3E Principles & Philosophy of Judaism
by Dr. Sarah Imhoff
Dr. Sarah Imhoff is an Assistant Professor in the
Religious Studies and Borns Jewish Studies Program at Indiana University,
Some have questioned whether or not there is such a thing that
could properly be called Jewish theology. Nevertheless, for many centuries,
Jewish thinkers have tackled questions about the nature of God, the
relationship of God and humans, the place of belief and practice in the modern
world, and other theologically-inflected questions.
Twelfth century philosopher Moshe ben Maimon, better known as
Maimonides, is still relied on as one of the most influential expositors of
Judaism and Jewish law. In his Guide for
the Perplexed and other writings, some of which are available in the Maimonides Reader, he uses Aristotelian
logic to create a coherent and orderly presentation of Jewish law. The
excommunicated philosopher Baruch Spinoza’s seventeenth century tracts later
paved the way for Jewish enlightenment thought. Moses Mendelssohn’s 1783 Jerusalem sought to retain both a
commitment to rationalism and the value of halakhah in its articulation of
modern political power and its relationship to religious freedom.
Hermann Cohen’s classic Religion
of Reason mounts a neo-Kantian argument for the reasonableness of Judaism
and its traditional sources. Franz Rosenzweig’s 1921 masterpiece Star of Redemption remains a Jewish
classic because of its remarkable depth and erudition; departing from German
Idealism, Rosenzweig focused on concepts such as creation and revelation, and
the relationship of the self to the world. The Star stands as arguably the most significant book in modern Jewish
philosophy. In his study Correlations in
Rosenzweig and Levinas, Robert Gibbs brings rereadings of Franz Rosenzweig
and twentieth century philosopher Emmanuel Levinas together, despite their
biographical, methodological, and philosophical differences, to argue for the
reorientation of philosophy toward the unavoidable obligation toward others.
Emil Fackenheim’s Quest for
Past and Future and God’s Presence in
History are both essential works of post-Holocaust considerations of the
possibilities and capacities of a Jewish God. Abraham Joshua Heschel’s God in Search of Man and Between God and Man probe questions
about the human relationship to the divine, especially through biblical
interpretations and perennial questions of chosenness. Other scholars have
studied the philosophical trends these thinkers represent. For instance, in Interim Judaism, Michael Morgan traces
the works and themes of these thinkers and others in twentieth century Jewish
philosophy as they experienced war, the Holocaust, postmodernism, and other
historical developments. Steven Katz’s Post
Holocaust Dialogues reevaluates standard interpretations of Jewish
philosophers of the second half of the twentieth century.
the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first century, Arthur
Green’s Seek My Face articulates a
contemporary Jewish theology based on mysticism but oriented to modern Jews
seeking religious experience within their world. In Body of Faith, Michael Wyschogrod articulates a traditional Judaism
with and through the language of modern philosophy and Christian theology.
Michael Fishbane’s Sacred Attunement
offers a contemporary hermeneutical theology that focuses on cultivation of the
self through attention to art, nature, and scripture.