Jewish Philosophy in China

hebrew-chinese translation1 hebrew-chinese translation2

Sponsored by The Center for Judaic and Inter-Religious Studies at Shandong University, the “Translation Series of Classics of the Jewish Culture” speaks to director and editor-in-chief Professor Fu Youde’s interest in Jewish philosophy and thought and how that interest shapes his understanding of Jewish Studies in China. In the United States and Israel, these kinds of centers for Jewish Studies tend to be dominated by historians, whereas at Shandong University an emphasis has been placed on modern thought and philosophy. My guess is that Josephus (!!), Mishna, and Maimonides were chosen not just for their inherent interest but rather as foundations to a Jewish wisdom tradition. I’ll observe in passing the very minor role played by history on this particular list. Most of it seems to relate to Jewish-Christian relations, and the emergence of the modern religious movement in the wake of Emancipation. But the center of gravity is occupied by the modern philosophical tradition and its basics: Mendelssohn, Cohen, Buber, Rosenzweig, Baeck, Kaplan, Heschel. There’s just enough of history to frame the modern conceptual work.


  A. Fu, Youde. editor-in-chief. Translation Series of Classics of the Jewish Culture. Shandong University Press, 1995-

  1. Maimonides, Moses. Guide for the Perplexed. trans. Fu Youde, Guo Peng & Zhang Zhiping.

  2. Maccoby, Hyam. Judaism on Trial: Jewish-Christian Disputations in the Middle Ages. trans. Huang Fuwu, proofread. Fu Youde.

  3. Ruasvsky, David. Modern Jewish Religious Movements: A History of Emancipation and Adjustment. trans. Fu Youde, Liu Ping & Liu Wei.

  4. Cohen, Abraham. Everyman’s Talmud. trans. Ge Xun, proofread. Fu Youde

  5. Roth, Cecil. A Short History of the Jewish People. trans. Huang Fuwu, Wang Lili.

  6. Buber, Martin. On Judaism. trans. Liu Jie and others.

  7. Baeck, Leo. The Essence of Judaism. trans. Fu Yongjun, Yu Jian.

  8. Kaplan, Mordecai. Judaism as a Civilization: Toward a Reconstruction of American-Jewish Life. trans Huang Fuwu, Zhang Ligai.

  9. Heschel, Abraham. God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism. trans. Guo Peng, Wu Zhengxuan.

  10. Mendelssohn, Moses. Jerusalem: Or on Religious Power and Judaism. trans. Liu Xinli.

  11. Josephus, Flavius. The Jewish War. trans. Wang Lili, etc.

  12. Rosenzweig, Franz. Star of Redemption. trans, Sun Zenglin & Fu Youde (pending).

  13. Mishnah, vol.1. trans, Zhang Ping (pending).

  14. Cohen, Hermann. Religion of Reason: Out of the Sources of Judaism. trans. Sun Zenglin(pending)

  15. Baeck, Leo. This People Israel: The Meaning of Jewish Existence. Trans. Fu Yongjun (pending).

  B. Fu, Youde. History of Jewish Philosophy, two volumes. Renmin University of China Press, 2008.

  C. Fu, Youde. Studies of Jewish Philosophy and Religion. Chinese Social Sciences Publisher, 2007.

  D. Ehrlich, Avrum (editor-in-chief). Encyclopedia of the Jewish Diaspora. Santa Barbara, 2008.

E. Tokeyar, Marvin. Series on Jewish Wisdom, five volumes. Fu, Youde & Niu Jianke( editors-in-chief), proofread by Niu Jianke. Chinese Social Sciences Publisher, 2009.

My own interest in this list is the way it offers or might even push the practice and study of Jewish philosophy and modern Jewish philosophy into a more worldly and cosmopolitan profile. If it’s nice or even a little surprising not to see Buber’s I and Thou or Levinas and Strauss on this reading list of Jewish philosophy in Chinese, I think we can understand it this way. It’s because maybe that text and those authors never quite speak “Jewish” and “Judaism” as clearly as the go-to-guys who made it first onto the list. It’s entirely my own sense that adding Levinas and Strauss to the list would muck up the brand.

As an outsider to China, I will admit to being surprised, indeed pleasantly so, by the very very existence of this list. What caught my eye immediately was the placing of a canon of authors and literature with which I am deeply familiar in a new and unfamiliar cultural and historical contexts. I would want to ask Professor Fu about the criteria by which he selected which modern authors included on this list. I’d also be curious to know how these canonical figures in the history of modern Jewish philosophy and thought are made to speak Chinese. What kind of keywords particular to China and its philosophical traditions are used to translate key terms from the German-Jewish philosophical lexicon?

On a final note, the images posted above are translations of rabbinic works into Chinese that I found here on the webpage of Zhang Ping who teaches Chinese and East Asian Studies at the Department of East Asian Studies at Tel Aviv University. These are beautiful jackets, rich and vinuous and rather breathtaking. I like a lot the classical decorative schemes and the way the menorah looks in “Chinese.” Clearly, careful thought was taken in placing these classical rabbinic texts into a classical Chinese aesthetic medium. A good way to go, a choice that says something about the motility of the Jewish tradition. If someone sends me good images of the translated philosophical work from the series at Shandong University, I will post them separately.

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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