Leon Wieseltier & The Limits of Jewish Moralism


Especially for those of us exercised by so-called Jewish ethics, “The Sins of Leon Wieseltier” which you can read here by Joseph Epstein at the Weekly Standard is cruel and painful reading, excellent for the take down of a sexual predator while getting at what for us here was an emblem of contemporary Jewish thought. What stands out is not just the man’s preening and ambitious arrogance, but the character of a moral bully whose example marks out the limits of Jewish ethics. There are in Wieseltier the “moral diatribes,” claims to “[deep] moral imagination,” the calling out of the “moral idiocy” of others, the “high moral dudgeon,” the “moralizing tone,” the “moralizing, the portentousness, the pomposity,” the positioning of oneself as the “moral conscience of the intellectuals, the Jews, the nation at large.” Maybe it’s true that what Wieseltier only ever cared about literariness, not ethics and certainly not humility, the cardinal virtue in “the Jewish tradition.” He knew how to dress it up, putting Jewish morality on show before the literary set. For those of you regretting with sadness his passing from the scene, one should consider the damage done.

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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2 Responses to Leon Wieseltier & The Limits of Jewish Moralism

  1. mghamner says:

    I agree with your assessment, as much as I can in light of my baseline ignorance of the players, but don’t you think that Joseph Epstein’s piece is sheer tabloid gossip? It is basically a lunchtime banter about how he, Epstein, has the moral superiority to have known for years that Wieseltier is an arrogant creep.

  2. dmf says:

    so much for those in and out of the academy who try and con-fuse literariness with ethics…


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