Philosophy and the Jewish Question: Mendelssohn, Rosenzweig, and Beyond

Philosophy and the Jewish Question: Mendelssohn, Rosenzweig, and Beyond

Bruce Rosenstock
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 336
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Philosophy and the Jewish Question: Mendelssohn, Rosenzweig, and Beyond
    Book Description:

    Drawing together two critical moments in the history of European Jewry-its entrance as a participant in the Enlightenment project of religious and political reform and its involvement in the traumatic upheavals brought on by the Great War-this book offers a reappraisal of the intersection of culture, politics, theology, and philosophy in the modern world through the lens of two of the most important thinkers of their day, Moses Mendelssohn and Franz Rosenzweig. Their vision of the place of the Jewish people not only within German society but also within the unfolding history of humankind as a whole challenged the reigning cultural assumptions of the day and opened new ways of thinking about reason, language, politics, and the sources of ethical obligation. In making the Jewish questionserve as a way of reflecting upon the human questionof how we can live together in acknowledgment of our finitude, our otherness, and our shared hope for a more just future, Mendelssohn and Rosenzweig modeled a way of doing philosophy as an engaged intervention in the most pressing existential issues confronting us all.In the final chapters of the book, the path beyond Mendelssohn and Rosenzweig is traced out in the work of Hannah Arendt and Stanley Cavell. In light of Arendt's and Cavell's reflections about the foundations of democratic sociality, Rosenstock offers a portrait of an immigrant Rosenzweigjoined in conversation with his American cousins.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4832-2
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Mendelssohn and Rosenzweig Beyond 1800
    (pp. 1-27)

    The year 1800 marks a moment when, according to Rosenzweig, history takes a false turn. The generation living around the year 1800, having witnessed an unprecedented popular revolution in France, sensed that they stood on the cusp of a new and glorious future. Rosenzweig finds this sense of nearly messianic expectancy in a verse from Friedrich Hölderlin’s poem of 1800, “To the Germans” (“An die Deutschen”), which he uses as an epigraph to his bookHegel und der Staat(1920):

    Aber kömmt, wie der Strahl aus dem Gewölke kömmt,

    Aus Gedanken vielleicht, geistig und reif die Tat?

    Folgt die Frucht,...

  6. ONE Performing Reason: Mendelssohn on Judaism and Enlightenment
    (pp. 28-78)

    In the September 1784 edition of theBerlinische Monatschrift,the leading Prussian journal devoted to advancing the cause of Enlightenment, Moses Mendelssohn published his response to a question posed by the editor of the journal: “Was ist Aufklärung?” or “What is Enlightenment?”¹ In December of the same year, Immanuel Kant offered his response. In his study of Kant’s essay, Michel Foucault (1984) draws attention to the significance of the participation of both Mendelssohn and Kant, the two most prominent German-speaking philosophers of the day, in theBerlinische Monatschrift’s discussion about the meaning of Enlightenment. Foucault marks this moment as fateful...

  7. TWO Jacobi and Mendelssohn: The Tragedy of a Messianic Friendship
    (pp. 79-122)

    For nearly two years, from November, 1783 until October, 1785, Moses Mendelssohn and Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi engaged in an exchange of letters that proved to be of overwhelming significance for the future of philosophy. Jacobi published the narrative of this epistolary philosophical quarrel, with full texts of his own letters and excerpts or summaries of Mendelssohn’s, in a work entitledÜber die Lehre des Spinoza in Briefen an den Herrn Moses Mendelssohn (Concerning the Doctrine of Spinoza in Letters to Herr Moses Mendelssohn).² Jacobi’s central claim in his Spinoza-Letters was that Germany’s most famous spokesperson for the Enlightenment vision of...

  8. THREE In the Year of the Lord 1800: Rosenzweig and the Spinoza Quarrel
    (pp. 123-161)

    Despite all their differences, Mendelssohn and Jacobi shared a conviction, afaith,that God reveals himself to humanity in the contingency of a historical moment. Furthermore, this contingent revelation is made to particular individuals and is not accessible to the universalizing grasp of reason. Both Mendelssohn and Jacobi would have entirely agreed with Rosenzweig’s dictum: “The essence of revelation is that it is afact” (“Die Wesen der Offenbarung ist, daß sie eineTatsacheist”) (1984: 100). For Mendelssohn, this revelation took place once, at Mt. Sinai; for Jacobi it takes place whenever the living person feels within himself the...

  9. FOUR Reinhold and Kant: The Quest for a New Religion of Reason
    (pp. 162-204)

    This chapter will focus on Reinhold and Kant, and the next will focus on Hegel. These chapters together examine how Reinhold, Kant, and Hegel search for a new version of the religion of reason that had been so central to the Enlightenment and which, they all agreed, had shown itself in need of an entirely new approach when Mendelssohn published hisMorning Hoursand Jacobi had, in response, published hisSpinoza-Letters.Reinhold was the first to recognize that what the Mendelssohn-Jacobi quarrel had demonstrated, above all, was that a new footing for the religion of reason had to be found,...

  10. FIVE Beautiful Life: Mendelssohn, Hegel, and Rosenzweig
    (pp. 205-243)

    Hegel’s philosophical supersession of Judaism—perhaps the central theme of his early (pre-1800) theological writings—is the most challenging of those I will explore and the most consequential for Rosenzweig. Quite unlike Reinhold and Kant, Hegel acknowledges finite, embodied life as the heart of religion.¹ To a great extent, Hegel comes to accept the point that Jacobi had been pressing against the new Spinozism in German philosophy, namely, that reason and universality were inimical to faith in alivingGod and that freedom begins with the defiant rejection of the God of the Enlightenment, the Supreme and Necessary Being. In...

  11. SIX Mendelssohn, Rosenzweig, and Political Theology: Beyond Sovereign Violence
    (pp. 244-275)

    In the previous chapters I have attempted to show how Rosenzweig frees Mendelssohn’s vision of Jewish existence as embodied revelation from its repression beneath the edifice of idealist philosophy, an edifice constructed in the aftermath of the Spinoza Quarrel. Breaking through the systematizing philosophy of 1800, Rosenzweig opens a path toward a Judaism lived as a continuing conversation between the generations, a dogma-free sociality that is, for Mendelssohn, the model of enlightened, democratic sociality more generally. But Rosenzweig’s conception of Jewish life as lived outside of politics and history is very far indeed from Mendelssohn’s hope that Jewish corporate existence...

  12. SEVEN Beyond 1800: An Immigrant Rosenzweig
    (pp. 276-308)

    In this chapter I imagine an “immigrant Rosenzweig.” I will offer an alternative, democratic vision of political theology, one that draws from both Hannah Arendt and Stanley Cavell in order to illuminate aspects of Rosenzweig’s thought that he himself did not foreground in his discussion of the nature of the state. I explained in the previous chapter that Arendt’s concept of “natality,” perhaps the key to her philosophical anthropology, is central to her understanding of how political action can be the realization of human freedom. Rosenzweig’s discussion of creation as the eruption of an unforeseen and unique singularity—he speaks...

  13. EPILOGUE: Pirates of the Caribbean Once More
    (pp. 309-324)

    I would like to return to the topic of radical evil, the centerpiece of what I dubbed Kant’s “sublime” religion of reason. In the previous chapter I suggested, following the lead of Stanley Cavell, that the beauty of a dance number between Fred Astaire and an African American shoeshine man offers a glimpse of redemption in everyday time that rebukes the injustice of this yet-unredeemed world. I argued that the spectators of redemptive beauty can become the agents of a democratic redemptive politics. It might seem that radical evil and the sublime horizon of hope offered in Kant’s religion of...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 325-356)
    (pp. 357-366)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 367-376)