restricted access Conclusion: The Practice of Authority
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Abraham Geiger’s many appeals to the authority of personal meaning resonate with contemporary Jewish lives. This is true because he rejected philosophy as “completely pre-suppositionless” and solely derived from “pure rational teaching.” Rational philosophy, in Geiger’s view, seeks universal ends that undermine personal commitment and character. But Jewish philosophy, so Geiger argues, works within systems of value and concern, and cultivates embodied persons attached to particular communities and traditions.1 Geiger empowers a kind of Jewish philosophy that grounds authority in historical practice, local communities, and personal meaning. It is philosophy that attends to particular communal ends, and employs deliberative techniques that appeal to personal commitments and religious reform. Geiger’s Jewish philosophy regains modern Jewish authority through provocative readings of texts and history that engage, even as they challenge, local Jewish communities and their practices. There is a good deal of evidence to suggest that modern Jewish communities, particularly in America, respond to this call for local attachments that inspire and command. Steven Cohen and Arnold Eisen document that as moderately af¤liated American Jews abandon organizational life within the public sphere, they turn instead to more intimate concerns of family, synagogue, and the “sovereign self.”2 The authority of personal meaning overrides commitments to Israel, social organizations , and political action committees. Communal obligations run through the self, as it were, and persons seek meaning and authority grounded in self-expression and ful¤llment. Loyalty to religious denominations gives way to ¤delity to particular rabbis and their synagogues; public acts of religious ritual cede to family and the home; and the “second language” of community obligation recedes into the “¤rst language” of the autonomous individual.3 A philosophy attuned to these local attachments and meanings, as Geiger’s is, can both inform and challenge modern Jewish identity. The issues discussed in this book—historical memory, sacred texts, gendered ritual practices, the rabbinic calling , and educational philosophy—all have decidedly in®uenced contemporary Jewish observance. Indeed, modern Jewry creates and discovers the authority of personal meaning within those religious practices that Geiger cared so much about. The practice of authority becomes authentic through the very making of it— through memories that command, texts that inspire, rituals that inform, rabbis who lead, and schools that energize. In these sites of religious practice, Geiger’s Jewish philosophy can help shape the contemporary search for religious authority and identity. For Geiger the Wissenschaft scholar, religious authority and identity cannot be Conclusion: The Practice of Authority 134 found in objective or linear histories of the past. Though he protected the methodological strictures of scienti¤c Wissenschaft, Geiger nonetheless expanded them to reclaim forgotten moral sources. He reawakened Judaism as a “great worldhistorical phenomenon” that could command modern allegiance through renewed moral strength. To be sure, history could justify modern religious reforms; but even more, that history would be a remembered one that shaped, even as it was shaped by, contemporary political and ethical debates. Geiger constructed historical memory to strengthen modern commitments to it. This was no positivist history in Assmann’s sense, but a meaningful shaping to create a usable moral past. Geiger’s moral idealism, for all its metaphysical claims, remains far more pragmatic in its recovery of moral sources that command allegiance. For Geiger’s historical writing recovers less the Jewish experience (as Graetz would have it), and far more a re®ective sense of religious meaning. This is no less true for Geiger’s edited prayer books. The point of liturgical worship is not to recall an experience, much less to relive it, but rather to harness its moral truth to reinvigorate modern commitments. History commands because it furnishes the sources for Jewish ethical re®ection. Geiger positions history and historical memory as the ethical context within which Jews reimagine the meaning of their lives. History becomes a source for religious meaning rather than a bearer of truth, and historical memories recapture and enliven those meanings as personal, ethical, and commanding. In his powerful meditation on the ethics of memory, Avishai Margalit distinguishes between the “literary” and the “scienti¤c” picture of a life.4 The scienti¤c view judges life by measuring the quality of our experiences; the literary recovers a life as we remember it. Only the literary picture seeks out historical meaning through re®ective memory.5 Persons texture their remembered past with ethical concern, for memories contribute to self-understanding in a narrative mode. We recall past events, and as Margalit argues, even...