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

By S. Daniel Breslauer | Go to book overview

assesses the needs of the Jewish people and whether it truly demarcates the limits of historical writing remain open questions. Nevertheless historians and poets alike benefit from recognizing the message and intention behind Bialik's poetic response to the Kishnev pogrom.

Perhaps this poetics of history helps explain why both Derrida, a self- avowed postmodern, and Leo Strauss, who declared a desire to return to the ancients, agree in rejecting a teleological view of history. Both thinkers deny an ultimate or overriding purpose guiding human events. Instead, these thinkers declare, "There is no necessary direction or end to history."28 They share a postmodem perspective in which all putative closures to "history" are imposed by arbitrary fiat on the open canvas of human events. There is no "history" except through the constructions of a "tradition." As the tradition articulates the past, it creates history. This fact makes an essentially aesthetic demand: beauty depends on an awareness of the other as constructed in a relationship to the past. Bialik and Baron both use the past selectively to create an artistic vision of the self and the other that points to moral responsiveness.


NOTES
1.
See the discussion of early interpreters of myth, including those like Edward Tylor and Sigmund Freud who rejected it, and those like Mircea Eliade and Lévi- Strauss, who celebrate it, in Robert A. Segal, "In Defense of Mythology: The History of Modern Theories of Myth," Annals of Scholarship ( 1980), 1:1, 3-49.
2.
Gerald A. Larue, Ancient Myth and Modern Man ( Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1973), x.
3.
See Frank Burch Brown, Religious Aesthetics: A Theological Study of Making and Meaning ( Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), 165.
4.
See Thomas L. Pangle, The Ennobling of Democracy: The Challenge of the Postmodern Age ( Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), 27. Pangle, however, wishes to reinstate the older authoritative aesthetics to counter what he feels is the relativism engendered by postmodemism.
5.
See Walter Benjamin: Theoretical Questions, David S. Ferris, ed. ( Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), 15.
6.
Alexander Birkos and Lewis A. Tambs, Historiography, Method, History Teaching (Hamden, CT, 1975) survey and catalogue materials in English from 1965 to 1973. These materials provide a point of departure for the variety sketched in this paragraph.
7.
See the discussion throughout Will Herberg, Faith Enacted as History: Essays in Biblical Theology, Bernhard W. Anderson, ed. ( Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976).
8.
Jacob Neusner, The Death and Birth of Judaism: The Impact of Christianity, Secularism, and the Holocaust on Jewish Faith ( New York: Basic Books, 1987).
9.
See the discussion in Ideas of Jewish History, Michael A. Meyer, ed. ( New York: Behrman House, 1974), 103-37.
10.
On the pogroms generally and the comparison between those of 1903-6 with other pogroms see Baron Salo Wittmayer, The Russian Jew under Tsars and Soviets ( New York: Macmillan, 1976), 56-60; Stephen M. Berk, Year of Crisis, Year of Hope:Russian Jewry and the Pogroms of 1881-1882

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