Encounters between Judaism and Modern Philosophy: A Preface to Future Jewish Thought

Encounters between Judaism and Modern Philosophy: A Preface to Future Jewish Thought

Encounters between Judaism and Modern Philosophy: A Preface to Future Jewish Thought

Encounters between Judaism and Modern Philosophy: A Preface to Future Jewish Thought

Excerpt

At high school in pre-Nazi Germany I had a music teacher who loved Johann Sebastian Bach. He taught us Bach chorals. Sometimes he would ask us to sing the words and then, being a meticulous man, he would rarely fail to state that Jews, if so instructed by their consciences, had the right to abstain. On other occasions he would just make us hum the tunes, and then he would let no one abstain. The music, it was his custom to declare, was neither Jewish nor Christian. It was impartial. It was universal. And I, then as now fond of Bach, would gladly join in.

However, my old music teacher was wrong.

Is modern philosophy "universal"? Is it "impartial"? Is it "neither Jewish nor Christian"? One would not wish to question that all great philosophy (like all great music) is somehow universal, nor deny the fact that modern philosophy has striven mightily for impartiality ever since Descartes and Bacon first waged war on the idols of presupposition and prejudice. But has, in this case, general virtue always manifested itself in particular justice? Has modern philosophy been true to itself in being neither Jewish nor Christian?

This common assumption is challenged in the present work. Two disciplines are concerned. One is modern philosophy itself. The other is what, for want of a more accurate term, may be called modern Jewish thought, that is, the critical inquiry into the modern destiny of the Jewish people and its faith.

For modern philosophy, more is involved than the possible need to remove unconscious but accidental prejudice from some limited area such as the philosophy of religion. In a Christian world, uneven justice to Judaism and Christianity would prove modern philosophy guilty of an unconscious parochialism contrary to its own conscious aspirations. What is more, the stake in overcoming this particular parochialism might well be higher than at first sight appears. The foundations of our civilization are Athens and Jeru-

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