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The Exorbitant

Emmanuel Levinas Between Jews and Christians

Kevin Hart

Publication Year: 2010

We are exorbitant, and rightly so, when we cut any link we may have to cosmological powers. Levinas invites us to be exorbitant by distancing ourselves from visions of metaphysics, epistemology, and theology. We begin to listen well to Levinas when we hear him inviting us to break completely with the pagan world in which the gods are simply the highest beings in the cosmos and learn to practice an adult religion in which God is outside cosmology and ontology. God comes to mind neither in our attempts to think him as the creator of the cosmos nor in moments of ecstasy but in acts of genuine holiness, such as sharing a piece of bread with someone in a time of desperate need. Levinas, in short, enjoins us to be exorbitant in our dealings with one another. This book asks how the betweenof Levinas's thinking facilitates a dialogue between Jews and Christians. In one sense, Levinas stands exactly between Jews and Christians: ethics, as he conceives it, is a space in which religious traditions can meet. At the same time, his position seems profoundly ambivalent. No one can read a page of his writings without hearing a Jewish voice as well a a philosophical one. Yet his talk of substitution seems to resonate with Christological themes. On occasion, Levinas himself sharply distinguishes Judaism from Christianity--but to what extent can his thinking become the basis for a dialogue between Christians and Jews? This book, with a stellar cast of contributors, explores these questions, thereby providing a snapshot of the current state of Jewish-Christian dialogue.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

This book grew out of a conference entitled The Exorbitant: Emmanuel Levinas Between Jews and Christians, organized by the editors, that was held at the University of Notre Dame from April 17 to April 19, 2005. It was made possible by the generosity of the Departments of English,...

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pp. 1-16

The word exorbitant takes us deeply into the thought of Emmanuel Levinas (1906–95). On first hearing the word, and letting it return to its native strangeness, we are likely to remember from school or college the Latin masculine noun orbis, meaning ‘‘disk, ring, circle,’’ even ‘‘eye.’’ We...

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Levinas Between German Metaphysics and Christian Theology

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pp. 17-31

Emmanuel Levinas is most famous for his claim that ‘‘ethics is first philosophy.’’ By this he means primarily to criticize the priority given to ontology, to the question of being as such, in Martin Heidegger’s philosophy in particular and in the Western philosophical tradition more generally....

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The Disincarnation of the Word

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pp. 32-51

Philosophy and theology are not only terms that are open to renegotiation in each generation, they are also terms that fit different religious communities differently. Levinas was never a theologian, but that means something quite different from saying that Kant was never a theologian...

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Secrecy, Modesty, and the Feminine Kabbalistic Traces in the Thought of Levinas

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pp. 52-73

Various scholars have discussed the possible affinities between Levinas and kabbalistic tradition,1 despite his unambiguous critique of mysticism on the grounds that the experience of union it presumes effaces the transcendence beyond ontology2 that grounds the radical difference between...

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Against Theology, or ‘‘The Devotion of a Theology Without Theodicy’’

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pp. 74-89

Theology is a notoriously difficult term to define, owing both to the depth of its meaning and to its long and varied usage in the West. Etymologically, the term is a combination of two classical Greek words: theos, referring to the divine, and logos, referring to word, speech, manifestation,...

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Is the Other My Neighbor?

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pp. 90-107

‘‘Der Ferne ist der Nahe geworden’’; ‘‘The distant one has become the near one.’’ This statement represents a key claim from a 1910 essay by the German-Jewish philosopher Hermann Cohen entitled ‘‘Conviction’’ (‘‘Gesinnung’’), an essay that belongs to a series of works by him concerning...

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‘‘Love Strong as Death’’

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pp. 108-129

In philosophy and in theology, as in all else, the question we pose and how we pose it can make all the difference. In the case that concerns us (Emmanuel Levinas and his relation to two particular religious traditions: Judaism and Christianity), recognizing this basic fact about our investigations seems as pressing as ever....

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On Levinas’s Gifts to Christian Theology

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pp. 130-149

The name Emmanuel Levinas looms large in contemporary philosophical and religious discourse. His work marks an attempt to think in the wake of Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger; beginning with phenomenology, and in the shadow of the Heideggerian question of Being, he tries...

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The Prevenience and Phenomenality of Grace; or, The Anteriority of the Posterior

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pp. 150-170

Tout est grâce. All is grace; grace is everywhere. These words mark the closure of the diary of a country priest (Journal d’un curéde campagne), fictional or otherwise, by Georges Bernanos. Perhaps, as Levinas might say: ‘‘True as only fiction can be,’’1 like Yosel Rakover’s address to God from...

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Profligacy, Parsimony, and the Ethics of Expenditure in the Philosophy of Levinas

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pp. 171-187

The ethics of Emmanuel Levinas is one of radical self-giving, of boundless expenditure in the interest of the other. Does not giving without reserve encourage an ethic of prodigality, an unlimited generosity that, in the long run, may exhaust the resources of the self so that future giving is...

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Excess and Desire

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pp. 188-200

Levinas could be disarmingly clear about his position regarding Christianity. Explaining himself in a 1983 conversation in Geneva, he observed: ‘‘I say of the face of the neighbor what the Christian says of the face of Christ.’’1 This, of course, is only a singular expression of what was barely...

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The Care of the Other and Substitution

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pp. 201-210

The striking originality of Emmanuel Levinas can be felt on every page of his work. But it is perhaps nowhere more striking than when he speaks of the notion, introduced between 1968 and 1974, thus late in his career, of substitution....

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Should Jews and Christians Fear the Gifts of the Greeks?

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pp. 211-215

What in Levinas’s thinking is Jewish, and what is Christian? There is no good reason to think that these questions will be easier to answer than the question What is Jewish, and what is Christian?...

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Thinking about God and God-Talk with Levinas

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pp. 216-229

Emmanuel Levinas is a Jewish thinker. This claim has at least three meanings, two of them quite unproblematic, while the third is more than a little. First, in his confessional writings (Jerusalem, Talmud) he is overtly a Jewish thinker. Second, in these writings he is with equal clarity not a...

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Words of Peace and Truth

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pp. 230-242

I take my subtitle from the eulogy delivered by Jacques Derrida upon the death of his friend and mentor Emmanuel Levinas.1 It is true, as Kevin Hart states in the Introduction to this volume, that Levinas breaks the easy elision of the supernatural and the natural by transferring the burden...


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pp. 243-300


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pp. 301-306


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pp. 307-308

Perspectives in Continental Philosophy Series

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pp. 309-312

E-ISBN-13: 9780823247783
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823230150
Print-ISBN-10: 0823230155

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Lévinas, Emmanuel.
  • Christianity and other religions -- Judaism.
  • Judaism -- Relations -- Christianity.
  • Church history ǂy Primitive and early church, ca. 30-600.
  • Judaism.
  • Philosophical theology.
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