Answer from Judaism - Principles & Philosophy Books

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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, Bloomington.

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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.

At 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.