Thinking about the Torah: A Philosopher Reads the Bible

Thinking about the Torah: A Philosopher Reads the Bible

Thinking about the Torah: A Philosopher Reads the Bible

Thinking about the Torah: A Philosopher Reads the Bible


The Bible is an enduring source of inspiration for the human heart and mind, and readers of Thinking about the Torah will be rewarded with an enhanced understanding of this great work's deeper meanings. Drawing on Western philosophy and particularly Jewish philosophy, Kenneth Seeskin delves into ten core biblical verses and the powerful ideas that emerge from them. He speaks to readers on every page and invites conversation about topics central to human existence: how finite beings can relate to the infinite, what love is, the role of ethics in religion, and the meaning of holiness.

Seeskin raises questions we all ask and responds to them with curiosity and compassion, weaving into his own perceptive commentary insights from great Jewish thinkers such as Maimonides, Spinoza, Buber, Rosenzweig, and Levinas, as well as Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Luther, Kant, and Kierkegaard.

The Bible is concerned with how we think as well as how we follow the commandments, rituals, and customs. Seeskin inspires us to read the Torah with an open mind and think about the lessons it teaches us.


Let me begin with a personal admission. At the age of sixty-nine, when most people adopt an easygoing way of life, I have a chip on my shoulder. It is not that I myself have been cheated out of something but that I cannot help but think that the religion I have practiced all my life has been misunderstood—not just by those outside it but by those inside it as well.

The basis of the misunderstanding is that Judaism is more concerned with what a person does (what foods she eats, what clothes she wears, and what holidays she celebrates) than with what she thinks. No one but a fool would deny that Judaism is concerned with what a person does. But this does not mean that what a person thinks should be brushed aside like so many crumbs from the table.

The standard Christian criticism of Judaism is that it is a primitive religion that lacks a reflective component. Christianity, it is said, superseded Judaism because it saw that faith in God is more important than obedience to a list of dos and don’ts. It is this line of thought that still encourages people to refer to the Hebrew Bible as the “Old Testament,” suggesting that it is only the first half of an extended work that culminates in the death and resurrection of Jesus. in the eighteenth century, as enlightened a figure as Immanuel Kant maintained that Judaism is not a religion at all but a set of tribal practices. in the early part of the twentieth century, John Herman Randall, a distinguished professor at Columbia University, wrote that the moral system of the . . .

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