Jewish Philosophy Today

By Katz, Claire | Philosophy Today, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

Jewish Philosophy Today

Katz, Claire, Philosophy Today

What is Jewish philosophy?1 Why is it philosophy? And if there is such a thing as Jewish philosophy, who counts as a Jewish philosopher? These questions guide any number of essays devoted to the topic of Jewish philosophy; some specifically address the meta-question of what constitutes Jewish philosophy and what thinkers are included in this category. As we see in the history of philosophy and in current trends in contemporary philosophy, defining those who are allowed in a particular category and those who are not is not an easy task; nor does it usually have a logic other than a political movement of the time. I would be remiss if I did not recognize that the question of Jewish philosophy still remains, for some, a question: what is it and why is it philosophy? A brief tour of some of the most prominent and recognizable names in the Jewish philosophical canon whose "identity" has caused a bit of a stir will help us to orient ourselves in this field called Jewish philosophy.

Beginning with Spinoza, who is generally accepted as part of the Western philosophical canon, we can ask, as Emil Fackenheim does, if his acceptance is the result of his opting out of Judaism and/or because the Jewish community of Amsterdam excluded him, making him and his thought seem less Jewish and therefore less parochial. The Moses Mendelssohn (a philosophical contemporary and friend of Kant's) who appears in histories of early modern philosophy-the one who debates with Jacobi over Lessing's Spinozism-is not the Moses Mendelssohn who appears in accounts of modern Jewish philosophy. The central text for this latter Mendelssohn, Jerusalem, addresses concerns regarding state and religious power: what is the relationship, if any, between the two and what limits on each should be imposed?2 His interest lies in persuading his readership that there is no inconsistency in being a German citizen and remaining Jewish. His exploration into the relationship between national citizenship and religious identity is still relevant today.

In the late modern period, Hermann Cohen, a brilliant neo-Kantian and the teacher of Franz Rosenzweig and Martin Buber, is also largely ignored, though Cohen's work is infused with Kantian philosophy. As Fackenheim points out, insofar as Cohen is a neo-Kantian, he cannot be completely ignored, but little heed, if any, is paid to the way in which Cohen takes up Kantian philosophy into a Jewish framework. Rosenzweig, who wrote his dissertation on Hegel, is rarely, if ever taught, in existentialism courses and we can lament the lack of attention given by philosophers to his The Star of Redemption. Certainly, The Star is a daunting book, and it is no easy task to read it; however, other difficult books (e.g., Kant's Critique of Pure Reason or Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit) are not only central to the canon of modern philosophy, but they are celebrated in part because of their level of difficulty. In any event, Rosenzweig often inspires his own set of debates precisely over the issue of whether he was a Jewish thinker or a German philosopher. Was The Star a work of philosophy or, as he feared, simply a "Jewish book"? Buber's / and Thou (like Tillich's The Courage to Be and Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling) frequently appears in introductory philosophy courses or in courses on existentialism, usually when dealing with questions of religious experience or the role of the human in religious experience. This frequency, however, might be more of an indication that Buber's sophisticated philosophical ideas appear simplistic and/or that the mystical religious tradition that informs his thought is either unknown or viewed as irrelevant.3

When we move to the more contemporary thinkers and explore the debate surrounding Levinas's Judaism and the role that Judaism plays in informing his philosophical thought, it is difficult not to speculate about why such debates become so heated. What is at stake in proclaiming Levinas to be a Jewish philosopher? …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Jewish Philosophy Today


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.