Is Modern Jewish Thought German Jewish Thought?


Truth be told, I’ve got another German Jewish thought project up my sleeve, but I am wondering nonetheless. Is Modern Jewish Philosophy-Thought stuck in and condemned to the German Jewish past? Can we do without it? Do the concepts still work? Can we imagine the field without it?

By way of postscript, this post opened two lines of critical pushback at FB.

One line was that “thought” and “philosophy” have collapsed into theory, which means that modern Jewish “thought” is everywhere and nowhere.

Another line was about Jewish modernity in Eastern Europe. But how many of the theorists and thinkers studies by Eli Stern in his book on Jewish Materialism recommend themselves to us philosophically? I suggested somewhere on this thread that in Eastern Europe,  it was literature that played the dominant role in mediating Jewish modernity, whereas in Germany and the United States it was philosophy, historiography and religion, which is why these places are the ones that dominate the field.

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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13 Responses to Is Modern Jewish Thought German Jewish Thought?

  1. Esque says:

    What concepts do you have in mind?

    • zjb says:

      E.g. revelation, redemption, messianism, political theology. I remember you once made a quip about German Jewish philosophers still thinking that Hindenburg was still Chancellor

      • Esque says:

        Not a bad quip, even if I have no memory of having made it. To me, Irma not the concepts that are stained as much as the expectation that we have to deal with them as they (FR, HC, WB, MB) did. I have said it before: we are smarter than the dead, precisely because thinking requires life. To assume that the dead have authority over us starts a hasty path to irrelevance.

      • zjb says:

        Oh, it was definitely your quip!! Maybe yes about the dead. But no, i think the concepts are dead. Yes, i know that’s only my personal judgment. But also, maybe no about the dead. If anything, they might be more interesting if framed by new concepts?

      • Esque says:

        They might be interested if framed by new concepts, but they don’t have a lifetime right to membership in any canon.

      • zjb says:

        yes, yes, but would you say the same about Maimonides and Halevy?

      • Esque says:

        (or post-lifetime!)

  2. dmf says:

    yes I imagine that as much as higher ed is Germanish this leads the way of least resistance, it would be unfortunate if there was never something of a move to a more American version that speaks more to day to day life here, don’t want to end up as alien and alienating as say analytic philosophy is or as nostalgic/Romantic as continental philo, be interesting to see if someone like Cavell or Rorty can find a place in the canons here or if the silos of departments keep hold until they give way to newer business models.

  3. nitzanl says:

    For Jewish European thought it is. The impact of German-Jewish thought is central for the French-Jewish, American-Jewish and Israeli thought of the second half of the 20th century. But that doesn’t mean it’s the same as Jewish thought. Re the East-West, Lit-Phil distinction, isn’t a discursive approach, then, the meeting point between the two? This is the reason I focused on the theme of revival (T’ehia) in the book I’m publishing in your series. Bialik, Scholem, and Rosenzweig have different takes on how to implement it, but not on its central place for Jewish identity in the modern world.

    • zjb says:

      But these are historicist projects, no, even as they are intended to ramify out into our own world? I wonder if there is a shelf-life at which point the ramifications begin to fade and disappear, or begin to re-appear in weird ways. Put another way, do you think any of the German stuff “really” matters in Israel today (or in Germany itself, for that matter)?

      • nitzanl says:

        you’re right, but I honestly can’t see the present as distinct from the “historicist” project. For instance: is it possible to understand the current state of the legal system in Israel–long de-Yekke-ized, without considering its German-Jewish past? The Yekkes have disappeared a while ago, but much of their understanding is still with us (see the Grundgesetze for example). In some ways, the question could be asked in the opposite way: Has the legacy of Ger-Jsh st hiding the needs of the present? I think it does…

      • zjb says:

        You know this material better than i do. Raymond Williams would have called this a “residual” form or structure that is still effective in the present.

      • zjb says:

        … but there’s then the relationship between the “dominant” and the emergent.” (Gail understands the Williams better than i do)

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