Issues in Jewish Philosophy
4th EAJS Summer Colloquium, Yarnton Manor, 23rd to 26th July 2001
When the EAJS was founded almost exactly 20 years ago, in May 1981, it saw as its first task the organization of international congresses once every three or four years in one of the countries of Europe. A further step was taken after the 1994 congress in Copenhagen, when it became clear that the intervals of four years between congresses were too long to keep interest in the Association going. It was then that a permanent Secretariat was founded, the Newsletter began to (re)appear in its present form, and a start was made to organize the annual Summer Colloquia at Yarnton Manor, home of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. Cooperation with the Jerusalem-based International Centre for University Teaching of Jewish Civilization led to a special EAJS/ECUTJC formula for these colloquia. They should be devoted to well-defined topics within Jewish Studies and, unlike many other academic meetings of a similar nature, their programme should feature explicitly the teaching of the subject at hand. In addition, the papers to be given at the colloquia should be scheduled in such a way that there would be plenty of time for discussion and the exchange of ideas between scholars devoted to the same specialization. It is difficult to say how much these lofty ideals have actually been realized, but they seem to have greatly benefited the atmosphere of the colloquia which have taken place so far.
The first colloquium in 1996, on “Medieval Jewish Bible Exegesis”, was considered a great success by all participants, who were pleasantly surprised by the stimulating format of limited presentations and ample discussion. The next was devoted to the study and teaching of “Classical Rabbinic Judaism” and took place in much the same atmosphere. 1998 was the year of the Toledo Congress, and plans for the 1999 Colloquium could unfortunately not be realized. But last year’s colloquium on “Medieval Hebrew Poetry” was so successful that the participants decided to repeat the event in the near future, with the result that another colloquium on “Medieval Hebrew Poetry” is scheduled for next February in Granada; it is conceived as the next link in a chain of future colloquia on Hebrew poetry under the auspices of the EAJS.
This year’s Summer Colloquium, on “Issues in Jewish Philosophy”, was organized by Renier Munk (Amsterdam Center for Jewish Philosophy, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam). Fifteen scholars participated, both medievalists and scholars of modern Jewish thought. The combination of medieval and modern philosophy was intentional and elicited many favourable comments by the participants, although the medieval section was not completely unanimous on this point. In any case, the discussions revealed once again that not only is the study of philosophy a historical discipline, but it occasions creative thinking as well, whereby the impact of current debates is obvious.
In the opening session on Monday Alexander Samely (Manchester) philosophized on “The Temporality of Textual Meaning”, and Arthur Hyman (Yeshiva University) addressed “The Problem of Religious Language in Medieval philosophy”, with special attention to the contribution of Gersonides. The afternoon was rounded off by the festive presentation of Howard Kreisel’s new book Prophecy. The History of an Idea in Medieval Hewish Philosophy, which appeared as no. 8 of the Amsterdam Studies in Jewish Thought, edited by Renier Munk.
During a long Tuesday Norman Solomon (Oxford) spoke on “The Changing Concept of Torah”, Sara Klein-Braslavy (Tel Aviv) on “The Solution of the Apories in Gersonides’ Wars of the Lord”, and Steven Harvey (Bar-Ilan) presented, as a first instalment of his Haqdamology, a lecture on “The Author’s Introduction as a Key to Understanding Trends in Jewish Philosophy: The Pre-Maimonideans”.
Matthias Morgenstern (Tübingen) described “The ‘Marxist’ Elements in Isaac Breuer’s Philosophy of Religion” and Francesca Albertini (Fribourg) spoke on “Death as a Phenomenological Problem in Franz Rosenzweig’s Star of Redemption”. The day’s programme, which also included a discussion on the teaching of Jewish philosophy in academic setting, chaired by Martin Goodman (Oxford), closed with Mauro Zonta’s presentation of “Hebrew Scholasticism in Fifteenth-century Italy and Spain”.
On Wednesday Gad Freudenthal (CNRS Paris) discussed Maimonides’ ‘astral indeterminism’ in his lecture on “The Four Globes in Guide II: 9-10”, and James Robinson (Harvard University) extensively described “Natural Science in Samuel ibn Tibbon’s Commentary on Ecclesiastes”.
Resianne Fontaine (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) described the motif of “The Three Worlds in Judah ha-Cohen’s Midrash ha-Hokhmah” and pointed to parallels with Joachim da Fiore’s eschatological prophecies. Howard Kreisel (Ben Gurion University) traced the difficulties for the Jewish scholars of medieval Provence in acquiring philosophical knowledge and discussed the role of “Levi ben Abraham’s Livyat Hen” in that process. Tamra Wright (London School of Jewish Studies) contrasted Levinas’s view on “The Scandal of Theodicy” with other moral and existential views on the problem of evil.
The colloquium concluded with a discussion on the present state of research in Jewish philosophy. All participants agreed that, however the future of the discipline develops, the free and leisurely talk on the many issues of their interest as was possible during these three days, had been a most stimulating experience for everyone there, albeit an occasion all too rarely available. The EAJS and the Centre for Jewish Philosophy are looking for ways to honour the participants’ wish to have this colloquium on Jewish philosophy ‘institutionalized’ by organizing a follow-up in the early summer of 2003.
Albert van der Heide
University of Leiden