Big Book of Jewish Philosophy (Cambridge History of Jewish Philosophy: The Modern Era)

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About the future of big books like this in the digital age, who knows? But here are some pictures of the just published Cambridge History of Jewish Philosophy: The Modern Era edited by Martin Kavka, David Novak, and myself –to give you an idea of what the thing looks like. By “thing” I mean the book, the study of modern Jewish philosophy, and the practice of contemporary Jewish philosophy as currently constituted in the United States.

The Cambridge History of Jewish Philosophy: The Modern Era was many, many years in the making; and well worth the wait, I hope. It’s a companion piece to a volume on the medieval period edited by Tamar Rudavsky and Steven Nadler. These are both massive, 800+ page volumes, and the print is a wee bit larger than tiny.

I joined the editorial team late in the game. The mandate from the press was to organize the chapters thematically, but the organization was all Martin’s. The entire project demonstrates the power of his conception and his meticulous, editorial eye. I’m tempted to say that the most interesting part of the book is the 52 page bibliography. I’m not being cynical. It shows the guts of the entire project of current scholarship on modern Jewish thought and the state of contemporary Jewish philosophy as a constructive discipline.

Cambridge was incredibly generous with the license extended to the editors and contributors. Each contribution, without exception, rolls out a sustained, complex line of argument. The volume itself ranges widely from aesthetics and art, epistemology, ethics, history, phenomenology, politics, and theology. It is far more philosophical than the still excellent Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought edited by Arthur Cohen and Paul Mendes-Flohr, to which it should be compared.

Speaking of generosity, though, the volume is incredibly expensive. $200! Who in the world can afford to read this thing?? Go to a library, I guess, but who does that anymore? Martin and I are interested in securing subvention funds to get this out in paper. In the meantime, and I can only speak for myself, I’d be happy to oblige any request for a pdf of my entry on “Zionism.” For my academic colleagues, who are probably the only ones (still) reading this post, if you want a copy, I’d suggest you review it for a journal.

About the volume as a whole, I am of two minds. It suggests the kind of reach possible at this contemporary moment in Jewish philosophy. But is the discourse still too hermeneutic, too introspective, and self-involved? Both terms of the contradiction are suggested to me by the sheer size of the volume. It’s going to ask a lot of its readers, which is a good thing and a bad thing.

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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3 Responses to Big Book of Jewish Philosophy (Cambridge History of Jewish Philosophy: The Modern Era)

  1. hayyim rothman says:

    can you try to convince cambridge to convert it into an ebook? it would still not be cheap, but even the expensive books i have purchased through google reader are a lot cheaper than paper.

  2. Esque says:

    Thanks, Zak. I will only add that DN did fine-tune the organization of the volume, by showing me how it made more sense to place certain essays where they are now (and not as my original proposal had it).

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