So far in a “Jewish philosophy place” there’s been almost nothing about Judaism. This may in part be serendipitous, relating to what I happen to be thinking about at this particular moment. Certainly, it’s not what I’m reading right now. But perhaps a larger stake is at work. Either way, I found this lacuna curious and wanted to explain it.

Maybe that’s the sad truth about liberal Judaism, about which its conservative critics write. They say that Judaism doesn’t come first in liberal Judaism; that liberal Judaism is not serious, committed, “deep,” or demanding.

That’s not how I see it from this side of the political fence. I can only speak for myself and to my own commitments, the specifics of which I need not go into in this kind of a semi-public forum.

But there’s a problem with “first-things.” Here I mean the idea that religion or Judaism or God always has to come first by necessity of metaphysical power, logical concept, or moral principle. See what kind of trouble this causes in the real world. Rick Santorum and the Conservative Right are first-thingers. Or consider the bitter state of Judaism in Israel today. The constant drive to put first-things first just ties people and ideas up in knots.

So no. Let’s try to think it this way instead. Religion, God, and Judaism are not always alpha and omega, origins or end. First comes sensation. Then comes religion. Last comes ethics of a more universal sort, as one good among others (pleasure, happiness). Perhaps these are the first and last things that frame religion in the middle, and yes, to box it in.

In the end, this type of sequencing that go into counting out 1-2-3 might be peculiar to logical, propositional forms of thought, Jewish philosophy included. A person can only think one thing at a time. An alternative approach comes from the single still visual image, from which Jewish philosophy might learn the art of presenting everything all at once.

As my own thoughts unfold sequentially in this blog, I would rather watch how the images, names, and ideas build up “organically.” As the blog builds up, the Tag Cloud on the right side of the blog-page will begin to develop a variety of heterogeneous topoi which subsist visually and simultaneously in a body of thought at a single moment in time.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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