Alien Abduction (What is “The Star of Redemption”?) (An Open Letter to An Old Friend) (Habonim, Park School, and Academic Life)

Dear Mark [Hershkowitz]:

Thanks so much for the FB comment earlier this week about my post(s) about “Franz Rosenzweig” at JPP. You were right to call attention to the gibberish about I seem so often to write. Now that I joined FB and am pestering you with posts, I guess I owe an explanation as to what happened to your old friend many years ago, towards the end of the 1980s. You were still at Kibbutz Ravid. I went off to California for graduate school, which was pretty much when I lost touch with all the Habonim friends. What I’ve never told anyone is that I was abducted by extraterrestrials. Hovering just above planet Earth, they come from a distant star, whose inhabits, it appears, speak almost entirely in German.  

To tell you the truth, I resisted joining FB for many years. When Sarabeth died, everyone found at on FB. Someone was kind enough to contact me. Otherwise, I’d have had no idea. Louise would occasionally drop me an email and tell me how great FB was, but I wasn’t really interested. I found the whole thing rather alarming. Things took a different turn. I was aggravated by a rightwing turn in the field of modern Jewish thought about which no one was being honest (surprise surprise, it has a lot to do with money and big Wall Street conservative dollars). But mostly I was bored. So I started this blog, “Jewish Philosophy Place.” I wanted to play around with ideas and pictures and miscellaneous ephemera and I wanted to do it online and in public. And then I figured I would draw more attention to the blog if I went onto FB. I made contact with lots of colleague friends. But as it happened, Louise was one of the first to find me, and the gates of hell opened. You, Raz, Sandy, who knows else sent me Friend requests. I contacted Lee and Rebecca and who knows else. And family members, both here and in Israel.

And now, all these perfectly nice people from my deep past are getting posts about things like “Franz Rosenzweig,” and “The Star of Redemption,” and my barely semi-competent first thoughts about religion and science, and all the other kinds of crap that are the butter and bread of my professional life. And it sounds bat-shit crazy. If you or anyone else are even a little curious about what I’m doing, well, then I’m really really a lucky person. But I’ve been a terrible friend, throwing all this stuff at you and everyone else without a word of explanation.

So bear with me. Franz Rosenzweig is an old German Jew. He lived and wrote in the first quarter of the 20th century. His major work is “The Star of Redemption,” which was published in 1921, close to a hundred years ago. If his musings as reflected here on my blog sound obscure, it’s because they are. He grew up in an assimilated household, but seems to have been possessed by strange religious ideas. He hangs out in a small circle of friends. He allows himself to be completely dominated by his best friend Eugen, an assimilated Jew who converted to Christianity, and Rosenzweig himself considers converting to Christianity. Very famously, he decides to do so as a “Jew.” So he goes to a little shul in Berlin in 1913 run by Eastern European immigrants. According to legend, he comes to the realization that he will “remain a Jew.” It’s all bullshit. I don’t think much of it is true. It’s all too dramatic and self-dramatizing. At some point, Rosenzweig also starts screwing around with Eugen’s wife Gritli, mostly. I think more than he loved Gritli, he loved Eugen most of all. Eugen and Rosenzweig now start arguing about Judaism and Christianity. Rosenzweig serves in the German army during World War I on the Balkan front. It’s there that he starts plotting out his magnum opus, The Star of Redemption,” a bat shit crazy book that is perhaps one of the most important books of Jewish philosophy ever written. A lot of it has to do with creation, revelation, and redemption –the defiant human being, the sudden and surprising encounter with God, life with others in this world, Jewish and Christian community and ritual performance. Sounds nice, yes? But it’s all under the dark stars of death and sex. In the end, the human subject is pictured shooting forward out of life into a vision of God at the gates of death, and then returns back “into life.”

My friend Greg also wants to know why I keep mucking around with all this old German Jewish dreck. What can I say? I’m sure that Rosenzweig was a huge jerk. But I like all the bad nervous dramatic energy, the way in which religion and Judaism meet up with death and sex. It reminds me of all those nineteenth century Russian writers like Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, as well as Nietzsche, and twentieth century modern writers whom Joe, Louise, Cindy, Lauren, and I read at Park School (and also Labor Zionists like Borochov and Gordon). Rosenzweig actually belongs to that same basic time in the history of culture. I love the existentialism, the art, the ridiculousness. These old Germans tried to figure out what does it mean to be a Jew in the modern world.

Some of “us” are still trying to figure that out. I’ve just turned it into a business, reading books, writing papers, teaching undergraduates, and training graduate students. Today I think this means understanding the internet and things like FB and the wonderful opportunity getting back in touch with old friends, and sharing shit online. It was great to see you and to meet Ron this summer in NYC, and I can’t thank you enough for the pushback on FB. Maybe soon I’ll have to explain Habonim and Park School to my university friends and colleagues, amost all of whom are way too serious for their own good.

All the best,

–Zak

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. http://religion.syr.edu
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1 Response to Alien Abduction (What is “The Star of Redemption”?) (An Open Letter to An Old Friend) (Habonim, Park School, and Academic Life)

  1. Laura says:

    Zak, your deep thoughts and insights harken to memories of my father who loved your world of modern Jewish thought and philosophy. So glad for the opportunity to learn from you!

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