Old Series: Volume 1, Number 1 (February 1991)

Copyright (c) 1991 Postmodern Jewish Philosophy Bitnetwork
All rights reserved.

Office of Jewish Studies, Drew University, Madison, NJ 07940
Peter Ochs, Editor
Karen Leek, System Manager
Bitnet Address: POCHS@DREW; Telephone: (201) 408-3222


Richard Cohen, University of Alabama: UA1VMMJAMES
Robert Gibbs, Princeton University: RBGIBBS@PUCC
Yudit Greenberg, Rolling College: In %
Martin Jaffee, University of Washington: JAFFEE@U.WASHINGTON.EDU
Steven Kepnes, Colgate University: SKEPNES@COLGATEU
David Novak, University of Virginia
Peter Ochs, Drew University: POCHS@DREW
Susan Shapiro, University of Washington: JAFFEE@U.WASHINGTON.EDU
Larry Silberstein, Lehigh University: LJS2@NS
Alan Udoff, Baltimore Hebrew University: GURFEL@UMBC


Eugene Borowitz, HUC/JIR, New York
Almut Bruckstein, Hebrew University, Jerusalem
Joseph Faur, Brooklyn
Jay Geller, Rutgers University: LEVINE@SWARTHMR
Jacob Meskin, Williams College
Paul Mendes-Flohr, Hebrew University, Jerusalem:
Norbert Samuelson, Temple University: V5118E@TEMPLE VM
Ken Seeskin, Northwestern University
Edith Wyschogrod, Queens College, CUNY
Michael Wyschogrod, Baruch College, CUNY


Welcome to our first official edition. After preliminary
correspondences, we begin, modestly, by introducing some of our
members’ descriptions of work they’ve written in the area of
“postmodern Jewish philosophy.” For readers who have not been
part of our preliminary discussions, here is, first, a
restatement of our purpose.

We are a discussion network funded in our founding year as a
Collaborative Project of the American Academy of Religion. “The
Postmodern Jewish Philosophy Bitnetwork” represents the first
stage of a BITNET journal of Postmodern Judaism, philosophically
considered: referring both to the plurality of contemporary
Jewish religious expressions, philosophically considered and to
the plurality of postmodern methods of Jewish philosophy and
philosophical theology. In the history of Judaism, the two
principle paradigms of philosophic inquiry have been the Jewish
Aristotelianism and neo-Platonism of the Arabic speaking Jewish
philosophers of medieval Spain, and the Jewish Kantianism of the
largely German speaking Jewish philosophers of 19th-20th century
Europe. For now, we are using the term “postmodern” very loosely
to refer to what may be a third paradigm of Jewish philosophic
inquiry, emerging from out of Kantian and Aristotelian roots. As
we use it, the term may refer to any of a variety of
hermeneutical, semiotic, process, feminist and deconstructive
inquiries, all of which are adapted to and influenced by emergent
forms of Scriptural and Talmudic text interpretation and all of
which generate corresponding varieties of philosophical theology.

In its first year, the goal of the Network is to identify
the variety of “postmodern” Jewish inquiries as currently
practiced and to elicit generalizations about what these
inquiries may share: in other words, to begin to clarify what we
mean by “postmodern.” We may, in fact, discover that we mean too
many things by it and that we need either to delimit our
conversation further or at least to rename it. Our plan is to
disseminate to our limited membership a Network issue every three
months (or whenever else we want to!). For the first two or
three issues, we will collect brief descriptions of articles and
books already written by our members and pertinent to the work of
postmodern Jewish philosophy and philosophical theology. By the
second issue, we will disseminate, as well, our members’ initial
thoughts about the approaches that seem to inform these
descriptions: what the various subgroups of approaches may be
and what they share and don’t share. By the fourth issue, we
hope to reach initial conclusions about how to define our Network
so that, in the second year, we might expand our membership and
invite papers that belong to a single conversation, however
broadly or inclusively characterized. We plan to use the annual
meetings of both the AAR and the Academy of Jewish Philosophy as
occasions to gather ourselves for face-to-face discussion.


reads the two philosophers separately in order to
display the deep connection of their thought.
Rosenzweig is read as a philosopher, and not as a
sectarian Jewish theologian; while Levinas is read as a
Jewish thinker, as adapting Rosenzweig’s central
concepts. The book proposes an agenda for contemporary
Jewish philosophy that centers around social ethics.

* “Present Imperative: Ethics and temporality”. A paper
at the 1990 AAR. I present a three-step interpretation
of time: from internal consciousness, to existentially
lived, concluding with interpersonal responsibility.
The sequence moves from Husserl to Heidegger to
Levinas. The responsibility for the other person re-
orients our interpretation of time, as my encounter of
an other appears as the fundamental origin of

* “The Other Comes to Teach Me: A Review of Recent
English Translations to Levinas” — For “Man and
World”. Self-evident. But the extras include: 1)
discussions of two recent books that are appropriate
introductions to his thought, 2) a discussion of
Levinas’ Jewish writings in relation to his
philosophical ones, and 3) a brief overview of the
various connections to more widely known post-modern
thinkers (Lyotard, Derrida, Irigaray, etc).

* My essay, “Rosenzweig in a Postmodern Context: Revelation,
Hermeneutics, and the Midrashic Dimensions of THE STAR OF
REDEMPTION, examines the notion that revelation is a privileged
moment of speech in the context of contemporary debate on the
hierarchical order of speech and writing. This angle of
investigation presses the import of how our employment of
language informs our metaphysical constructions. My claim in
this essay is that there is not only an essential nexus of speech
and text in Rosenzweig’s writings; but, the boundaries between
sacred texts and philosophy break down with Rosenzweig’s
retrieval of biblical speech, and also the dialectic between
audible and written speech.

Here are abstracts of four articles and a book I have written in
the area of Post-Modern Jewish Philosophy.

The first three articles I will describe are very early versions
of parts of chapters 1-3 of my book on Buber.

* “A Hermeneutic Approach to the Buber-Scholem Controversy,”
Journal of Jewish Studies, 38 (Spring,1987), 81-98.

I attempt to address Scholem’s highly influential critique
of Buber’s interpretation of Hasidism from a hermeneutical
perspective. By analyzing the hermeneutical assumptions of
Scholem’s critique, new insights into the Buber-Scholem
controversy and avenues for resolving it can be found. Scholem
criticizes Buber from the perspective of the Wissenschaft des
Judentums. He does not believe that Buber presents an
historically accurate picture of Hasidism. Implicit in Scholem’s
critique is a belief that texts are properly interpreted when the
historical context is adequately reconstructed and the meaning
which the original audience understood is discerned. Scholem
does not recognize a real development in Buber’s hermeneutical
approach to Hasidism. And he also does not recognize and
appreciate the fact that Buber sought, not the original meaning
of the text, but the meaning for contemporary audiences. I argue
that Buber’s hermeneutical approach to Hasidism opens up Hasidism
and allows it to address contemporary readers in ways that a
historical critical methodology advocated by Scholem et. al.
simply cannot. I do try to show, however, that there need not be
a stand off between those who defend a Buberian interpretation
and those who defend Scholem’s interpretation of Hasidism. I use
the hermeneutic theory of Paul Ricoeur to suggest that there is
no reason why Buber’s dialogical hermeneutic method cannot be
augmented by an initial historical critical analysis. In
Ricoeur’s language, historical critical “explanation” can often
develop dialogic “understanding” of a text. The most fruitful
interpretations of Hasidic texts will result from a hermeneutical
method which combines a historical critical analysis with a
dialogical hermeneutical approach.

* “Buber as Hermeneut: Relations to Dilthey and Gadamer” The
Harvard Theological Review, 81:2 (Spring, 1988), 193-213.

Here I try to show a movement from Buber’s early romantic
hermeneutic method to what I call his “dialogical hermeneutic
method.” I begin with the hermeneutic influence of Buber’s
teacher, Wilhelm Dilthey. Dilthey’s “romantic” notion of
interpretation as a process of empathizing with the mind of the
author so that the author’s experience (Erlebnis) can be
“relived” and the text “recreated” most adequately describes
Buber’s early hermeneutic method. However, the development of the
philosophy of I-Thou leads to changes in Buber’s hermeneutical
thinking. By carefully analyzing Buber’s aesthetics in I and
Thou, I show that works of art, what Buber’s calls geistige
Wesenheiten, are to be approached with the same attitude of
“I-Thou” as persons and nature. The result is that the “I-Thou”
relationship becomes the paradigm for the hermeneutical process.
This means that it is no longer the re-creation of the author’s
experience behind the text which is the focus of interpretation,
but the text itself and the dialogical relationship between the
text and the interpreter. In the last section of this paper I
show how Buber’s dialogical hermeneutic notions anticipated some
of the most significant hermeneutical principles developed by
Gadamer in his Wahrheit und Methode, (Truth and Method) [1960].
Gadamer’s notion of the conversation that must occur between the
reader and the text, his concept of “the fusion of horizons,” the
horizon of the text and that of the reader, his insistence that
the meaning of a text be applied to the contemporary situation,
and his belief that any true understanding of a text must involve
a different understanding than that of the original audience, are
all principles that are implicit in Buber’s dialogical
hermeneutic method.

* “Buber’s Biblical Hermeneutics and Narrative Biblical
Theology,” Proceedings of the Academy of Jewish Philosophy. N.
Samuelson and D. Novack, eds. Lanham: University

I focus on the Buber-Rosenzweig translation and interpretive
writings on the Hebrew Bible. My first aim is to show that the
Bible translation and the interpretations which result from it
provide the best example of the application of Buber’s dialogical
hermeneutics. Throughout his work on the Bible, Buber aimed to
facilitate the reader’s reception of the text as “Thou.” In
reviewing the philosophy of the Buber-Rosenzweig translation I
try to show how the dialogical I-Thou paradigm is at work in
Buber’s biblical hermeneutics. Secondly I try to show that
Buber’s experience of translating the Bible led to important
developments in his hermeneutical method. To present the text as
Thou, as “other,” Buber employed a variety of translation
techniques and historical critical methods. Although a strict
application of the hermeneutics of the philosophy of I-Thou would
suggest that techniques and methods destroy the immediate
conversation between the interpreter and text, in his biblical
writings, Buber appears to have become convinced that it is
precisely techniques and methods that help to preserve a
dialogical relation to the text. Here, Buber appears to have
heeded the wisdom of a Scholemian critique of his Hasidic
interpretations and moved closer to the model for interpretation
developed by Paul Ricoeur (a model in which techniques and
methods of historical explanation are combined with dialogical

* Buber’s Hermeneutical Philosophy and Narrative Theology.
Indiana University Press. (in press, 1991)

The aim of the first four chapters (part 1) of the book is
to present the development of Buber’s hermeneutic method of
interpretation from his early romantic period through his
dialogical period to his biblical writings and late thoughts on
language. The last chapter of part 1 represents my attempt to
place Buber in “dialogue” with contemporary hermeneutic theory
and construct a general Buberian hermeneutic method for all
In Part 2 of the book (chs.5-8) I turn from hermeneutical
issues to more strictly narrative ones. The overall argument of
Part 2 is that Buber’s narratives provide privileged access to
his philosophy of I-Thou and to his theology. But narrative is
not only a tool of expression for philosophical and theological
ideas. In writing and interpreting narratives Buber’s ideas are
deepened and emboldened. For example it is only through Buber’s
work in narrative biblical theology that he is able to confront
the most difficult issue of his day, the eclipse of God brought
about by the Holocaust.
In retelling biblical and hasidic tales and using the tale
to address the modern situation, Martin Buber, famous modern
heretic, found himself employing an extremely old Jewish means of
theological expression. If we look at the entirety of Buber’s
narrative writings what we have is a body of literature which
represents a daring attempt to formulate a modern narrative
Jewish theology. The promise inherent in this narrative Jewish
theology is truly great, for if it is fully explored and
articulated it could provide the basis for an “aggadic” or
narrative Judaism. This aggadic Judaism could reverse the
traditional priority given to halakhah (law) over aggadah and
provide a way back to tradition for that majority of modern Jews
who no longer subject all aspects of their lives to the dictates
of Jewish law. If Buber’s hermeneutics is seen in the context of
contemporary hermeneutical studies in Judaism his work can be
recognized as the beginning of what some have called the modern
Jewish revival of the “midrashic imagination” (Paul Mendes-Flohr,
“Buber and Post-Traditional Judaism,” European Judaism, 12:2,

* “A Narrative Jewish Theology,” Judaism, 37:2 (Spring, 1988),

This article was written after study I did in “Macon
Shlomo,” a Jerusalem Yeshiva for University educated Americans. I
provide examples from rabbinic literature and reasons from
contemporary theory for why rabbinic theology has tended to take
a narrative form. I examine some of the problems of solely
narrative forms of theology at the end of the article.

* “A Rabbinic Pragmatism,” in “Theology and Dialogue, ed.
Bruce Marshall (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 1990), pp.

I suggest that George Lindbeck’s “cultural-linguistic”
method of theology (as displayed, for example, in his The Nature
of Doctrine) speaks to Jews as well as Christians. Influenced by
Wittgenstein as well as Barth, Lindbeck’s program for studying
Biblical “intertextuality” articulates the theological methods of
a collection of “postliberal” Christian theologians (among them
Hans Frei, Stanley Hauerwas, Ronald Thiemann and others). I
suggest that these methods correspond, within the context of
rabbinic hermeneutics, to those of a collection of what I label
“aftermodern” Jewish theologians: Hermann, Cohen, Buber,
Rosenzweig, and also Fackenheim, Levinas, and to some extent
Heschel, Kaplan and Max Madushin. The work of this essay is,
then, to show how Lindbeck’s methodology illuminates the methods
of these Jewish aftermoderns and vice-versa. I adopt a variant
of Charles Peirce’s semiotics as the most helpful language for
analyzing and comparing these methods. The essay’s central claim
is that both postliberals and aftermoderns are responding to the
facts that their respective religious communities suffer crises
of moral authority and of identity AND that traditional
theologies have proven ineffective in responding to these crises.
“Traditional theologies” means both traditionalist AND modernist
theologies (the latter are theologies informed by Cartesian-
Kantian epistemologies). The aftermodern theological alternative
is to claim that God’s spoken-word is authoritative; that, as
presented (written), that Word is incomplete and relies on its
interpreter to complete its presentation; that the Word has a
performative meaning which is displayed only by way of this
interpretation; and that this performative meaning is also
transformational: as enacted, it transforms the rules that
govern interpretation at any given time.

I use the term “aftermodern” as a temporary label for a
particular KIND of postmodern Jewish theology. It is one of the
kinds I hope we’ll entertain in this Bitnetwork.

* Understanding the rabbinic Mind: Essays on the Hermeneutic
of Max Kadushin, (edited collection, Atlanta: Scholars Press for
South Florida Studies in the History of Judaism, 1990).
This is a collection of essays by Jewish and Christian
scholars, on Max Kadushin’s hermeneutic. Here are two blurbs
I’ve written on the book:

Seven scholars of rabbinic Judaism (Jack Neusner, Theodore
Steinberg, Simon Greenberg, Richard Sarason, Alan Avery-Peck,
Martin Jaffee, Peter Ochs) and two Christian theologians (Gary
Comstock, George Lindbeck) offer the first extensive evaluation
of one of the least known but most important American Jewish
thinkers: Max Kadushin (1895-1980) of the Jewish Theological
Seminary. They show that, influenced by American process
thinkers and pragmatists, Kadushin viewed rabbinic Judaism as an
organic system of virtues, or “value concepts,” embodied in the
rabbis’ vast corpus of homiletic writings (midrash aggadah).
Through his study of these writings, Kadushin offered a
descriptive theology appropriate to his contemporary rabbinic
community. While at times overlooking details of concern to the
historical-critical scholar, Kadushin generated a method of text
interpretation of great import to post-critical and post-modern
theologians in both the Jewish and Christian biblical traditions.
Kadushin’s books are difficult to read; their conclusions
have therefore failed to receive the public attention they merit.
This collection teaches Kadushin’s work to a general academic
audience. It shows how, from out of the methods of traditional
rabbinic discourse as well as of 20th century philosophy and
social science, he generated a hermeneutic which may well serve
as a prototype for contemporary Jewish and Christian text
interpretation. The collection redefines his hermeneutic within
the terms of several contemporary disciplines: the literary,
rhetorical and historical study of rabbinic literature;
pragmatism and semiotics; phenomenology; Christian narrative
theology and “postcritical” theology; and descriptive theologies
of rabbinic Judaism and of Christianity. From the perspectives
of the collection’s authors, Kadushin’s work has parallels among
the interpretive works of Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, of
Solomon Schechter and G. F. Moore, of Isaac Heinemann, of
Mordecai Kaplan, of Alfred Whitehead and Charles Peirce, and of
Martin Luther!
In my own contribution to the collection, “Max Kadushin as
Rabbinic Pragmatist,” I argue that Kadushin’s work cannot
productively be interpreted according to the standards of
historical-critical, literary and form critical or traditional
rabbinic hermeneutics. It is best viewed, instead, as a
contribution to “aftermodern Jewish philosophy” (see above) or,
within that philosophy, to a “rabbinic pragmatism.” I describe
how, searching for norms for this kind of hermeneutic, Kadushin
borrowed selectively from ethnographic, social-psychological and
process languages of analysis. Kadushin was influenced somewhat
by Charles Peirce’s semiotics. I argue that, if the influence
were made more than somewhat, his hermeneutic would have more
power, emerging as a method of describing the normative force of
Talmudic hermeneutics FOR guiding the reformation of aftermodern
(or postmodern) communities of rabbinic practice.

* Rabbinic Text Process Theology,” Jewish Thought, forthcoming
(spring, 1991).

More on Kadushin. This time, I respond to a question posed
by process theologians David Griffin and Sandra Lubarsky: what
would a Jewish process theology look like? I say that, if this
means (as it usually does) a NATURALIST Jewish process theology,
then the answer is some version of Mordecai Kaplan’s theology.
But if, more in keeping with rabbinic theologies, this means a
TEXTUALLY responsive Jewish process theology, then our best
example would be Kadushin’s hermeneutic. I then examine
Kadushin’s use of Whitehead. I conclude that the categories of
process theology can be used in a rabbinic text process theology
IF they are redescribed as META-ONTOLOGICAL, rather than as
ontological categories. I take this to be another attribute of
aftermodern Jewish philosophy: it replaces the study of ontology
with a study of the hermeneutical or semiotic patterns of
reasoning which allow us to place any ontology in dialogue with
the transforming patterns of Scriptural discourse. Here
“ontologies” refer to context-specific ways of describing the
most general characters of the most extensive entities we know.
God’s spoken-word (dibbur) addresses some given ontology, in the
interest of transforming it in some manner. In what manner? God
only knows, but the text-process theologian attempts to find out
something about this manner by examining the ways in which
ontologies tend to be transformed through their encounters with
God’s spoken-words — in this case, with God’s spoken-words as
interpreted through classical rabbinic hermeutics.

* Rabbinic Semiotics,” American Academy of Religion annual
meeting, 1990: I argue for a “compassionate postmodernism,”
which understands itself as modernity brought to self-
consciousness rather than as a critique of modernism as an errant
choice. The rational constructions of philosophic modernism are
symptoms of suffering. Compassionate postmodernism reads these
symptoms as symptoms and offers hope that, just as God heard and
responded to the cries of the Israelites in bondage, so too may a
reawakened encounter with the Scriptural word offer modernists
the means to respond to the suffering of which they are
witnesses. I say H. Cohen was the first to identify this
reawakened encounter, and, stimulated by K. Seeskin’s recent
book, I trace the “rabbinic semiotics” that links Cohen’s
response to that of Buber and Rosenzweig.

* “I am currently endeavoring to apply recent,
post-structuralist theories discourse and ideology to
contemporary Israeli discussions on the meaning of Judaism,
Jewish history, Jewish identity, and Jewish tradition. In this
project, I approach the writings of selected Israeli thinkers and
writers as efforts to formulate a contemporary discourse for
Judaism and Jewish life. Specifically, I want to focus on their
treatment of such issues as the nature of tradition, the
relationship of history to contemporary realities, the
contemporary implications of the Holocaust, Arab-Jewish
relations, and the relationship of Jewish values and political
Events such as the occupation of the territories, the
Intafada, the growing influence of ultra-nationalist ideologies
and the existence of a strong Jewish community in America
confront the current generation of Israeli intellectuals with
realities previously unknown in Jewish life. Consequently, many
find the discourses of classical Zionism to be either inadequate
or simply obsolete. Israeli thinkers and intellectuals such as
Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua, Boas Evron, Gershon Weiler, Yoseph
Agassi, Amnon Rubenstein, Adi Opir, Yeshaya Leibovits and others
critically engage and revise prevailing Zionist discussion of
such issues as exile/redemption, diaspora/homeland,
submission/resistance, cowardice/bravery, power/weakness, and
particularism/ universalism. Informing their efforts is a
recurring question: In the light of the realities of Jewish life
in general, and Israeli society and culture in particular, how do
we speak meaningfully about Judaism, Jewish history, and Jewish
identity? In particular, I am concerned with finding in these
writings the traces of a post-Zionist ideology.
Diverging from conventional discussions of Jewish thought, I
shall bring to the works I am discussing such questions as: What
are the social and linguistic processes by means of which Zionist
ideology was formulated, disseminated, and transmitted? What
institutional arrangements and configurations of power are
necessary to sustain Zionist ideology? What understandings of the
past are implicit in them? What are the implications of the
Zionist interpretation of history for current power relations
both within the Jewish community and between Jews and non-Jews,
particularly Arabs? What alternatives are implicit in recent
Israeli writings to such inherited forms of Jewish discourse as
secular and religious Zionism, traditional and liberal theology,
and prevailing historical interpretations of Judaism? To what
extent is it possible to speak of the emergence of a post-Zionist

At the American Academy of Religion annual meeting in New
Orleans, Nov. 1990, Edith was the respondent to four papers on
“Trends in Postmodern Jewish Philosophy.” The session was
described as follows:

“Contemporary Jewish philosophers and hermeneuts derive
from the inquiries of Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig
and Emmanual Levinas new methods for conducting Jewish
theological and textual inquiry. These methods offer
alternatives to the historical-critical text studies of
the Wissenschaft des judentums as well as to the
philosophic theologies of Jewish Aristotelians and
Jewish Kantians. This session offers a sampling of
very recent studies in what now goes by such names as
postmodern or hermeneutical Jewish philosophy.”

* Robert Gibbs’ and Jacob Meskin’s papers are not only
interesting in themselves but are markers of a shift in Jewish
theological thinking in the last decade. Before turning a hunch
about this change into a hypothesis, I retrieved my 1980 AAR/SBL
program and examined sessions that touched on Jewish theology:
Alan Berger on holocaust literature; a panel discussion on the
usefulness of anthropology and philosophy for studying the
history of Judaism; Steven Katz on models for analyzing religious
traditions; Jacob Neusner and Bill Green on making sense of
Judaism as a whole; Ellen Umansky and Buber’s relation to
feminist theology; and myself on Levinas on God.
Some of this decade-old work attests the dominant analytic
strain in Anglo-American philosophy. For the most part,
reflected in these rather eclectic presentations, is a kind of
Jewish theological architectonic that dates from the end of World
War II to about 1980. Central to this period is the question of
the holocaust given representative expression in the theologies
of Fackenheim and Rubenstein and their respondents. The
articulation of this problematic is indebted to the existential
philosophy of the pre-war and immediate post-war period: the
simultaneous repudiation and incorporation of Heidegger as well
as the influence of Jaspers, Sartre and Jewish figures such as
Buber and Rosenzweig.
Neither the words postmodernism nor deconstruction appear in
the program — Mark Taylor is listed as discussing his then new
Kierkegaard and Hegel book. Judaism as ethics in the tradition
of Hermann Cohen, except perhaps for the lonely voice of Steven
Schwarzschild (a voice recently effectively appropriated by
Kenneth Seeskin), was then seen as of historical interest. The
thought of Levinas, Derrida, Jabes and Blanchot, hardly young at
that time, as well as Jewish feminist thinking were only faintly
visible. Nor was biographical writing (then represented in
Scholem’s monumental life of Sabbatai Zwi) seen as theologically
significant whereas now Yovel’s account of Spinoza as Marrano and
the influence of Moshe Idel’s experiential revision of Scholem’s
view of Kabbalism may presage new theological developments.
Gibbs and Meskin, I believe, belong to a new-wave of a
Jewish revival of ethics which develops moral and social
philosophy against a backdrop of postmodern critique. To name
only a few, Susan Handelman and Susan Shapiro bring postmodern
accounts of negation to the fore, and reinscribe the holocaust
against this new backdrop while Judith Pleskow, Blu Greenberg and
Susanna Heschel deal with feminist issues. Peter Ochs, I shall
argue, is a most interesting anomaly.
The phenomenological past exhumed in Gibb’s extremely
interesting paper, assesses Husserl and Heidegger in order to
determine what is living and what is dead in their accounts of
time. The sheer reflexivity of internal time consciousness,
Gibbs argues, first as it appears in retention, holding on to
what went before and, second in the act of perception itself are
intrinsic to Husserl’s view. It takes time to perceive time or
temporally distended objects, he says, and that remains
interesting. Heidegger discovers that the past and the future
are asymmetrical, the future governed by the anticipation of
one’s own death and the past by appropriation of who one was.
Interesting, but not good enough, Gibbs insists.
By contrast, Gibbs continues, Levinas argues that self-
aggrandizement belongs not only to the way we expropriate things
but also the way we subordinate the Other’s time to our own. The
Other interrupts me by placing a demand upon my time: I am not
taken out of the world but become responsible for it. Gibbs
identifies this mode of time with Levinas’s time that can never
be made present, a time that frustrates previous views of
Despite Levinas’s break with phenomenology, Gibbs
demonstrates that Levinas remains enmeshed in phenomenological
thought. It is only Rosenzweig who can sever ties with (to use
postmodern argot) the ocularity or vision-centeredness of
phenomenology by invoking language as signification and
communication. What I find particularly intriguing in Gibbs’s
semiotic turn is his recognition that the idealistic or
phenomenological moment in Levinas cannot be scotched altogether:
“Both Rosenzweig and Levinas retain a prior ego-centrism, in
order to see the rupture that occurs in speaking.” This accords
with Gibb’s superb analysis elsewhere on “speaking Greek” or the
language of philosophy in Levinas. This Greek residue is
indispensable if one is to manifest oneself to the other. (I
think Levinas’s remarks on speaking Greek might be useful to
African theologians struggling with the tensions between local
traditions and general communicability.)
I could not agree more with a number of key points in Jacob
Meskin’s paper: first, that the body represents a non-
conceptualizable reality which is constitutive for thinking;
second that the body is the reference point for distinguishing
self from other; third that there is a shift from Totality and
Infinity to Otherwise than Being so that, in the latter body
becomes the ground of speech and sensate locus of vulnerability.
Finally, Meskin’s most compelling critical point: by making the
ethical contingent upon body, the symbolic significance of
culture and history are attenuated in Levinas. Levinas’s account
of the asymmetry and differentiation between self and other
remains abstract and does not allow for the expression of
Judaism’s cultural specificity.
I believe the difficulty to which Meskin points can be
explained by Levinas’s worry about submersion in the il y a, the
undifferentiated being of paganism. So deep is Levinas’s fear of
the il y a, a fear associated with its identification as the
milieu of the Teutonic gods, that he cannot acknowledge, as Buber
does, the celebratory aspects of Judaism. Levinas’s analysis of
the elemental however may offer a way out of this difficulty.
City and landscape, for example, are unproblematic instances of
the elemental so that the elemental need not be identified with
the il y a which gives rise to pagan rite.
I am also drawn, deeply so, to Peter Och’s wish for a
compassionate postmodernism, one that treats modernism as, to
borrow Heidegger’s term, errant. This errancy is not the result
of some evil impulse on modernism’s part but reflects a suffering
towards which postmodernity must be merciful. Hermann Cohen, he
thinks, offers a clue to the understanding of mercy: a combining
of the Kantian principle of universalization with prophetic
loving kindness, rachamim, to be actualized in the lived life.
Ochs also endorses scepticism (the Cartesian sort to be sure) so
that postmoderns need not passively accept received traditions.
Following Buber, he wishes to replace an ethics derived from a
metaphysics of substance with a relational perspective. And he
believes that Peircean semiotics as an account of the triadic
relation of sign, object and interpretant, can provide such a
relational approach as well as a guide to compassionate action.
I think Peter is right to lament the hardheartedness in
postmodern sensibility. I argue elsewhere and at length for
distinguishing between ethical postmoderns among whom I number
Levinas, Derrida, Blanchot and Lyotard and postmodern ecstatics,
who hunger for experience, Kristeva, Deleuze and Guattari and
others. But I do not think one can simply reinstate modernism —
for example, use Kantian ethics … la Gewirth or phenomenology …
la Scheler or Thomism … la MacIntyre — because the postmodern
critique of revisionisms goes all the way down.
Peircean semiotics does not escape Heidegger’s critique
either of theoreticity in general or of moral theory in
particular. For Heidegger, moral theories are not unlike
theories in science in which the meaning of truth is reduced to
relations of inclusion, exclusion and identity and truth is
understood as it is in the science of logic. But, Heidegger
argues, logic is not free floating, not without metaphysical
foundations. Heidegger does not deny the necessity for rule-
bound reasoning but criticizes the failure of reason to display
its ontological ground.
A response is also required to Derrida’s critique of the
sign on the grounds that the indicative power of signs is
unstable from the start because signs conceal an “order” of time
and space prior to phenomenologically accessible differences.
One must react to the cunning of reason with new strategies or
make “visible” the traces of postmodern critique in older
philosophical discourse if it is invoked.
In his paper delimiting the boundaries of exegetical
authority in Rabbinic Judaism, Jose Faur makes some extremely
imaginative and interesting claims as well as some which raise
further questions. Faur argues that normative Judaism is a
religion of exegesis and is so of necessity. With the
destruction of the Temple, Judaism generated interpretive
resources for the expansion of Scripture that would enable Jews
to adapt to altered circumstances. The result: a revolutionary
new religion grounded in prayer, synagogue worship and exegesis.
So far so good.
Next, Faur proposes that for Christianity and Islam textual
interpretation is grounded in ecclesiastical authority whereas in
Judaism the reverse is true: authority is founded on exegetical
expertise. On the face of it, this claim seems unexceptionable.
But if, the question of how discourse is distributed is made a
focal point (a matter to which Foucault and Kristeva among others
have called attention), one must ask how — through what
institutional mechanisms — a particular gloss acquires
authority: who decides the question of its soundness, who
rejects it and why? How is authority allocated and transmitted?
For classical Judaism this is the academy in which learning takes
place, the structure of the family that supports scholarly
endeavor and so on. These mechanisms are less visible than the
formal ecclesiastical organization of the Church but nevertheless
attest social authorization.
Next, using Kristeva’s distinction between Platonic and
Stoic interpretation, Faur argues that Christianity leans on
Plato’s philosophy of the forms, a philosophy that sublates
textual authenticity by substituting itself for textual meanings.
Such interpretation is viciously circular. By contrast, Rabbinic
explanations are governed by Stoic hermeneutics which impose no
principles extrinsic to the text itself. This distinction can, I
think, yield fruitful results, but the matter is more complicated
than it may appear.
Faur is largely right about the Platonic archetypalism of
Christian Scriptural interpretation. Nevertheless, Stoic and
Platonic knowledge claims themselves overlap and are hard to
segregate. For example, Augustine thinks, following Plato, that
the divine ideas are contained eternally in the mind of God but,
in explicating the doctrine of creation, he appeals to a Stoic
notion, the rationes seminales, the divinely created latent seeds
of all things that will unfold in time. This doctrine is, in
turn, rejected by Aquinas and replaced with the Aristotelian
notion of immanent substantial form. Thus Platonic, Aristotelian
and Stoic ideas all have a place in Christian hermeneutics.
The complexity of the matter increases with Acquinas’s un-
Platonic, even rabbinic, contention that a multiplicity of
meanings may inhere in a single text: “Every truth that can
fittingly be related to divine Scripture, in view of the context,
is its meaning.” (Pocket Aquinas, p. 317).
It should also be recalled that when Kristeva says that for
the Stoics “to interpret” is “to make a connection” the context
of claim is to show that the Stoics “open the field of
subjectivity” by endorsing the “will of the Stoic sage.” Thus,
for her, the point of Stoic interpretation is different from the
juridical aims Faur proposes for rabbinic hermeneutics.
Because Faur’s thesis nevertheless remains remarkably
suggestive, I should like to mention some Stoic claims that work
for his thesis. Stoicism repudiates universals — Chryssipus
calls universals not-somethings — thus distinguishing itself
from Platonism (Long and Sedley, sources, p. 180). In addition,
Stoic logic loosens meaning from reference or, as it was called
then, body (H. H. Long, HP 137-8). H. G. Gadamer makes much of
this point: “The sphere of linguistic meaning becomes detached
from the sphere of things encountered in linguistic form. Stoic
logic speaks of these incorporeal meanings [which are] conceived
by themselves for the first time (Gadamer TM, p. 392)”. More,
some Stoics separate authorial intent from the reader’s
interpretation. These observations about language taken together
form a kind of rhetorical constellation that can be applied to
many rabbinic texts.
But if interpretation is free as Faur claims it is, as he
also says, bounded by the fact that it is largely devoted to law
and that legal interpretation is limited by the principle that
law cannot be self-nullifying. Rabbinic exegesis has ethical and
ritual outcomes. But if this is true do we not return to an
arche or form of the law? For Plato, the purpose of the law is
to produce goodness in human beings in conformity with the ideal
laws in the world of forms whereas for Rabbinic Judaism it is to
produce obedience to the divine will. But for both Plato and the
Rabbis the Law is governed by an arche outside itself, so that
Rabbinic exegesis is in that sense at least as Platonic as it is
Stoic. My reflections of Faur’s Platonic/Stoic distinction are
intended less as criticism than as a spur to further elaboration.

Members are welcome to submit for this section any news,
queries, or offerings that may interest the whole group.

This time Norbert Samuelson would like to bring to your
attention that a position is open for a Judaic Scholar in
Residence at Franklin and Marshall College. The college wishes
to make a series of one-year appointments over a three-year
period. They are looking for a teacher/scholar, preferably a
senior one, distinguished in Judaic studies. They would like
someone on leave who would like to develop some innovative
teaching. If interested, please write to:
Chair, Judaic Studies Search Committee
Franklin & Marshall College
Office of the Dean of College
P.O. Box 3003
Lancaster, PA 17604


So, what do we mean by “postmodern Jewish philosophy?” We
are assuming for starters that the meaning will be displayed in
the several ways we use it and that, to identify these ways, we
need to collect a family resemblance class of examples. For our
next issue, we invite these kinds of submissions:
* More reports on what you’ve written in this area. We
need many more examples!
* Comments about the reports you’ve read in this issue.
What kinds of inquiry do you think our various contributors are
engaged in?
* Additional reports and comments you may have on the
recent examples of postmodern Jewish philosophy.
* New items of any sort pertinent to our membership,
including additional comments about your work or about what we’ll
be doing in the Bitnetwork.
There is a wide variety of activities we could engage in;
we’re beginning cautiously while we gather a sense of our shared

We’ve begun this project at a time of war and brokenness and
of terrible hardship in Israel and throughout the Middle East.
Our words in this issue do not display our concerns nor, perhaps,
our not knowing at such a time what our words can do. For now,
we simply say to our correspondents in Israel, Paul and Almut,
you and your families and neighbors are on our minds and in our
prayers. We welcome you using this Network, along with our other
members, so share with us thoughts and concerns that speak from
and to this difficult time.