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  • Die Maske des Moses. Studien zur jüdischen Hermeneutik
  • Joachim Valentin
Die Maske des Moses. Studien zur jüdischen Hermeneutik, by Almut Sh. Bruckstein. Frankfurt a.M.: Philo Verlag, 2001. 200 pp. Euro 19.50.

Bruckstein’s work starts with a long and quite impressive footnote, in which she mentions a selection of several, mostly American, authors who have been exploring the Jewish literary genres Talmud and Midrash with the help of recently developed instruments of literary criticism and philosophy for nearly twenty years. Names like Susan A. Handelman, Michael Fishbane, Elliot Wolfson, and Daniel Boyarin, who are well known in the U.S., are mostly unknown in Germany. Moshe Idel’s work isn’t translated, and neither is Geoffrey Hartman’s book Midrash and Literature. The Judaist and philosopher Almut Sh. Bruckstein (Jerusalem/Berlin) tries to introduce this U.S.-American debate to German speaking research. In five relatively independent chapters she asks the question: “in which way do figures of Jewish hermeneutics direct the philosophical work or start to convert it” (pp. 11f).

Considering the separation between talmudic tradition and the liaison of Christian belief and pagan philosophy resulting in an anti-apocalyptic and anti-philosophic affect, it is astonishing that there has been a considerable philosophical output of Jewish textual tradition. But the basic methodological operation of this book is one of contemporary cultural studies rather than of philosophy. Considering so much contemporaneity, it must be allowed to bemoan a certain loss of ethical responsibility. The aim of the Wissenschaft des Judentums at the beginning of the 20th century had been, as Bruckstein correctly mentions, a “statement report about the meaning of the whole literature of Jewish tradition before the forum of ethical reason, which means before the forum of non-Jewish humankind—in the public” (p. 19). Could this be said about cultural studies too?

Nevertheless, the reader is rewarded with a well-informed guided tour through an “ocean” of explicitly philological texts which appeared on the background of the Wissenschaft des Judentums [“Topographie einer (zukünftigen) Philosophie der juedischen Hermeneutik,” pp. 17–50]. Bruckstein shows how the exclusion of Jewish tradition—the “other of European intellectual history”—in Germany was sharpened by the absence of Jewish sages after 1945. In the tradition of E. Lévinas and J. Derrida, she appeals for a model of “simultaneity of traditional narratives” to avoid new hierarchies. [End Page 143]

Under the title “Der unendliche Text. Midrasch in den Marginalien der Philosophie” (pp. 51–80), Bruckstein links Jewish hermeneutics and a philosophy that criticizes identity and reveals a critical impetus of talmudic thinking in (post)modern times: “Jewish philosophy reflects the adventure of an endless text” (p. 62). The explanation of this—possibly most central—difference between Christian (incarnation) and Jewish (inlibration) thinking could simultaneously be the basis for a radical Jewish-Christian dialogue.

In the third chapter [“Rosenzweig über Heimkehr und Entfremdung. Exil als hermeneutischer Topos in jüdischer Überlieferung,” pp. 81–114] the author shows how Rosenzweig’s philosophy of speech creates a space of his/her own for the interlocutor —an approach which is based on the Jewish tradition to pass on even the minority opinions in the Talmud. Another source of plurality is the prohibition to translate or even vocalize the Hebrew or Aramaic script: Whoever translates or vocalizes the text “wipes out the 70 faces of Torah” (pp. 99f). If—as Rashi said—“Jewishness dies where the longing for going home is blown away” (by going home to Israel—Ta’anit 5b, cit. 104), reflections like this gain a new political relevance today.

The relation between God’s truth and the text of the Torah is one of veiling and unveiling. This alludes to the story about Moses’s mask (Ex 34, 29–34), but at the same time it implies an implicit ontology of sexual difference, as the author shows in her fourth chapter [“Prinzessin Tora, Schwester Braut. Zur Ontologie des Geschlechts im jüngsten Diskurs über die kabbalistische Literatur,” pp. 115–138]. Bruckstein points out an oscillation between the phantasmal equation of several objects of hermeneutics (God, Text, Shabbat) with female figures (Shekhinah/Malkuth, Princess Tora/Shabbat) and the...

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