).
Furthermore, Leibowitz argued, those who ascribe religious or any other intrinsic value to the state are committing the cardinal sin of idolatry (ʿavodah zarah ; the worship of false gods). Leibowitz thus refused to regard Zionism as a religious phenomenon but viewed it simply as a movement for the political liberation of the Jewish people. He called on religious Jews to rejoice in this fact and greet the Zionist state as providing the framework for a fuller expression of halakhah and the Jewish people's religious vocation. He conceived of this vocation in strictly theocentric terms. By accepting the Torah and its commandments, Jews are foremost God's servants and not vice versa. Service to God must be for its own sake, without regard for spiritual, moral, or material enhancement. Judaism is not meant to render the Jews happier, more noble, or more prosperous. Even the perfection of society and history are extraneous to Judaism. (Although Leibowitz did not object to humanistic and progressive political endeavors, he insisted these are in the realm of humans and their fallible judgment and thus are not to be theologically sanctified.) Although he recurrently appealed to the authority of Maimonides, Leibowitz's theological position also betrays the decisive influence of Kant, Kierkegaard, and Karl Barth (1886–1968). His severe, almost priestly view of Judaism has evoked considerable, seminal discussion within both religious and secular circles of contemporary Israel.
Judaism and the American Experience
The reentry of the Jews into history as a sovereign nation has profoundly affected Jewish self-perception everywhere. In North America, Jewish thought is most strikingly distinguished by the effort to accommodate the new understanding of Jewish peoplehood, correlating it with the unique experience of life in an unambiguously free and pluralistic society. Mordecai M. Kaplan (1881–1983) developed a conception of Judaism that boldly articulates these apparently contrasting poles of the contemporary American Jewish reality. Regarding himself as a follower of Aḥad ha-ʿAm's cultural Zionism, Kaplan affirmed the centrality of the Land of Israel in Jewish life while upholding the creative and social viability of the Diaspora. In light of the secular definition of Jewish peoplehood legitimated by Zionism, Kaplan redefined Judaism as a civilization, a designation that allowed him to conceive of Judaism in the broadest social and cultural terms. As a civilization, Judaism is thus not in the first instance a system of religious beliefs and practices but the life of the Jewish people. The civilization of Judaism is religious in that it is set in a distinctive religious universe of discourse with a body of shared symbolic gestures and rituals.
Kaplan's understanding of religion and God, however, is neither traditional nor theistic. Indebted to the philosophical pragmatism of the American educator John Dewey (1859–1952), Kaplan viewed God as a functional concept pointing to a nonpersonal and nonmetaphysical power or process in the universe that bespeaks order, justice, and goodness and on which humans must rely to fulfill their destiny as human beings. This "Godhood of the cosmos" is a transnaturalistic principle: It is not a supernatural entity, nor is it to be understood simply as a metaphorical reification of human possibilities; it is, rather, an ontological concept that is continually being refined as human civilization advances on all fronts of knowledge—in the physical and normative sciences and in the imaginative arts. Religion and God thus have, for Kaplan, an ever-evolving pragmatic function of enhancing human well-being and dignity by "orienting us to life and eliciting from us the best of which we are capable" (Judaism as Civilization, p. 317).
Religion also has the more specifically sociological function of articulating and reenacting through certain ritualized practices (not necessarily liturgical or devotional) the collective self-consciousness and memory of its constituent community. As such, religion serves to foster the community's sense of historical continuity and shared values. Judaism so understood is unabashedly anthropocentric and humanistic. Moreover, as a religion that exists for the Jewish people and not vice versa (cf. Leibowitz), Judaism is not to be construed as a heteronomous discipline of ritual and codes, nor are its beliefs to be amplified catechistically.
Lest Judaism fail the contemporary Jew, Kaplan averred, it must respect each Jew's democratic and this-worldly temperament. Judaism therefore must be projected as an ongoing discourse that eschews all anachronistic, supernatural constructs of traditional religion and allows for diversity of opinion, especially with respect to questions of ultimate existential significance, such as the meaning of suffering, death, and evil. The specific theological function of Judaism, however, is to give focus to the needs and mutual responsibilities of the Jews as a people. Although the movement associated with Kaplan's conception of Judaism, known as Reconstructionism, has remained relatively small, Kaplan has given expression to the emerging folk religion of American Jewry, irrespective of formal denominational affiliation.
Whereas the ideology of Kaplan's Reconstructionism may have given expression to the regnant naturalism and ethnic orientation of American Jewry, the same community has paradoxically demanded of its religious elite (i.e., its rabbinical leadership) a theology that articulates, with due modifications, the theocentric, supernatural convictions that have classically defined Judaism. The image of Judaism even for the most theologically naturalist would seem to require a supernatural definition. Herein lies the explanation of why Reconstructionism, despite its fidelity to the folk religion of American Jewry, has remained numerically insignificant, and hence this also explains the receptivity of American Jews to the theocentric teachings of Buber and Rosenzweig.
European-educated religious thinkers, anchored in traditional Judaism and theological conviction, have also found in America a supportive environment. Emigrating to the United States in 1940, Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907–1972), a Polish-born descendent of Hasidic masters, developed for an appreciative American audience a lyrical theology that is more a persuasive personal witness than a conceptual argument. He presents a phenomenological explication of his own experience and prophetic consciousness. Blending Hasidic spirituality, which he held as resonating the innermost truths of traditional Jewish faith, with nuanced Western learning, Heschel sought to elaborate a conception of piety relevant to the contemporary Jew. Noting that the aptitude for faith of Western society has been dulled by technological, bourgeois civilization, in his writings Heschel endeavored to reawaken the sensus numinus —the a priori sense of wonder and awe evoked by the mystery of life, which he, with Rudolf Otto (1869–1937), regarded as the font of faith—by introducing his readers to the Hasidic-Qabbalistic teaching that all reality refracts the divine presence.
The life of traditional Jewish piety governed by halakhah, according to Heschel, creates an inner, holy reality that heightens one's sense of the divine presence. As a system of deeds, halakhah has also ritualized the prophetic teaching that faith is ultimately a leap of action: The individual responds to God's presence by making God's work his or her own. Indeed, the covenantal relation between God and Israel implies an intimate partnership between humans and God. The prophets, Heschel emphasized, were particularly conscious of the intimate, passionate relation between humans and God: An individual's sins anger and sadden God, and because the individual both fears and loves God, he or she resolves to bring God joy by sharing in God's work to crown creation with justice and compassion.
Despite his conviction that the prophetic consciousness captured the heart of traditional Judaism, Heschel's thought found its primary resonance not among the adherents of halakhah but among those Jews in need of an interpretation of Judaism that would authenticate their participation as Jews in the humane causes of their generation. Heschel's message of prophetic concern and responsibility spoke to a generation of American Jews in the 1960s and 1970s who felt themselves called on as Jews to join the struggle on behalf of civil rights for African Americans and to oppose the Vietnam War, which they regarded as unjust.
American-educated Orthodox Jews who are sensitive to the philosophical and religious questions raised by the contemporary West found their voice in Joseph Baer Soloveitchik (1903–1993), a descendant of renowned Lithuanian rabbis. Emigrating to the United States in 1932, he became one of the twentieth century's most esteemed Talmudists; he spoke with rare authority within the Orthodox community, pondering from the perspective of one firmly and unapologetically grounded in halakhah those questions generated by what he regarded as the ambiguous position of people of faith in a technological, pragmatic civilization shaped by pronouncedly secular bias. Assuming the self-evident validity of Judaism and religious faith, Soloveitchik did not challenge the premises of technological civilization but, rather, chose to defend within the context of that civilization the integrity of what he termed "the halakhic man." He achieved this by a phenomenological description of the religious consciousness of the halakhic man, elaborating his exposition with insights garnered from a subtle reading of modern philosophy, especially neo-Kantianism and existentialism. He concluded that those who follow the halakhic way are not antagonistic to the moral and cognitive concerns of the technological society; however, whereas the latter requires a social and gregarious personality, the halakhic follower accepts the individual's existential loneliness, overcoming the attendant isolation and anxiety through a redemptive love of God and Torah. The congregation of Jews forged by the Torah is a covenantal community that respects the solitary, existential reality of each of its members, who are joined to God and each other in a common covenantal relation sacrally objectified by the halakhah.
The European Jewish intellectual heritage has also inspired a generation of American-born Jewish religious thinkers, including Eugene B. Borowitz (b. 1924), Arthur A. Cohen (1928–1986), Will Herberg (1902–1977), David Hartman (b. 1931), Jakob J. Petuchowski (b. 1925), Richard L. Rubenstein (b. 1924), and Milton Steinberg (1903–1950). Characteristically, the writings of these individuals have been largely interpretative commentaries on the thought of their European predecessors. This dependence may be indicative not only of a pervasive sense of being the indebted heirs of the European intellectual tradition, but also of a portentous feeling of being their survivors. The tragic, catastrophic end of European Jewry created, in the words of Arthur Cohen, a profound caesura (a sudden silencing of sound) in Jewish collective and personal existence, engendering a sense of inconsolable mourning and obligation.
In reflecting on the tragedy of the Nazi era and its theological implications for the surviving remnant of Jewry, American Jews have been at their most original and probing. The resulting theology of the Holocaust may in many respects be viewed as a theology of survival—a theology that seeks to affirm the obligations of the remnant of Jewry to survive somehow as Jews. Auschwitz, according to Emil L. Fackenheim (1916–2003) issues a commandment to Jews to endure and to ensure the survival of Judaism. This commandment has also inspired the slow but impressive reconstruction of European Jewry, which has likewise witnessed the renewal of Jewish religious thought, most notably represented by Louis Jacobs (b. 1920) in England and Emmanuel Lévinas (1906–1995) in France.
Lévinas, one of the most esteemed philosophers of post–World War II France, represents a continuation of the existentialist thought pioneered by Rosenzweig and Buber. Employing the metaphysical phenomenology he developed as a critique of Edmund Husserl's (1859–1938) and Martin Heidegger's (1889–1976) concept of "the other," Lévinas sought to illuminate the religious meaning of Judaism. The moral experience of the other, borne by a compelling sense of responsibility toward that other, is the only genuine knowledge that can be attained of the other. Lévinas contrasts the antihumanistic tendency of Western culture, which masquerades as liberty but which is in fact bereft of responsibility for the other, with the biblical concept, especially as elaborated by the rabbis, of "a difficult liberty" (the title of his most important collection of essays on Judaism, Difficile Liberté ). The Jew obtains transcendence, and thus liberty, by paradoxically living under God's law, which requires of the Jew ethical and social responsibility for the other. The biblical person, Lévinas observes with oblique reference to Heidegger, discovers a fellow person before anything else. As the custodian of biblical humanism, Lévinas avers, Judaism defiantly proclaims to the contemporary world that liberty entails responsibility and obligation.
For all Jewish thinkers who regard themselves as living in the shadow of Auschwitz, the State of Israel, born on the morrow of the Nazi nightmare, is the overarching symbol of Jewish survival and resolve to endure. Survival is affirmed, however, not simply in defiance of Satan and Satan's zealous agents but, rather, as an existential commitment to the God of Israel. Despite their horror and anguish, it is held, Jews must affirm God as the author of a purposeful and good universe. Fackenheim cites the Psalmist: "I shall not die but live, and declare the works of God" (Ps. 18:17).
This affirmation of Judaism as a living faith has led an increasing number of younger Jews—particularly, but not only, in America—to reappropriate the study of sacred Jewish texts as the axis of Jewish spirituality. Inspired by postmodernism and its critique of the Enlightenment's quest for one objective truth, these thinkers wish to revalorize Judaism as a community of study in which its foundational texts are continuously reinterpreted with no claim to the absolute validity of one's reading. The study of these texts and their inexhausitble interpretation is said to renew the traditional understanding of Torah study—broadly called midrash—as the principal medium of Israel's covenantal relation with God and God's revealed Word. As David Stern observes, Midrash was for the rabbis—and for their postmodern heirs—"a kind of conversation" enabling God "to speak to them from between the lines of Scripture, in the textual fissures and discontinuities that exegesis discovers" (Stern, 1996, p. 31).
An admirably lucid introduction to the major figures and themes of modern Jewish thought is provided in Robert M. Seltzer, Jewish People, Jewish Thought: The Jewish Experience in History (New York, 1980), chaps. 12, 13, 15, and 16. A nuanced weave of intellectual and social history, this volume illuminatingly places the development of Jewish thought within its cultural and historical context. A more strictly philosophical survey of the major protagonists of modern Jewish thought is Steven T. Katz, ed., Jewish Philosophers (New York, 1975). This volume is a useful compilation of articles on Jewish philosophers from the ancient period to the present that originally appeared in the Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971). The editor concludes the volume with a concise review of Jewish thought since 1945, dealing extensively with Heschel, Soloveitchik, post-Holocaust theologians, and other contemporary voices.
For authoritative scholarly analyses, which the general reader might find occasionally arcane, see Julius Guttmann, Philosophies of Judaism: The History of Jewish Philosophy from Biblical Times to Franz Rosenzweig, translated by David W. Silverman, with an introduction by R. J. Zwi Werblowsky (New York, 1964) and Nathan Rotenstreich, Jewish Philosophy in Modern Times: From Mendelssohn to Rosenzweig (New York, 1968). With somewhat less attention to philosophical detail, Heinz M. Graupe's The Rise of Modern Judaism: An Intellectual History of German Jewry, translated by John Robinson (Huntington, N.Y., 1978) provides an excellent and thorough discussion of the cultural history of Jewish thought in Germany from Mendelssohn to Rosenzweig. Graupe has also provided an excellent bibliography of the relevant German-language literature.
The best biography of Mendelssohn is Alexander Altmann's magisterial Moses Mendelssohn: A Biographical Study (University, Ala., 1973). Altmann has also written a most instructive introduction and commentary to Mendelssohn's Jerusalem, or on Religion and Power in Judaism (1783), translated by Allan Arkush (Hanover, N.H., 1983).
The impact of Kant, Schelling, and Hegel is subtly traced in Nathan Rotenstreich's Jews and German Philosophy: the Polemics of Emancipation (New York, 1984). Immanuel Kant's Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone (1793), translated with an introduction and notes by Theodore M. Greene and Hoyt H. Hudson (New York, 1960) provides a primary source for readers.
Fundamental documents with commentary of the Wissenschaft des Judentums may be found in Paul R. Mendes-Flohr and Jehuda Reinharz, The Jew in the Modern World: A Documentary History, 2d ed., rev. (Oxford, 1995), chap. 5. Ideological issues surrounding the founding of modern Jewish scholarship are discussed at length in Michael A. Meyer, The Origin of the Modern Jew: Jewish Identity and Europoean Culture in Germany, 1749–1824 (Detroit, 1967), chap. 6. The problems posed to Jewish thought by Wissenschaft des Judentums and historicism are considered both historically and analytically in Nathan Rotenstreich, Tradition and Reality: The Impact of History on Modern Jewish Thought (New York, 1972), chaps. 2–4. Historical memory and the modern Jewish imagination are sensitively discussed in Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory, 2d ed. (New York, 1989), chap. 4. The relation between Jewish historiography and philosophies of Jewish history is the subject of Lionel Kochan, The Jew and His History (New York, 1977).
Hermann Cohen's basic Jewish writings are available in Religion of Reason out of the Sources of Judaism (1919), translated and with an introduction by Simon Kaplan, 2d ed. (Atlanta, 1995) and Reason and Hope: Selections from the Jewish Writings of Hermann Cohen, translated and edited by Eva Jospe (New York, 1971). For a sample of Gordon's writings, see Arthur Hertzberg, ed., The Zionist Idea, pp. 368–386 (New York, 1969). For an examination of Mordecai Kaplan's Reconstructionism, see Charles S. Liebman, "Reconstructionism in American Jewish Life," American Jewish Year Book 71 (1970): 3–99. Kaplan's most comprehensive presentation of his program is Judaism as a Civilization: Toward a Reconstruction of American Jewish Life (New York, 1936, reprint 1981).
Although the writings of Ludwig Steinheim are unfortunately not available in English, each of the above-mentioned general surveys of modern Jewish thought provides an overview of his thought. For a German reading, see Solomon Ludwig Steinheim, Offenbarung nach dem Lehrbegriff der Synagoge [Revelation according to the Doctrine of the Synagogue], 4 vols. (Frankfurt, Germany, 1835). For a detailed and critical examination of Steinheim's unique theological position, see Heinz M. Graupe's The Rise of Modern Judaism (Huntington, N.Y., 1978), pp. 231ff., and Joshua O. Haberman's "Solomon Ludwig Steinheim's Doctrine of Revelation," Judaism 17 (Winter 1968): 22–41. One should also consult the remarkable collection of essays in Hans Joachim Schoeps, Heinz Mosche Graupe, and Gerd-Hesse Goeman, eds., Salomon Ludwig Steinheim zum Gedenken (Leiden, 1966). Also see Hans Joachim Schoeps, Vom Bleibenden und Vergänglichen im Judentum (Berlin, 1935).
The best introduction to Rosenzweig remains Nahum N. Glatzer, Franz Rosenzweig: His Life and Thought, 3d ed. (Indianapolis, 1998). The most sustained and careful analysis of Rosenzweig's thought is Stéphane Mosès, System and Revelation. The Philosophy of Franz Rosenzweig (Detroit, 1992), which also includes a comprehensive bibliography of Rosenzweig's works in translation as well as the scholarly secondary literature. For primary readings, see Franz Rosenzweig, Kleinere Schriften (Berlin, 1937); Stern der Erlösung (Frankfurt, Germany, 1921), which was later published in English as The Star Of Redemption, translated by Barbara E. Galli (Madison, Wis., 2004); "The Builders: Concerning the Law," in On Jewish Learning, edited by Nahum N. Glatzer, pp. 72–92 (New York, 1965); and E. Rosenstock-Huessy, ed., Judaism despite Christianity (New York, 1971).
Buber's writings are widely available in English, and commentaries on his thought constitute a veritable library. Two excellent bibliographical guides to this literature are of immeasurable value: Margot Cohn and Rafael Buber, Martin Buber: A Bibliography of His Writings, 1897–1978 (Jerusalem, 1980) and Willard Moonon, Martin Buber and His Critics: An Annotated Bibliography of Writings in English through 1978 (New York, 1981). For a synoptic view of Buber's thought, see Maurice Friedman, Martin Buber's Life and Thought, 3 vols. (New York, 1981–1984). For a direct reading, see Martin Burber, I and Thou, translated with prologue and notes by Walter Kaufmann (New York, 1970).
For a representative selection of Leibowitz's writings, see Yeshayahu Leibowitz, Judaism, Human Values, and the Jewish State, edited by E. Goldman (Cambridge, Mass., 1992).
Lévinas has gathered his essays on Jewish themes in his Difficult Freedom: Essays on Judaism, translated by Sean Hand (Baltimore, 1990). For his reflections on Judaism, presented through weekly lessons on select passages of the Talmud and other rabbinic writings, see his Nine Talmudic Readitings, translated with introduction by Richard Al Cohen (Pittsburgh, 1999). For comprehensive discussions of Lévinas's conception of Judaism, see two works by Richard A. Cohen: "Emmanuel Lévinas," in Steven T. Katz, ed., Intrerpretations of Judaism in the Twentieth Century, pp. 205–228 (Washington, D.C., 1993) and Elevations: The Heights of the Good in Levinas and Rosenzweig (Chicago, 1994), as well as Robert Gibbs, Correlations in Rosenzweig and Levinas (Princeton, N.J., 1992). For a concise but judicious introduction to the issues of twentieth-century Jewish thought, with specific focus on Hermann Cohen, Franz Rosenzweig, Martin Buber, A. D. Gordon, and Rav Kook, see Samuel H. Bergman's Faith and Reason: An Introduction to Modern Jewish Thought, translated and edited by Alfred Jospe (Washington, D.C., 1961). A comprehensive and nuanced analysis of the abiding issues and unresolved tensions of modern Jewish religious thought is given in Gershom Scholem's "Reflections on Jewish Thought," in On Jews and Judaism in Crisis, edited by Werner J. Dannhauser, pp. 261–297 (New York, 1976).
The hermeneutic turn in Jewish thought inspired by postmodernism is documented in two collection of essays: Steven Kepnes, ed., Interpreting Judaism in a Postmodern Age (New York, 1996) and Peter Ochs and Nancy Levene, eds., Textural Reasoning. Jewish Philosophy and Text Study at the End of the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids, Mich., 2002). The appeal of postmodern philosophers and literary critics to midrash is critically appraised by David Stern, Midrash and Theory. Ancient Jewish Exegesis and Contemporary Literary Studies (Evanston, Ill., 1996), especially chapter 1, "Midrash and Hermeneutics: Polysemy and Indeterminacy."
Paul R. Mendes-Flohr (1987 and 2005)
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