Sunday, October 2, 2011

[Shefa] RE: 'Covenant of Creatures', Levinas, and other stuff


Dear fellow Shefa-ites,

For those who may have any interest in the intersection of philosophy and theology in Judaism (I have difficulty understanding how anyone would not!), I am currently reading Michael Fagenblat's book "Covenant of Creatures:  Levinas's Philosophy of Judaism" and it just keeps getting better and better!
Given that Levinas is a bridge between the secular world of academic philosophy and the religious world of Judaic theology, these ideas are especially relevant to anyone involved in the Conservative movement--or, for that matter, any contemporary Jew interested in modern Jewish thought. 
While Levinas can be considered a Continental philosopher who originally trained in the German school of phenomenology under Husserl, his ideas about the primacy of ethics, the implications of the face-to-face encounter between human "existents", the difference between mere existence and ethical / covenantal living, as well as the importance of freedom and responsibility in the context of morality, the imperative of taking action to counter-act evil, are all critically important issues and deep insights for the contemporary world as it totters on the edge.

Is there anyone at JTS who is teaching this stuff???  With the kind of passion that comes across in Fagenblat's book??  I am assuming that Rabbi Ira Stone of the Philadelphia Mussar Institute may be involved in that endeavor.

Seems to me that Michael Fagenblat might be someone that the JTS might consider bringing in for a lecture at some point.

Or, if not JTS, then maybe the Foundation for Jewish Studies ( ) based in the suburbs of Washington/Baltimore (Rockville, MD) that seems to be doing some very cool stuff in its guest lecture series (check it out!).

By the way, there was what sounds like it was a great amazing seminar given by Professor Leora Batnitzky (director of the Princeton Tikvah Project on Modern Jewish Thought--check it out!) on "Revelation" in Modern Jewish Thought back on the Labor Day Weekend in a retreat sponsored by the FJS.
I was totally bummed out because I was unable to get in because it sold out and registration closed out before I got wind of it, and am now anxiously awaiting to see if the JFS is going to make audio from Professor Batnitzky's lectures available on line.  Until that happens, if you are interested in the topic, you can check out the reading list, lecture notes and related materials provided by Professor Batnitzky at the following webpage:     
And--wouldn't you know it?--Emmanuel Levinas, along with Emil Fackenheim, are referenced in the fourth session of this course on post-Holocaust Jewish thought. 
The historical context for all of this looking at Levinas's biography, for example, is totally unprecedented in all of Jewish history.  And so one would expect that a brilliant thinker like Levinas engaged deeply, directly and personally in the Shoah as an officer in the French Resistance captured and imprisoned by the Germans, would be moved to an altogether radically new level of insight by his direct personal experiences.  And, I believe, he was.  And we all can potentially receive the gifts of his insight.

Wishing everyone an easy fast on YK coming up this Shabbos.

G'mar Chatimah Tovah, y'all!



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