Jewish philosophy

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-J066-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 12, 2024, from

4. Movements and important figures (cont.)

Moses Mendelssohn (1729–86), a leading figure of the European Enlightenment, spread Enlightenment ideas to Hebrew literature, fought for Jewish civil rights and did pioneering conceptual work on political theory, especially with regard to religious liberty in his Jerusalem. Solomon Maimon (1753/4–1800) took his name in honour of Moses Maimonides. Trained as a rabbi, he pursued secular and scientific learning and became an important and original critic of the philosophy of Kant. Nachman Krochmal (1785–1840), a leader of the Jewish Enlightenment in Galicia, found anticipations of Kant, Hegel and Schelling in the ancient Jewish writings. His work shows how a thinker whose underlying assumptions differ from those of the idealist philosophers could take their views in quite a different direction from the one they chose.

Hermann Cohen (1842–1918), a major Kantian philosopher and one of the first non-baptized Jews to hold an important academic post in Germany, applied his own distinctive version of critical idealism to the understanding of Judaism as a spiritual and ethical system. Franz Rosenzweig (1886–1929), an important Hegelian thinker, went on to formulate a Jewish existential philosophy that deeply influenced many of the most prominent Jewish thinkers of the twentieth century. Martin Buber (1878–1965), Zionist advocate of accommodation with the Palestinian Arabs and an admiring student of Hasidic traditions, added his own stamp to the continental tradition of Jewish philosophy by developing a widely influential dialogical philosophy that privileged relationships experientially and celebrated the I–thou, a mode of relation that allows for authentic encounter.

A number of twentieth century philosophers of Judaism have grasped at diverse threads of the Jewish experience, illustrating both the attractions of the tradition and the fragmentation produced by centuries of persecution that would culminate in the Holocaust, only to be accentuated by the centrifugal tendencies of Jewish life in post-Holocaust liberal societies. Ahad Ha’Am, the pen name of Asher Ginzberg (1856–1927), was an essayist who argued that the creation of a ‘spiritual centre’ of Jewish culture in Palestine would provide the sustenance needed to preserve the diaspora Jewry from the threat of assimilation. No state was needed. David Baumgardt (1890–1963) was a philosopher who sought to reconcile ethical naturalism with the ideals he found in the Jewish sources, but, unlike Hermann Cohen, Baumgardt did not explore those sources in close detail. Mordecai Kaplan (1881–1981) sought to devise a social mission and communal identity for Jews without reliance on many of the core beliefs and practices that had shaped that identity in the past. Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907–72) sought to salvage the spiritual dimensions of Jewish experience, which found expression both in ritual and in ethical and social action. Joseph Soloveitchik (1903–93) gave canonical expression to Orthodox ideals by focusing on the intellectual and ritual rigours of his archetypal figures, Halakhic man and the Lonely Man of Faith. Yeshayahu Leibowitz (1903–94), an influential Israeli thinker, struggled for the disengagement of authentic and committed religious observance from the toils of governmental officialdom. Jews are mandated, he argued, to observance, as a community. That imperative is not to be put aside. Neither can the observant pretend to ignore the State of Israel. But the State can give no mandate to religious observance, and religious faithfulness can impart none of its aura to the State. For it is essential not to place God in the service of politics. Emil Fackenheim (1916–) seeks an authentic response to the Holocaust, which he formulates in an intentionally inclusionary way, as a ‘614th’ commandment, not to hand Hitler a posthumous victory but to find some way, that might vary from individual to individual, of keeping alive Jewish ideas, practices and commitments.

Citing this article:
Goodman, L.E.. Movements and important figures (cont.). Jewish philosophy, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-J066-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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