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Instructor Class Description

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Michael Rosenthal
JSIS B 418
Seattle Campus

Jewish Philosophy

Introduces the central concepts and themes of Jewish philosophy. Focuses either on debates within a particular historical period - e.g., medieval or modern- or on a topic - e.g., reactions to the Enlightenment or to the Holocaust. Prerequisite: at least one previous course in philosophy. Offered: jointly with PHIL 418.

Class description

The Enlightenment defined the course of modern Jewish philosophy. It criticized traditional notions of revelation and it reconfigured the relation of the Jewish community to the nascent liberal state. Radical figures like Spinoza claimed that prophecy was not a means to achieve philosophical wisdom but only a useful way of directing people to help each other in society. More moderate thinkers like Mendelssohn thought that Judaism should be a voluntary community based on belief, which submitted to the authority of the state, rather than an independent political entity. The idea of a normative symbiosis of Jewish thought with its surrounding culture reached an apotheosis in the early twentieth century neo-Kantianism of Hermann Cohen. Even those who rejected the enlightenment realized that it was impossible to avoid its influence. Marx argued that the solution to the so-called “Jewish Question” was the complete elimination of religion that would come about through the Communist revolution. Theodor Herzl and the early Zionists believed that assimilation was doomed to failure and that the Jews had to adopt the idea of a nation-state based on a homogenous population as a political goal. In response to the alienation of the modern world Martin Buber crafted a romantic vision of religious experience based on creative readings of Hasidic stories. After the debacle of World War I, Jewish thinkers called into question these now seemingly naïve utopian dreams, whether liberal or Marxist, and offered new ways of thinking based on sophisticated theories of language and politics. But any hope that Jewish life could thrive in Europe was dashed by the rise of Nazism. The very possibility of Jewish philosophy was confronted by the specter of annihilation. In this course, we will examine this narrative through critical reading and discussion of key philosophical texts. (Joint with PHIL 418) TEXTS: Required: Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, Walter Benjamin; I and Thou, Martin Buber; The Ethics of Maimonides, Hermann Cohn; The Jewish State, Theodor Herzl; Jerusalem: Or On Religious Power And Judaism, Moses Mendelssohn; Philosophical and Theological Writings, Franz Rosenzweig; Theological-Political Treatise, B. Spinoza; The Early Writings: 1921-1932, Leo Strauss; Recommended: The Cambridge Companion to Modern Jewish Philosophy, M. Morgan and P. Gordon.

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General method of instruction

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Class assignments and grading


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Annette R. Bernier
Date: 11/06/2012