Idolatry and Representation

Idolatry and Representation: The Philosophy of Franz Rosenzweig Reconsidered

Leora Batnitzky
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 280
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    Idolatry and Representation
    Book Description:

    Although Franz Rosenzweig is arguably the most important Jewish philosopher of the twentieth century, his thought remains little understood. Here, Leora Batnitzky argues that Rosenzweig's redirection of German-Jewish ethical monotheism anticipates and challenges contemporary trends in religious studies, ethics, philosophy, anthropology, theology, and biblical studies.

    This text, which captures the hermeneutical movement of Rosenzweig's corpus, is the first to consider the full import of the cultural criticism articulated in his writings on the modern meanings of art, language, ethics, and national identity. In the process, the book solves significant conundrums about Rosenzweig's relation to German idealism, to other major Jewish thinkers, to Jewish political life, and to Christianity, and brings Rosenzweig into conversation with key contemporary thinkers.

    Drawing on Rosenzweig's view that Judaism's ban on idolatry is the crucial intellectual and spiritual resource available to respond to the social implications of human finitude, Batnitzky interrogates idolatry as a modern possibility. Her analysis speaks not only to the question of Judaism's relationship to modernity (and vice versa), but also to the generic question of the present's relationship to the past--a subject of great importance to anyone contemplating the modern statuses of religious tradition, reason, science, and historical inquiry. By way of Rosenzweig, Batnitzky argues that contemporary philosophers and ethicists must relearn their approaches to religious traditions and texts to address today's central ethical problems.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2358-1
    Subjects: Philosophy, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction Reconsidering Rosenzweig and Modern Conceptions of Idolatry
    (pp. 3-14)

    Franz Rosenzweig has long been interpreted as an existentialist philosopher who rejected philosophy for the sake of religion, and reason for the sake of revelation. These longstanding interpretations of Rosenzweig have persisted despite the fact that Rosenzweig himself was deeply critical of the term religion, claimed to have written not a Jewish book but a philosophical system, and continually qualified his understanding of revelation. This book reconsiders Rosenzweig’s thought in the context of these tensions in interpretation and attempts to reorient thinking about Rosenzweig in terms of his approach to the problem of idolatry.

    “Idolatry” is perhaps the one religious...


    • One The Eradication of Alien Worship: Rosenzweig as Ethical Monotheist
      (pp. 17-31)

      The title of this book, “Idolatry and Representation,” makes an argument about the relation between Rosenzweig’s thought and that of his mentor, the Marburg neo-Kantian Jewish philosopher Hermann Cohen. Rosenzweig studied with Cohen from 1913 to 1914 at theHochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums, an institution dedicated to the scientific study of Judaism.¹ Cohen came to teach Jewish philosophy in Berlin after a distinguished career as professor of philosophy at Marburg, where he had founded the Marburg neo-Kantian school of thought.² Upon meeting Cohen for the first time Rosenzweig wrote, “I had the surprise of my life.”³ He found...

    • Two Miracles and Martyrs, Ethics and Hermeneutics: Idolatry from Mendelssohn to Rosenzweig
      (pp. 32-61)

      Rosenzweig inherits a long tradition of German-Jewish thought that concluded that Judaism’s particularity represents something of universal significance for all of humanity. Moses Mendelssohn, Abraham Geiger, Heinrich Graetz, Hermann Cohen, and Leo Baeck, to name only the most prominent figures, all argue that Judaism contributes to the formation of a progressive, universal culture by upholding pure monotheism.¹ For this tradition of thought, pure monotheism is coequal with an adherence to the ban on idolatry. Each of these thinkers argues in his own way that the heart of Judaism and the ban on idolatry is an unmediated relationship with the unique...

    • Three The Philosophical Import of Carnal Israel: Hermeneutics and the Structure of Rosenzweig’s The Star of Redemption
      (pp. 62-80)

      Franz Rosenzweig’S claims about the Jewish people in Part 3, Book 1 ofThe Star of Redemptionremain a disquieting and often embarrassing issue for his interpreters. Rosenzweig contends that the Jewish people exist outside of historical time, and that the Jewish community is a community constituted by blood. Are these claims meant historically, theologically, or philosophically?

      In this chapter, we move from the performative hermeneutic ofThe Star of Redemptionto the embodied character and implications of that hermeneutic. In order to make this movement clear, we must turn to the important philosophical place that “the Jewish people” occupies...


    • Four Risky Images: Rosenzweig’s Aesthetic Theory and Jewish Uncanniness
      (pp. 83-104)

      The Star of Redemption’s argument about the philosophical import of carnal Israel makes clear the degree to which Rosenzweig attempts to considerphilosophicallythe bodily ground that constitutes all human meaning. In this same vein, Rosenzweig attempts, perhaps more than any other Jewish thinker, to take seriously thephilosophicalimport of images and art, despite (or perhaps because of) German-Jewish arguments that the second commandment is an all-out ban on making images.¹ Rosenzweig argues that images are as risky as they are true. Images are powerful because they affect us. The seriousness with which he considers the effectiveness of images...

    • Five The Problem of Translation: Risking the Present for the Sake of the Past
      (pp. 105-142)

      Rosenzweig’s work on translation began when he translated the Grace after Meals while on his honeymoon with his wife Edith (Hahn) in April 1920.¹ The following year, on March 10, 1921, he sent his translation to Gershom Scholem with the following remarks: “In a sense we are ourselves guests at our own table, we ourselves, I myself. So long as we speak German (or even if we speak Hebrew, modern Hebrew, the Hebrew of ‘1921’!) we cannot avoid this detour that again and again leads us the hard way from what is alien back to our own.”² We see here...


    • Six Risking Religion: Christian Idolatry
      (pp. 145-168)

      More than any other Jewish thinker, Rosenzweig devoted considerable attention to Christianity and to the possibility of Christianity’s world redemptive potential. Rosenzweig argues against the dominant strand of Jewish thought which suggests that Christianity is idolatrous from the start because, at the very minimum, its image of Christ on the cross violates the second commandment against image-making. Rosenzweig contends not only that Christianity, and in particular the Christian image of Christ on the cross, is not inherently idolatrous but that the image of the cross uniquely creates the possibility of a universal community. From the start, then, Rosenzweig’s position on...

    • Seven Risking Politics: Jewish Idolatry
      (pp. 169-187)

      Rosenzweig argues that the Jewish community’s role as witness to the nations is predicated on a simultaneous relation to and separation from the world. As we saw in chapter 4, for Rosenzweig, the ability to affect and to be affected by the nations of the world constitutes the contradiction of Jewish existence. In keeping with his hermeneutical and aesthetic approaches, Rosenzweig recognizes that a Jewish whole risks becoming an idol. Rosenzweig argues that when Jewish existence loses its contradiction—its simultaneous relation to and separation from the world—it becomes idolatrous. Toward the end ofThe Star of Redemption, he...

    • Eight After Israel: Rosenzweig’s Philosophy of Risk Reconsidered
      (pp. 188-206)

      In the last chapter we explored what we might call Rosenzweig’s “blood hermeneutic,” his argument that blood, and not land, signifies hope for the future. Intimately connected to Rosenzweig’s blood hermeneutic is the argument that Judaism’s mission to the nations of the world is to risk and bear the often brutal and violent consequences of world politics. Rosenzweig argues that because they are the blood community and in this way representative for all humanity, the Jewish community suffers for the nations of the world. After the Holocaust and after the creation of the State of Israel how might we understand...

  8. Conclusion The Future of Monotheism
    (pp. 207-226)

    As we saw in the last chapter, Rosenzweig’s thought remains in the final analysis directed at the diaspora. But is there a future for monotheism in an increasingly plural world and particularly for Rosenzweig’s claims regarding the ethical content of monotheism? At the turn of the millennium, is it possible to claim that monotheism, whether Jewish or Christian, can make an ethical contribution to culture?

    It would seem, in fact, that turn-of-the-millennium American culture, with its emphasis on the intrinsic values of pluralism and diversity, and indeed its quest for tolerance and distaste for judging others, might be inclined to...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 227-272)
  10. Index
    (pp. 273-281)