Is Deconstruction a Jewish Science? Reflections on "Jewish Philosophy" in Light of Jacques Derrida's Judéïtés

Article excerpt

In 1920, Franz Rosenzweig published a pamphlet entitled "Of Bildung There Is No End" ("Bildung und kein Ende"), in which he sought-during the time in which he was involved in founding the Jewish Lehrhaus in Frankfurt-to take stock of the meaning and aims of Jewish Bildung (education, formation) for his time. For Rosenzweig, to undertake such a task required asking the question, "What is the Jew?" or "What is the Jewish human being?", and doing so in a way that sidestepped the parochial assumptions that undergirded organized Jewish life-those assumptions, for instance, that centered on Judaism as a political or cultural enterprise understandable only with reference to mainstream culture, whether it posed as an alternative or a supplement to that culture, or whether it proposed a way into that cultureRosenzweig names as examples both "Zionists" and "assimilationists." For Rosenzweig's purposes, the "Jewish human being" "does not mean a delimitation [Abgrenzung] against other kinds of humanity [andere Menschlichkeiten]." While Germanness [Deutschtum] "necessarily delimits itself against other Volkstiimer [nations, peoples]," such that a German cannot be at the same time a "Frenchman" or an "Englishman" and "the Germanness of the Jewish human being excludes his simultaneous Frenchness or Englishness," the Jew is a human being strictly insofar as he is a Jew, and a Jew insofar as he is a human being.1 Thus, while it could be a legitimate question-and had indeed been pursued, in a Hegelian vein, as a legitimate question-what the "connections" are between Germanness and humanity or universal human history, a pursuit of the kind that might lead to philosophico-historical speculations about the German contribution to the career of absolute spirit, for Judaism such a question would be nonsensical. No "connections" can be revealed or established between Judaism and humanity; the two are co-extensive, Rosenzweig writes.

We have here, in compact form, and with an emphasis on its consequences for what in contemporary parlance is known as Jewish "identity," a version of Rosenzweig's classic retrieval and reappropriation of the concept of Jewish election, understood not as a particularism but in its universal significance.2

Now, Rosenzweig himself will go on to specify against what Judaism, instead, is indeed delimited-namely the Christian and the pagan human being, in accordance with his dualistic schema, in the Star of Redemption, of the Christian and the Jewish paths that emerge from a pagan, mythic pre-history. But I would like, for my present purposes, to leave this aside in order to build on Rosenzweig's notion of Jewishness as a difference without delimitation, as a different kind of difference.

The contemporary scholar of German-Jewish thought Willi Goetschel has made significant strides towards figuring out what the consequences of this idea might be for the category of "Jewish philosophy." Whether one can legitimately speak of a "Jewish philosophy" is of course a long-standing question. Traditional answers have ranged from pointing to the medieval context as the birthplace of, and privileged locus for, Jewish philosophy; to defining Jewish philosophy in terms of "philosophies of Judaism," i.e., as consisting of philosophical analyses of Jewish traditions and phenomena; to philosophical inquiry, from a Jewish point of view, into classic religio-philosophical themes, such as the relationship of faith and reason; to the wider range of "expressions of Jewish reflection, secular and religious," Paul Mendes-Flohr has recently suggested, that could be taken as one of the specifically modern contributions to the project of Jewish philosophizing.3 In his 1994 article on the notion of "Jewish Philosophy"4 Goetschel calls attention to the fact that this question always has a normative dimension, both for Judaism and for philosophy.

Goetschel takes as his conceptual starting point the question of Jewish emancipation as it gets posed in Lessing's "Nathan the Wise. …


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