Hebrew Language and Jewish Thought

By David Patterson | Go to book overview

12

CLOSING REMARKS

Soon after his entry into Auschwitz-Birkenau Primo Levi came to the realization of exactly what defined this realm that in turn defined the Nazis. “Then for the first time, ” he writes, “we became aware that our language lacks words to express this offence, the demolition of a man” (Levi 1996:26). This demolition of a man is the outcome not only of twenty centuries of anti-Semitic Christian doctrine but of an even longer tradition of ontological speculative thought. There is no word for this offense because the demolition of a man entails the demolition of the word. In the twentieth century this evil finds its most heinous expression in the Nazis' calculated creation of the Muselmann, as discussed in Chapter 9-the ones Levi describes as “the backbone of the camp, an anonymous mass, continually renewed and always identical, of non-men who march and labour in silence, the divine spark dead within them” (Levi 1996:90).

Inasmuch as the human being is created by a Divine utterance and in the Divine image, the demolition of a man entails the demolition both of the Divine word and of the Divine image in which the human being is created, as understood by Jewish thought. And both the Divine word and the Divine image-or the Divine spark, as Levi calls it-are made of the holy tongue. Thus sounding the depths of the holy tongue means sounding the depths of the Divine spark within the human being as a speaking being, as a medaber. As we have seen, the Western speculative tradition has in many ways undertaken an assault on the Divine being, on the human being, and on the holy tongue. If the sanctity of the human being is to be regained, then one avenue for that return is the holy tongue.

It turns out, therefore, that what is at stake in sounding the depths of the holy tongue is not an exercise in philosophical inquiry but our very understanding of the value of a human being and therefore the very lives of human beings. Only within the framework of Jewish thought informed by the holy tongue can we come to a view of the human being that affrms the sanctity of the other human being, as well as an infinite responsibility to and for that being. The “dejudaizing” of thought, from Marcion and Martin Luther to Hegel and Heidegger, threatens the future not only of the Jews but also of humanity. Indeed, having been chosen to be a light unto humanity, the Jews are chosen to attest to this

-216-

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Hebrew Language and Jewish Thought
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Opening Remarks on the Holy Tongue 6
  • 2 - First Things 16
  • 3 - Giving Voice to G-D 32
  • 4 - The Good 51
  • 5 - For the Sake of Another 70
  • 6 - The Soul 89
  • 7 - Exile 110
  • 8 - Dwelling 133
  • 9 - The House of the Book 153
  • 10 - The Word 173
  • 11 - The Holy 195
  • 12 - Closing Remarks 216
  • Appendix 220
  • Notes 223
  • Bibliography 230
  • Index 237
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