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TTC Video - Jewish Intellectual History

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TTC Video - Jewish Intellectual History

TTC Video - Jewish Intellectual History | 4.29 GB
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But the last four centuries have presented Jewish thinkers with difficult challenges:

What were the purpose and meaning of Jewish practices and customs, given the increasing number of Jews who placed greater value on their own autonomy?
Could Jews still justify the notion of a "chosen people" in a society where Jewish integration and full participation with the rest of humanity had become the norm?
These lectures present the varying ways in which a small group of thinkers has attempted to answer these challenges.

These men and, in recent years, women, have reflected deeply on the relevance of Jewish texts and traditions to modern Jews.

Different Routes to a Common Goal

Though their approaches and solutions differed, most shared a common goal: provide a continuing sense of faith, meaning, and identity for their fellow Jews.

Through these lectures, you will observe the time-honored intellectual tradition through which Judaism analyzes, rethinks, and reformulates itself.

This process of preserving its essential character while still trying to accommodate itself to the modern world has kept Judaism a vital and vibrant, rather than static, religion.

This course may serve to introduce you to a new and rich body of thinkers and thinking, for until recently, Jewish intellectual history, though an integral part of Western intellectual history, has been less heralded.

But one of the contributions of the young field of Jewish Studies has been to bring the thinkers featured in this series to a wider audience.

Spinoza's Devastating Challenge

Spinoza's impact was so significant, Professor Ruderman notes, that much of the course might be viewed as a series of responses to his thinking.

Spinoza received a traditional rabbinical education, but he broke with Judaism after his father died. He was raised in Amsterdam, a city in which both Jews and Christians lived in an increasingly tolerant and secular atmosphere.

Breaking with Four Centuries of Tradition

Spinoza disputed Maimonides's belief that reason and faith could be reconciled. Because biblical texts were believed to have been inspired by God, he asserted, they were supernatural. They could be interpreted through faith or reason, but not both.

If one chose reason, then the Bible was not divinely inspired but a document created by Man.

This argument was devastating to the question of Jewish identity.

Essentially, it negated God, Torah, and Israel, denying any rationale for Jews to think of themselves as the chosen people, observe ceremonial laws, or accept the authority of the rabbis.

Spinoza's critique laid bare the contradiction between Jewish communal values and secular liberal ones. He was the first to pose a fundamental question that remains relevant to this day: Is it possible to be a true liberal and a traditional Jew?

Three Responses: Insiders, Outsiders, and Rejectionists

This course considers modern Jewish thought largely in terms of two issues:

The response to Spinoza and his attack on the very viability of Judaism
The shift in the standard by which Jews defined themselves and their faith. In the Middle Ages, this defining factor had been God. In the modern age, it became the non-Jewish world.
With the weakening of the Jewish community, the need to provide a rationale for being Jewish in a non-Jewish world became pressing and more problematic.

Given these two issues, Professor Ruderman presents the various thinkers according to three approaches:

Insiders want to remain Jews but believe that Judaism has to be tailored to better fit the culture at large. The problem is how to accomplish this and still preserve the belief that Judaism is unique.
Outsiders believe there is no longer a place for Judaism, that Judaism should essentially be overcome to create something in which all humans can share. The philosophies of Spinoza, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud might be included in this category.
Rejectionists believe Jews should maintain their traditional beliefs and customs and refuse to blend in with the larger Western culture. This approach became very apparent in the wake of the Holocaust.
Reconciling Problems for a Modern World

Most thinkers represented in these lectures are insiders who struggled to create a better fit between Judaism and the contemporary world.

Each had to deal with problems related to cherished notions of God, Torah, and Israel, including:

Jewish law: This has been a central issue in modern Jewish thought. In his book Jerusalem (1783), Moses Mendelssohn drew a distinction between moral and ritual commandments, but insisted both were obligatory for Jews. Subsequent thinkers emphasized the moral over the ritual, claiming the former was eternal, while the latter could change.
Comparisons with Christianity:Living in a predominantly Christian society led many thinkers to reflect on the relative merits of both religions. Some constructed rationales arguing for the superiority of Judaism over Christianity. Immanuel Wolf implied a belief in inferiority by asserting that "Judaism must raise itself to the level of a science."
Particularity: It remained important to demonstrate that the Jews retained their status as a chosen people. Thinkers developed such philosophies as "the mission of Israel" and "Catholic Israel," and highlighted the moral and rational virtues of Judaism in an effort to preserve its unique place in the world.
This lecture series places historical theories and religious practices in a fresh light. You will encounter thinkers who embodied lifestyles and philosophies difficult to categorize but often original and thought provoking.

A Wait before Considering the Holocaust

The final lectures examine the impact of the Holocaust, as well as newer contributions being made by women thinkers.

Jewish thinkers, in fact, did not write extensively about the Holocaust until 1960.

"The shock was so great that the most appropriate response for a while was silence," Professor Ruderman notes.

Women Jewish intellectuals in the last 40 years have challenged the patriarchal nature of Judaism by arguing for full participation of women in ritual services and creation of gender-sensitive prayer books:

Judith Plaskow has raised awareness of ways women have been overlooked in Jewish history and in the scriptures themselves.
Rachel Adler argues that Judaism's commitment to justice obligates it to address gender inequity.
Professor Ruderman completes the lectures with an evaluation of current Jewish thought and the argument that has been raised that it may no longer be relevant.


On Studying Jewish History
Defining Modern Jewish History and Thought
Cultural Transformation in the Italian Ghetto
Seventeenth-Century Marranism and Messianism
The Challenge of Baruch Spinoza
Moses Mendelssohn and His Generation
The Science of Judaism


The Neo-Orthodoxy of Samson Raphael Hirsch
Zecharias Frankel and Conservative Judaism

Zionism's Answer to the Jewish Problem
Three Zionist Visions
The Jewish Adventure with Socialism
Hermann Cohen's Religion of Reason
Leo Baeck's Mystery and Commandment
Martin Buber's Religious Existentialism

Mordecai Kaplan and American Judaism

Theological Responses to the Nazi Holocaust
Feminist Jewish Theology
Current Trends in Jewish Thought

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