So 1970s (Modern Jewish Ethics) (Marvin Fox)


My search for Jewish ethics pointed me back to this little classic, Modern Jewish Ethics: Theory and Practice, edited by the inestimable Marvin FoxFull of surprises, this anthology of essay is a neat little time capsule from the 1970s. Published in 1975, the essays were originally presented in 1972 and 1971 at the Institute for Judaism and Contemporary Jewish Thought at Bar Ilan University.

Is it the first ever study of its kind? A product of its time, the book includes essays by Fox along with Ernst Simon, David Sidorsky, Jackob Petuchowski, and the famous essay by Aharon Lichtenstein about halakhah and ethics. To my eyes  very surprising is the appearance of Emmanuel Levinas making a very early entrance onto the Jewish philosophical scene in English and in Israel, and by Meir Pa’il, one of the great heroes of the progressive Zionist left.

More on particular contents are to follow. For now, I wanted only to comment on the volume itself, its object-like and iconic character, and the way it sits in place in the early to mid 1970s, a unique and understudied historical moment. Consider in this respect the thesis by Samuel Moyn about the relatively late appearance of “human rights” at around the same period. It might well be the case that, going back only so far, the current vogue in “Jewish ethics” as a distinct phenomenon has a discrete genealogical starting point, much later than one might have originally thought.

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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6 Responses to So 1970s (Modern Jewish Ethics) (Marvin Fox)

  1. dmf says:

    would be interesting (at least for me) to know something about the politics of the academy post WW2 and if there was some new authority given to Jewish scholars on issues of ethics by non-Jews.

    • zjb says:

      my sense is that the jews are pretty much out on their own in the academy, or at least in academic Jewish studies. 1970s is pretty early in terms of the big funding launch of Jewish Studies in the 80s and 90s. The AJS at the time would have been a tiny organization, compose of scholars of Talmud and Maimonides, and pretty much that.

      • dmf says:

        in general that makes sense but what about the public reception at places like the New School and from there into philosophy/sociology/etc and being public intellectuals?

      • zjb says:

        Not sure if there was a reception, the phenomenon was so isolated (and still is). It’s so hard to get a sense of the reception history, unlike in the 80s where it starts to light up

      • dmf says:

        but how much of that (in terms of support) was about worries about assimilation and the like? you are surely right about the limits but I do wonder if the stars of that period (and then there roles into the soviet/civil-rights era) didn’t set certain trends in motion. looking forward to seeing what you find, been interested in general about the evolution from bible studies depts into “religion” studies and now___?
        for a while after the Bush2 years when the broader academy started to recognize the continuing role of religion in US life that the various depts (anthro, pol-sci, journalism, etc) would start try and rope folks (or at least their roles) back out of religion and into their disciplines but it hasn’t really happened yet, of course the pressures to produce numbers may yet bring such pressures to bear.

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