Saving the ugliest question for last. How does the study of Modern Jewish Philosophy and Thought position in the canon Jewish thinkers like Arendt, Benjamin, Cassirer, Jonas about whom Jewishness (i.e. a Jewish social and intellectual subject position and experience) is arguably even deeply “reflected” throughout their work but for whom Jewish “things” do not “appear” at the center of that work, except incidentally and occasionally? The governing assumption is that any theoretical frame can expand how to understand Judaism and Jewishness. But do Judaism and Jewishness have sufficient gravitational pull to bring them “inside,” enough force to stamp their thought?
Examples include Robert Alter’s superlative study, Necessary Angels: Tradition and Modernity in Kafka, Benjamin, and Scholem. Also consider Judith Butler in Parting Ways, who undoubtedly has been pulled a negative gravitational attraction of Zionism and Israel. Another example is the inclusion of Man Ray in Jewish Art: A Modern History by Samantha Baskind and Larry Silver. Indeed, the Jewish Museum in New York was famous when it first opened for showcasing the best cutting edge art around, regardless of the ethnic and religious affiliation of the artists brought into the galleries. It could be that practice and study of contemporary Jewish philosophy and modern Jewish thought need to take the lead of historian Lila Corwin Berman in her recent paper at the AJS Review (“Jewish History beyond the Jewish People,” 42:2, pp.269-292). Her argument there is that “Jewishness” is the more capacious category with which to “frame” and figure these things out and bring others in. Or it could be that about “Jewishness” it is not even necessary to ask much less theorize. Or it could be, seen from the opposite side of the coin that to make strong claims about the Jewishness of thinkers for whom Jewishness was not a central or prominent theme is a kind of abusive appropriation? I imagine these questions get determined by thematic fit.
It could be that a worthwhile category-distinction is one between thick and thin Jewishness. Each have their own genius and virtue. I’m thinking here of the distinction drawn by theorist Katherine Hayles in How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis between thick and thin thinking.