Toward a Jewish (M)orality: Speaking of a Postmodern Jewish Ethics

By S. Daniel Breslauer | Go to book overview

to everything rising against him," the teacher addresses a real question. He asks, "What about the Dead Sea?" A student responds, but not with a geographical reply. A boy tells of his stay, some months earlier, at the Dead Sea and concludes, "Everything looked to me as if it had been created a day before the rest of creation." With those words, Buber suggests, the teacher has succeeded, the class has moved from chaos to creation, and education has begun. 42 Buber cherished myth. The literal words of the boy have little meaning. How would a precreation creation look? The mythic statement, however, points toward the boy's engagement with the Dead Sea, his refusal to reduce it to a geographical footnote. The true teacher had led a student beyond the superficial to see the inner unity that linked one experience to all others. Rather than provide a "modern" univocal answer, Buber suggests an answer that reverberates with several meanings.

Buber succeeds in translating the concerns of the hasidic legend into a postmodern key by open the categories of Judaism to indefinite meanings. He anticipates the postmodern concern with process through his emphasis on life and its variety as the criteria of authenticity. As one tells stories to generate ever new alternatives, Buber acts like a hasidic master, thrusting his readers into life by demanding a decision about the model to choose and the path to follow. He awakens a postmodern consciousness with his insistence that no single path ever emerges so that the process of choosing rather than the choices made reflects the moral task. Buber, while both modern and existentialist, offers in his hasidic narratives a useful resource for a contemporary postmodern Jewish ethics.


NOTES
1.
Lawrence E. Cahoone, ed., From Modernism to Postmodernism: An Anthology ( Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1996).
2.
Zygmund Bauman, Intimations of postmodernity ( London: Polity, 1991), xxii.
3.
Gillian Rose, "Diremption of Spirit," in Shadow of Spirit: Postmodernism and Religion, Andrew Wernick and Phillipa Berry, eds. ( London: Routledge, 1992), 50.
4.
Nahum Glatzer, Franz Rosenzweig: His Life and Thought. Second Revised Edition ( New York: Schocken, 1961), xxvi.
5.
Bernard Martin, Great Twentieth Century Jewish Philosophers: Shestov, Rosenzweig, Buber ( New York: Macmillan, 1970).
6.
See Paul Mendes-Flohr, "Introduction: Franz Rosenzweig and the German Philosophical Tradition," in The Philosophy of Franz Rosenzweig, Paul Mendes-Flohr, ed. ( Hanover: University Press of New England, 1988), 2.
7.
See Richard A. Cohen, Elevations: The Height of the Good in Rosenzweig and Levinas ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994).
8.
Alexander Altmann, "Franz Rosenzweig on History," in The Philosophy of Franz Rosenzweig, 125.
9.
Walter Kaufmann, "I and Thou: A Prologue," in Martin M. Buber, I and Thou, Walter Kaufmann, tr. ( New York: Scribner's, 1970), 9, 19.

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