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Chalier, Catherine


CHALIER, CATHERINE (1947– ), French author. Born in Paris, Chalier received a classical French education, later acquiring a mastery of Hebrew and a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Paris (1981) and becoming a professor of philosophy at the University of Nanterre. Her books include Judaï et altérité (1982); Figures du féminin (Lecture d'Emmanuel Lévinas) (1982); Les Matriarches: Sarah, Rébecca, Rachel et Léa (1985); La Persévérance du mal (1987); and L'Alliance avec la nature (1989); Lévinas, l'utopie de l'humain (1993); Sagesse des sens (1995); L'Inspiration du philosophe (1996); Pour une morale au-delà du savoir: Kant et Lévinas (1998); Trace de l'Infini: Emmanuel Levinas et la source hebraïque (2002); and Traité des larmes: fragilité de Dieu, fragilité de l'âme (2003).

Strongly influenced by the philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas and his strong emphasis on Jewish ethics, Chalier applies a rigorous philosophical treatment to traditional Jewish texts, disclaiming the commonly accepted distinction between faith and reason. She sets out to show that the Hebrew Scriptures can stir and renovate the Western philosophical quest, thereby upsetting a French taboo against linking philosophical approach and Bible studies. She asks whether human speech was perhaps not primarily intended to articulate rational thinking, but rather to answer God's words, in accordance with biblical teaching. Thus in La Persévérance du mal, she seeks to refute the accepted philosophical equation between "being" and "reason for being." In L'Alliance avec la nature, she questions the common notion of a split between Judaism and nature. While cosmic order cannot constitute a source for ethical rules of behavior and standards of morality, nature has its share in the "Alliance": nature, like man, will be redeemed in the later days.

In a somewhat different vein, Charlier gives an interesting portrayal of the "Matriarchs": Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah, bringing out their primary role in the founding of Jewish tradition. She skillfully blends the reading of the Hebrew biblical text in all its resonances and allusive meanings with references to Midrashim, talmudic controversies, Kabbalistic sayings, and even modern poetic readings. Neither mythological figures nor literary characters, the Matriarchs emerge as essentially responsible for Israel's universal mission of truth and morality.

[Denise R. Goitein]

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