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Cambridge Forum for Jewish Studies


Dr Daniel Weiss (Divinity/Murray Edwards)

We will be looking at different modern German-Jewish thinkers – Moses Mendelssohn, Hermann Cohen, Franz Rosenzweig, and Walter Benjamin – and at relationships between each modern thinker’s ideas and the ethical and theological concepts of classical rabbinic literature. In particular, I will examine the way in which each of these thinkers resists and opposes various forms of violence and coercion often directed against individual human beings in the name of generality or collectivity. In exploring this theme, I will draw upon the classical rabbinic notion of the ‘image of God’ as corresponding specifically to the embodied human being, as well as the rabbinic notion that God maintains exclusive sovereignty over human life and death, and I will highlight the ways in which the classical texts can illuminate previously overlooked ethical and political elements of the modern thinkers, as well as ways in which the modern thinkers can illuminate rational and ethical dynamics in the classical Jewish texts.

Beyond its implications for scholars interested in classical or modern Jewish thought, the project has a broader significance in foregrounding the possibility of an alternative strand of modern thinking and critique that can serve to illuminate and counteract the implicit de-valuing of the bodily life of the unique individual found in the generalizing tendencies of dominant streams of modern thought and philosophy.


Part of the CRASSH Fellows Work in Progress seminar series. All welcome, but please email Michelle Maciejewska if you wish to attend and to request readings.   Sandwich lunch and refreshments provided.

Monday, 2 February, 2015 - 12:30 to 14:00
Event location: 
CRASSH Meeting Room