Pictures Matter (The Shape of Neoconservative Jewish Thought) (Leo Strauss)


What does Judaism and Jewish thought look like? That would depend on the look and the looker.

These are the visuals promoting the undergraduate summer program organized at Princeton University by the neoconservative Tikvah Fund. I found them at the Jewish Review of Books, another platform sponsored by the Tikvah Fund.

I (don’t) like how  the repetition of the index finger and how the gavel hangs over the entire ensemble.

Without ever having to say them out loud, the keywords that the pictures and the bold red, graphic frame promote include:

Athens and Jerusalem, authority, canon, conservativism, esotericism, heteronomy, history, judgment, law, norm, normativity, obedience, orthodoxy, patriarchy, phallus, philosophy, politics, text, tradition, transcendence.

In other words, Jewish thought and culture take on the cast cast for them a long time ago by Leo Strauss. A very narrow box, it’s an unlovely visual form of contemporary modern Jewish thought and Judaism about which one might want to entertain a second thought or two.

About all this, I’ve written before in more detail. My argument was that the Tivkah Fund is a rightwing operation with deep corporate  pockets. Its carefully conceived donor strategy is to use university programming in Jewish Studies and Jewish thought to project a conservative face onto the American Jewish body politic.

Without ever having to say so, these images are neither modern nor democratic. They represent a discrete philosophical and political picture-world.


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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2 Responses to Pictures Matter (The Shape of Neoconservative Jewish Thought) (Leo Strauss)

  1. efmooney says:

    Zak, I accept your characterization of the sponsoring agency. But I wonder why looking at “Athens and Jerusalem, authority, canon, heteronomy, history, judgment, law, norm, normativity, obedience, orthodoxy, patriarchy, philosophy, politics, text, tradition, transcendence” can’t be the lexicon for studying secular or Christian or liberal Jewish or Muslim thought as well? Why are these terms specific keys to unlocking a kind of Jewish thought (as opposed to ‘ethico-religious stances’ most generally)?

    • zjb says:

      Thanks, Ed. The reason is not that liberalism has no interest in these things. What matters is how they get framed, as foreground or background, and how hoary. Most;y, I’m don’t “like” what happens to these concepts absent other mediating concepts like art, “archaeology,” autonomy, beauty, change, class, critique, ethics, eros, geneaology, gender, power, race? Another way to put it. I’m not averse to structure, as long as there’s even just a little deconstruction.

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