Course date

10 July - 28 July, 2000
Application deadline
15 February, 2000
Course Director(s): 

Michael Silber

Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
Course Faculty: 

Gyorgy Bence

Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest, Hungary

Arnold Eisen

Department of Religious Studies, Stanford University, United States of America

Moshe Halbertal

Jewish Thought, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Israel

Jay Harris

Harvard University, Cambridge, United States of America

Paula Hyman

Yale University, New Haven, United States of America

Moshe Idel

Jewish Thought, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

Pawel Maciejko

Warsaw University, Poland

Paul Mendes-Flohr

Jewish Thought, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

Gyorgy Tatar

Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest, Hungary
Jews and Judaism have confronted major upheavals throughout their history,  but none has arguably been more dramatic, or resulted in a greater transformation, than the encounter with Enlightenment and Emancipation that began in Western and Central Europe at the end of the 18th century. The challenge was not merely to incorporate and adapt to new currents of thought. More important,  Jews had to make this adjustment at a moment when the nature of Jewish community was greatly altered. Historians have traced the lines of this alteration - political, economic, and societal - in great detail. In this course we will examine its consequences for one of the principal components of Jewish religious life: observance of the commandments. 
For centuries a central component of Jewish life was its unique and intricate system of rituals and commandments. Virtually every aspect of human life was subject to extensive regulation by a detailed ritual system and its authoritative interpreters. The inherent authority of what was widely believed to be a divinely initiated legal system was augmented by the coercive powers of the incorporated Jewish community, which had the power to punish deviance in a variety of ways. For most Jews, the observance of the commandments was central to their very identification as Jews. 
With the onset of modernity various economic, social, political and intellectual forces began to erode the self-evident authority of the commandments. Behavior which Jews for generations had taken for granted and self-evident now demanded self-conscious evaluation and in many cases modification or rejection. In short, the rituals and commandments of the Jewish tradition became one of the central  foci of Jewish thought.  The commandments, rituals, "ceremonial laws" were crucial elements in the far ranging debates on the nature of Jews and Judaism in the modern era. They were discussed in the framework of Jewish social integration into European life (to which they were often seen as an impediment); within the framework of Jewish political aspirations to equality and citizenship (with which the commandments' assumption of Jewish ethnic distinctiveness was seen at odds); within the framework of the major intellectual and philosophical challenges emanating from such luminaries as Spinoza and Kant; and within the framework of a Protestant-dominated academic view of religion that emphasized the centrality of inner devotional states, rather than outward performance. 
It is within this complex network of discourses that a spectrum of Jewish responses arose, ranging from those who identified with and internalized the modernist critiques of traditional Judaism, to those who continued to cling to tradition but nevertheless now subtly imbued it with new meaning. 
A course devoted to Jewish thinking on the commandments within these overlapping frameworks is of vital importance in understanding the emergence of multiple Jewish identities in the modern world. It is also of vital importance in seeing how the European minority par excellence negotiated the tensions of modernity in ways that paralleled, but largely diverged from the strategies adopted by majority communities within Europe. Such a course would in many ways be a study of the creativity and resilience of the human religious impulse.
The course begins with an exploration of traditional views on ritual and commandment and the critiques and innovative movements that arose within Judaism even prior to the challenges of modernity. The transformations effected by the Kabbala and the Hassidic movement up until the early nineteenth century and the impact of their legacies for modern, even postmodern, spirituality is gauged. The next cluster of seminar sessions will take up the critique of Spinoza and Kant on the commandments and the responses of Moses Mendelssohn and the first generations of Jewish scholars and thinkers in the tradition of the "Science of Judaism" (Geiger Holdheim, Krochmal, Frankel, Zunz and Graetz). Several sessions will also be devoted to the variety of ways commandments and rituals were granted new formulations and meaning within the increasingly fragmented Orthodox camp. Three clusters follow: the great German Jewish philosophers of the early twentieth century (Hermann Cohen, Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig); the classic American thinkers (Kaplan, Heschel and Soloveitchik among others); and last, Levinas and Jewish thought in Palestine and Israel (Kook, Leibovitch, Hartman and others). The course concludes with an analysis of the contemporary innovations and thinking on ritual and commandments with particular emphasis on the impact of the sixties, feminism, and new-age spirituality on both mainstream institutionalized Judaism and more maverick strains.
Course level, target audience 
The course is intended for young academics in Jewish thought. It would be helpful to have a good basic background in Jewish Studies. We hope that the course will also prove useful to those who would wish to incorporate Jewish studies into their teaching.