SCHWEID, ELIEZER (1929– ), Israeli philosopher, scholar of Jewish studies, and educator. Born in Jerusalem to socialist-Zionist parents who made aliyah to Palestine in 1924/5, he was educated in the "worker's-stream" school system established by the Zionist labor movement. He was active first in the Maḥanot ha-Olim youth movement and later in the Tenu'ah ha-Me'uḥedet. In 1947 Schweid joined his youth movement's hakhsharah, with which he enlisted in the Palmaḥ and fought in Israel's War of Independence. Upon release from military service in 1949 he became a founding member of kibbutz Ẓor'a.
In 1953, Schweid began his studies at the Hebrew University under such formidable figures as Gershom Scholem, Shlomo Pines, and Yitzhak Baer. He joined the faculty of the university in 1961 and subsequently redesigned the discipline of Jewish Thought as a course of study that includes all intellectual endeavor within Jewish civilization, from biblical literature to the present. His most important contribution to Jewish scholarship, in this regard, was the introduction of Jewish Thought in the modern period as a legitimate focus in both teaching and systematic research. Schweid's scholarly and philosophical works delve into the breadth and depth of modern Jewish Thought, though he also contributed to the research of medieval Jewish philosophy, as well as biblical thought.
Schweid always displayed a deep interest in Jewish education, including his role in establishing (1974) Kerem, the humanistically oriented teachers college in Jerusalem aimed at training teachers in Jewish studies for the non-religious Israeli public schools; his involvement in "the Shenhar Commission" (1995), which formulated a new approach to Jewish studies in the general educational system in Israel; and his teaching at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. He was awarded the Israel Prize in Jewish Thought in 1994.
As a philosopher of Judaism, Eliezer Schweid is best known for his focus on the concept of Judaism as culture. His particular understanding of Jewish existence may be seen as a combination of the attitude initially held by the eastern European *Haskalah of the 19th century, and that of the western European Liberal Judaism and the *Wissenschaft des Judentums which developed within its environment. The latter contributed to Schweid's interpretation of Judaism from a universal-humanistic perspective and religio-philosophical dimension. The thinkers whose writings had the biggest influence on him are Ḥayyim Naḥman *Bialik, Aharon David *Gordon, and Hermann *Cohen. Bialik's call for a renewal of Jewish culture and religiosity, combining modern secularism with a deep commitment to the continuity of Jewish tradition, reappears in Schweid's work as a call for the general public to take responsibility for Jewish culture in all its aspects (see: The Jewish Experience of Time: Philosophical Dimensions of the Jewish Holy Days, trans. by Amnon Hadary, (2000)). A.D. Gordon's philosophy of nature, on the other hand, serves as the basis for Schweid's particular interpretation of Zionism as an extension of Jewish life, and for his ethical-religious vision of a future Jewish society that may be described in terms of prophetic-socialism. In Masot Gordoniyyot Ḥadashot – Humanism Globalizaẓya, Post-Modernism ve-ha-Am ha-Yehudi (2005), Schweid uses various insights acquired through his studies of Gordon's writings to delineate the social, cultural, and moral challenges facing the Jewish people in the present period of globalization, and to show how these challenges may be met successfully. Finally, Schweid found in the thought of Hermann Cohen a basis for discussing the religio-ethical value of Judaism as a historical religion. From the beginning, Schweid's understanding of Judaism as culture was of a secularist orientation, in that for him culture is the result of human creativity. And yet, over time, he came to emphasize more and more the religious elements of Judaism as necessary to bring to fruition the social and ethical orientations already emphasized in the socialist-Zionist education he received as a youth.
As an educator and a philosophical observer of Jewish education in its social-cultural context, Schweid's approach may be seen as similar to that of the American Jewish philosopher, Mordecai *Kaplan. The Israeli equivalent to Kaplan's presentation of Judaism as a civilization is Schweid's demand that we understand Judaism as a broad culture in which non-religious Jews must be party to the continued existence of the Jewish heritage and contribute to its current development. Like Kaplan, Eliezer Schweid's philosophical reflection on the problems of Jewish existence is that of a man of faith who nevertheless is deeply rooted in the tenets of modern secularism.
A full bibliography of Schweid's works is in Yehoyada Amir (ed.), Derekh ha-Ru'aḥ (Eliezer Schweid Jubilee Volume), vol. 1 (Jerusalem, 2005), 451–97.
Y. Amir, Derekh ha-Ru'aḥ (2005), 3–162 (studies of various aspects of his philosophy and scholarly works); M. Oppenheim, "Eliezer Schweid," in: S. Katz (ed.), Interpreters of Judaism in the Twentieth Century (1993), 301–24; G. Greenberg, "Consoling Truth – Eliezer Schweid's 'Ben Hurban le'yeshua'," in: Modern Judaism, 17:3 (1997), 297–311.
[Joseph Turner and
Yehoyada Amir (2nd ed.)]