Prof. Michael Rosenthal
The Enlightenment defined the course of modern Jewish
philosophy. It criticized traditional
notions of revelation and it reconfigued the relation of the Jewish
the nascent liberal state. Radical
figures like Spinoza claimed that prophecy was not a means to achieve
philosophical wisdom but only a useful way of directing people to help
other in society. More moderate thinkers
like Mendelssohn thought that Judaism should be a voluntary community
belief, which submitted to the authority of the state, rather than an
independent political entity. The idea
of a normative symbiosis of Jewish thought with its surrounding culture
an apotheosis in the early twentieth century neo-kantianism of Hermann
Cohen. Even those who rejected the
realized that it was impossible to avoid its influence.
Marx argued that the solution to the
so-called “Jewish Question” was the complete elimination of religion
come about through the Communist revolution. Theodor
Herzl and the early Zionists believed that
doomed to failure and that the Jews had to adopt the idea of a
based on a homogenous population as a political goal.
In response to the alienation of the modern
Assignments and Grading Policy
Participation: There are several basic skills involved in philosophy, including reading critically, writing argumentatively, listening carefully, and talking constructively about ideas. If you do not attend class regularly you will not be able to participate and develop some of these skills, especially listening and talking. Lack of participation may affect your final grade in a variety of ways. If you miss class you will have less time to prepare your assignments. You will be less prepared to write your discussion response and papers. It is in your interest both in terms of your grade and your education to participate regularly in class.
Discussion Questions: Each week there will be a set of discussion questions and you are required to type a response to two of them, one due at the beginning of class on Tuesday, the other at the beginning of class on Thursday. You need to deposit your answers in the course Catalyst Tools “Collect it Dropbox” at this URL: https://catalyst.uw.edu/collectit/dropbox/rosentha/25114. The questions for the following week will be handed out in class on Thursday. There will be ten sets of questions and nineteen responses. Any answer that is deposited in the drop box after the start of class will be awarded a maximum of 2 points. Each satisfactory response received by the deadline is worth 5 points. The first time a response is judged unsatisfactory it will be given 4 points. Each time thereafter it will be worth 2 points. A satisfactory response shows an understanding of the question, some comprehension of the texts, and an effort to engage in critical analysis and discussion of the question and texts. If you do not turn in a response you will be given 0 points. I will award one point (up to a total of five points for the quarter) of extra credit for each response I judge to be excellent. This assignment is worth a total of 100 points. You need a total of 53 points to pass this assignment.
Midterm Exam: You are required to complete a take-home midterm examination. The questions will be distributed in class on Thursday, January 31st, and your answers will be due before the beginning of class on Tuesday, February 5th in the course dropbox: https://catalyst.uw.edu/collectit/dropbox/rosentha/25114. The exam will be worth a total of 150 points. You need a minimum of 80 points to pass this assignment.
Final Exam: You are required to complete a take-home final examination. The questions will be distributed in class on Thursday, March 14th, and your answers will be due at on Wednesday, March 20th in the course dropbox: https://catalyst.uw.edu/collectit/dropbox/rosentha/25114. The exam will be worth a total of 150 points. You need a minimum of 80 points to pass this assignment.Final Paper Option: Undergraduates are allowed with instructor permission and graduate students are required to write a final 10-12 page paper instead of writing the final exam. All students must ask permission from the instructor at least three weeks before the end of the quarter. Students who are given permission are required to submit a topic, abstract, and annotated bibliography at least two weeks before the end of the quarter and receive instructor’s permission to proceed to the final draft. The paper will be due at the same time as the final exam would be due, i.e., at on Wednesday, March 20th in the course dropbox: https://catalyst.uw.edu/collectit/dropbox/rosentha/25114. The paper will be worth a total of 150 points. You need a minimum of 80 points to pass this assignment.
Grade: Your final grade will be computed on the basis of the
assignments you have turned in. There is a total possible point
400 points. Below you will find a conversion table. The
column represents total points for the course. The second column
represents the grade for total of weekly papers. The
third column represents the grade for
either the midterm or the final exam. The
fourth column represents the approximate letter grade equ
Nota Bene: (1) In order to pass this course students are required to: a) have enough total points (i.e., at least 212 points); and also b) pass (i.e., receive at least 53 points in the discussion questions and 80 points for the exams) in two of the three components of the course (i.e., the discussion questions, the midterm exam, and the final exam). If you have enough total points to pass but do not pass two of the three components you will fail the course. Absolutely no exceptions will be made to this policy.
(2) In some cases, when I calculate the final grade, I will also consider such factors as improvement and class participation.
(3) This course will follow the
policies established by the
The following books are required. You can either purchase them at the University Bookstore or check them out from the reserve collection at Odegaard Library:
Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. Schocken, 1969. (ISBN: 978-0805202410).
Ethics of Maimonides.
Herzl, Theodor. The
Rosenzweig, Franz. Philosophical and Theological Writings. Hackett, 2000. (ISBN: 978-0872204720).
Spinoza, B. Theological-Political Treatise. 2nd Edition. Hackett Publishing, 2001. (ISBN: 0-87220-607-6).
Strauss, Leo. The Early Writings: 1921-1932. SUNY Press, 2002. (ISBN: 978-0791453308).
The following book is recommended reading for the course and is also available at the University Bookstore and on reserve at Odegaard library:
Morgan, M., and Gordon, P., The
The following is a weekly guide to the discussion themes and reading assignment. While I will generally stay on track, I reserve the right to move more quickly or more slowly or even change the assignments as the quarter progresses.
Week 1-2: The Enlightenment
*The Enlightenment was an intellectual
movement that began
in the late seventeenth century and that emphasized the rational
received beliefs, whether religious or political. The
Enlightenment affected Jews in several
ways. There was greater social and
political toleration based on the distinction between belief and
which itself was a by-product of the Protestant Reformation. Although the Jews held beliefs that were
anathema to their Christian rulers, as long as they obeyed the
their actions they were to have equal rights. There
also began a movement among Jews to reform their
practices in accordance with a rational critique of tradition. This week and next we will examine two
important philosophical representatives of the Enlightenment: Spinoza, who was expelled from the jewish
Tu 1/8 – Introduction; Spinoza, TTP, Preface, chapters 1-7. [Recommended: MJP, ch. 2]
Th 1/10 – Spinoza, TTP, chapters 14-20.
Tu 1/15 –
Th 1/17 –
*The Enlightenment did not have all its desired effects. Even in those countries in which Jews were given citizenship they were not always treated as equals. In eastern Europe things remained much the way they had been or in fact became worse as nationalist movements tended to squeeze the Jews even further to the margin of society. In response to the perceived failure of the enlightened liberal state, Karl Marx—whose father was born a Jew, converted to Christianity, and had his children baptised—posed the so-called “Jewish Question,” and offered his response to it. The Communist revolution would eliminate the conditions that produced the need for religion in the first place. Judaism would evaporate along with other religions in a communist utopia. The other response—developed by several thinkers, one whom was an early colleague of Marx, Moses Hess, and the most important of whom was a Viennese journalist named Theodor Herzl—was Zionism. Jews should build their own state in their historic homeland and preserve their national autonomy with modern means rather than relying on the good will of others.
Tu 1/22 – Karl Marx, “The Jewish Question” (xerox).
Th 1/24 – Theodor Herzl, The Jewish State.
*The Enlightenment ideal reached its
during the Wilhelmine Empire (1871-1918) in
Tu 1/29 – Cohen, The Ethics of Maimonides, chs. 1-2, 4 (1-48, 77-106) [Recommended: MJP, ch. 5]
Th 1/31 – Cohen, The Ethics of Maimonides, chs. 7-10 (145-194) [Midterm Exam Distributed]
*In the period leading up to the first World
War many Jews
reacted against what they perceived as a dessicated synthesis with
thought. There was an increased interest
in the irrational, mystical dimensions of Judaism.
After the debacle of the war this mysticism
was tempered by social critique, though it still had its irrational
elements. In his own intellectual
Tu 2/5 – Buber, I and Thou, First Part (53-86), Second Part (87-122). [Recommended: MJP, ch. 6] [Midterm Exam Due]
Th 2/7 – Buber, I and Thou, Third Part (123-168).
*Walter Benjamin is not always read as a philosopher but more often as a literary critic. While it is true that we do not find any systematic philosophizing in his writings, nonetheless, we can discover some important philosophical points. There are two schools of interpreters: one, led prominently by Gershom Scholem, the great scholar of Jewish mysticism, claims that Benjamin was a sort of modern Jewish mystic; the other, led by Theodor Adorno of the famous “Frankfurt School,” claims that he was a marxist. It is indisputable that he went through clear phases of each, but in the end perhaps Benjamin is something else. His obsessive commentary on literary texts, his sharp-eyed criticism of capitalist society, and his belief that language itself can intervene, messianically as it were, in history, marks him as a truly sui-generis thinker of Jewish modernity.
Tu 2/12 – Benjamin, Illuminations, “Franz Kafka” (111-140), “Some Reflections on Kafka” (141-146), “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (217-252). [Recommended: MJP, ch. 9]
Th 2/14 – Benjamin, Illuminations, “Theses on the Philosophy of History” (253-264).
*On the cusp of converting to Christianity
rediscovered Judaism and went on to become one of its most important
century thinkers. Although he had been a
student of the historian Friedrich Meinecke and wrote his dissertation
he rejected the historicism that had prevailed in the study of religion
Judaism in particular. And, although he
was an admirer, he did not follow Hermann Cohen’s Kantian rationalism. Instead, based on his reading of the German
Romantics—Schelling in particular—Rosenzweig developed a quasi-mystical
of idealism in which Revelation is the foundation.
Tu 2/19 – Rosenzweig, PTW, chapters I-II. [Recommended: MJP, ch. 7].
Th 2/21 – Rosenzweig, PTW, chapters III-V.
Tu 2/26 – Rosenzweig, PTW, chapters VI-VII.
Th 2/28 – Rosenzweig, PTW, chapters VIII-X
*Strauss has earned a notorious reputation,
his contemporary followers, but his own work is a serious contribution
modern Jewish thought. There are really
two main periods in his writings. the
time before and after his forced emigration from
Tu 3/5 – Strauss, Early Writings, Part II, chapter II (“Zionist Writings,” 63-138). [Recommended: MJP, ch. 8]
Th 3/7 – Strauss, Early Writings, Part II, chapters III-IV (“Writings on Spinoza,” 140-172, and “Reorientation,” 202-224).
*The systematic destruction of European
changed not only the social and political life of Jews but also the
intellectual landscape as well. Theodor
Adorno, the leading figure of the
Tu 3/12 – Levinas, “Bible and Philosophy,” “The Responsibility for the Other,” “Ethics and Spirit” (xerox). [Recommended: MJP, ch. 12]
Th 3/14 – Fackenheim, “On Philosophy after the Holocaust” (xerox). [Recommended: MJP, ch. 13] [Final Exam Distributed]
We 3/20 – [Final Exam due at in Catalyst Collect it Drop Box]
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