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Levinas, Judaism, and the Feminine

The Silent Footsteps of Rebecca

Claire Elise Katz

Publication Year: 2003

Challenging previous interpretations of Levinas that gloss over his use of the feminine or show how he overlooks questions raised by feminists, Claire Elise Katz explores the powerful and productive links between the feminine and religion in Levinas's work. Rather than viewing the feminine as a metaphor with no significance for women or as a means to reinforce traditional stereotypes, Katz goes beyond questions of sexual difference to reach a more profound understanding of the role of the feminine in Levinas's conception of ethical responsibility. She combines feminist interpretations of Levinas with interpretations that focus on his Jewish writings to reveal that the feminine provides an important bridge between his philosophy and his Judaism. Katz's reading of Levinas's conception of the feminine against the backdrop of discussions of women of the Hebrew bible points to important shifts in contemporary philosophy toward the creation of life and care for the other.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion

Front Matter

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pp. i-v


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

I wrote the initial draft of this book well before my pregnancy and the birth of my first child. However, I undertook substantial revisions to the manuscript during my pregnancy and well into the first year of my daughter’s life. My relationship with my newborn, who then became a crawling baby...

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pp. xi-xiii

This book grew out of my dissertation, which I defended in 1999 at the University of Memphis. Although my fundamental interests in Levinas’s use of the feminine and the role of Judaism and his Jewish writings in his philosophical thought have not changed, the project has changed dramatically. I thank the members of the...


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pp. xv-xvi

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pp. 1-7

In a 1982 radio interview with Emmanuel Levinas and Alain Finkielkraut, Shlomo Malka refers to Levinas as the “philosopher of the ‘other.’”1 This designation accurately describes Levinas and his philosophical project, which focuses on responsibility to the other. Levinas’s philosophy demonstrates a radical shift...

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pp. 8-21

According to Levinas, the “Greek” signifies the prevailing emphasis on being, on our conatus essendi, on the will to survive, on self-preservation. The Bible, he maintains, signifies the possibility of something other than the drive to exist, the possibility of interrupting our conatus essendi, the possibility of something greater...

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pp. 22-34

Levinas’s critique of Heidegger in Time and the Other lays the foundation for a philosophical framework that assigns priority to the intersubjective relationship rather than to Dasein’s solitary relation to its own death. Levinas’s goal in this collection of lectures is to demonstrate that time is “not the achievement of an isolated...

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pp. 35-54

In a footnote to her introduction to The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir takes Levinas to task for what she sees as his attempts, allegedly like those of preceding philosophers, to posit woman as Other. The footnote, including the passage that she cites from Time and the Other, reads as follows...

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pp. 55-65

We saw in the previous chapter that in Time and the Other, the feminine, conceived as eros, is the originary experience of alterity. We also saw that sexual difference informs the theme of separation and individuation and establishes the conditions for the ethical relation, even though the ethical is not yet named in this book...

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pp. 66-77

In “Choreographies,” Jacques Derrida asks, “What kind of an ethics would there be if belonging to one sex or another became its law or privilege? What if the universality of moral laws were modeled on or limited according to the sexes? What if their universality were not unconditional, without...

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pp. 78-96

Although the criticisms of Levinas’s philosophy are well taken, we should acknowledge the dilemma in which he finds himself. He must write from his own point of view, that of a man, lest he be accused of trying to presume to know what love would be for a woman. In this respect, his discussion of love...

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pp. 97-107

Rashi’s reading of the creation story allows us to see how basic the idea of alterity is to Jewish thought. His interpretation highlights the strange conception of time that informs the creation story. On the one hand, the Torah is received by those who would be called Jews at the time of creation...

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pp. 108-125

What does Judaism make of the Akedah, a story that is not only part of its holy book, but whose main character, Abraham, is the father of Judaism? This chapter will revisit the Jewish writings on this story, bearing in mind, of course, that this is only one reading, since Judaism comprises a...

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pp. 126-138

It is precisely in the relationship of a mother to her child that we detect the problem that arises with the entry of a third. This is the problem to which Derrida called our attention in The Gift of Death. Levinas’s discussion of the ethical relation and sacrifice alerts us to a potential problem within the maternal relationship. A mother may need to choose between...

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pp. 139-155

We can now see the shift in emphasis from the masculine to the feminine, from death to life, and the role that maternity plays in that move. Levinas turns to the figure of maternity because of the image that Isaiah sees and the risk involved in it. However, Isaiah’s image of maternity is not unique to him. Levinas thinks that we share this image. The image of...


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pp. 157-182


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pp. 183-185


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pp. 187-192


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pp. 193-199

E-ISBN-13: 9780253110770
E-ISBN-10: 0253110777
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253343024

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 1 bibliog., 1 index
Publication Year: 2003

Series Title: Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion