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Philosophy and the Jewish Question

Mendelssohn, Rosenzweig, and Beyond

Bruce Rosenstock

Publication Year: 2009

Drawing together two critical moments in the history of European Jewry-its entrance as a participant in the Enlightenment project of religious and political reform and its involvement in the traumatic upheavals brought on by the Great War-this book offers a reappraisal of the intersection of culture, politics, theology, and philosophy in the modern world through the lens of two of the most important thinkers of their day, Moses Mendelssohn and Franz Rosenzweig. Their vision of the place of the Jewish people not only within German society but also within the unfolding history of humankind as a whole challenged the reigning cultural assumptions of the day and opened new ways of thinking about reason, language, politics, and the sources of ethical obligation. In making the Jewish questionserve as a way of reflecting upon the human questionof how we can live together in acknowledgment of our finitude, our otherness, and our shared hope for a more just future, Mendelssohn and Rosenzweig modeled a way of doing philosophy as an engaged intervention in the most pressing existential issues confronting us all.In the final chapters of the book, the path beyond Mendelssohn and Rosenzweig is traced out in the work of Hannah Arendt and Stanley Cavell. In light of Arendt's and Cavell's reflections about the foundations of democratic sociality, Rosenstock offers a portrait of an immigrant Rosenzweigjoined in conversation with his American cousins.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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pp. xiii-xvi

I owe a debt of gratitude to the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities for providing me a fellowship in 2005–6 that allowed me to take a semester off from teaching and work entirely on this book. The fellows who met weekly to discuss ongoing projects offered immense support. In...

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Introduction: Mendelssohn and Rosenzweig Beyond 1800

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pp. 1-27

The year 1800 marks a moment when, according to Rosenzweig, history takes a false turn. The generation living around the year 1800, having witnessed an unprecedented popular revolution in France, sensed that they stood on the cusp of a new and glorious future. Rosenzweig finds this sense of nearly messianic expectancy in a verse from Friedrich Hŏlderlin’s poem...

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One: Performing Reason: Mendelssohnon Judaism and Enlightenment

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pp. 28-78

In the September 1784 edition of the Berlinische Monatschrift, the leading Prussian journal devoted to advancing the cause of Enlightenment, Moses Mendelssohn published his response to a question posed by the editor of the journal: ‘‘Was ist Aufkla¨rung?’’ or ‘‘What is Enlightenment?’’1 In December...

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Two: Jacobi and Mendelssohn: The Tragedy of a Messianic Friendship

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pp. 79-122

For nearly two years, from November, 1783 until October, 1785, Moses Mendelssohn and Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi engaged in an exchange of letters that proved to be of overwhelming significance for the future of philosophy. Jacobi published the narrative of this epistolary philosophical quarrel...

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Three: In the Year of the Lord 1800: Rosenzweigand the Spinoza Quarrel

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pp. 123-161

Despite all their differences, Mendelssohn and Jacobi shared a conviction, a faith, that God reveals himself to humanity in the contingency of a historical moment. Furthermore, this contingent revelation is made to particular individuals and is not accessible to the universalizing grasp of reason. Both...

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Four: Reinhold and Kant: The Quest for a New Religion of Reason

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pp. 162-204

This chapter will focus on Reinhold and Kant, and the next will focus on Hegel. These chapters together examine how Reinhold, Kant, and Hegel search for a new version of the religion of reason that had been so central to the Enlightenment and which, they all agreed, had shown itself in need...

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Five: Beautiful Life: Mendelssohn, Hegel, and Rosenzweig

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pp. 205-243

Hegel’s philosophical supersession of Judaism—perhaps the central theme of his early (pre-1800) theological writings—is the most challenging of those I will explore and the most consequential for Rosenzweig. Quite unlike Reinhold and Kant, Hegel acknowledges finite, embodied life as the...

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Six: Mendelssohn, Rosenzweig, and Political Theology: Beyond Sovereign Violence

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pp. 244-275

In the previous chapters I have attempted to show how Rosenzweig frees Mendelssohn’s vision of Jewish existence as embodied revelation from its repression beneath the edifice of idealist philosophy, an edifice constructed in the aftermath of the Spinoza Quarrel. Breaking through the systematizing philosophy of 1800, Rosenzweig opens a path toward a Judaism lived as...

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Seven: Beyond 1800: An Immigrant Rosenzweig

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pp. 276-308

In this chapter I imagine an ‘‘immigrant Rosenzweig.’’ I will offer an alternative, democratic vision of political theology, one that draws from both Hannah Arendt and Stanley Cavell in order to illuminate aspects of Rosenzweig’s thought that he himself did not foreground in his discussion of the...

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Epilogue: Pirates of the Caribbean Once More

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pp. 309-324

I would like to return to the topic of radical evil, the centerpiece of what I dubbed Kant’s ‘‘sublime’’ religion of reason. In the previous chapter I suggested, following the lead of Stanley Cavell, that the beauty of a dance number between Fred Astaire and an African American shoeshine man...


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pp. 325-356


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pp. 357-366


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pp. 367-376

E-ISBN-13: 9780823248322
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823231294
Print-ISBN-10: 0823231291

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 741343733
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Philosophy and the Jewish Question

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Subject Headings

  • Judaism and philosophy.
  • Jewish philosophy.
  • Judaism and politics.
  • Judaism -- Doctrines.
  • Mendelssohn, Moses, 1729-1786.
  • Rosenzweig, Franz, 1886-1929.
  • Arendt, Hannah, 1906-1975.
  • Cavell, Stanley, 1926-.
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