New Book on Philosophy of Franz Rosenzweig by Rabbi Yeho Yada Amir, Director of HUC-JIR/Jerusalem's Israel Rabbinical Program

Monday, January 3, 2005

Franz Rosenzweig's "The Star of Redemption" (Der Stern der Erlösung) is one of the most complicated and difficult books of modern Jewish philosophy. The book is rooted in the rebellion against Idealistic philosophy and the demand to compose a philosophical system that is anchored in the point of view of the man or woman who created it and will give expression to his or her life-experience. 

As a German and a European, Rosenzweig witnessed the collapse of the old world-order that dominated cultural, political, social and religious life prior to WWI. As a Jew, he experienced the disintegration of traditional Jewish life, but realized the possibility of teshuva and new forms of Jewish identity and commitment. Only seven years prior to the publication of the Star, Rosenzweig was subject to a heavy pressure to convert to Christianity. He decided to adhere to his almost forgotten Jewish heritage in a creative, non-orthodox, personal way. 

This decision served as the bases for his revolutionary understanding of Judaism and Christianity as two different, but fully equal partners in the effort to redeem the world in front of God. Perceiving Judaism as the way for Jews and Christians, enabled him to deepen his Jewish roots and at the same time to acknowledge the truth and value of other religions. It is unfortunate, that while espousing these liberal thoughts, he found it necessary to deny the validity of Islam and other religions. Having said this, one should nevertheless appreciate the courage, originality and fruitfulness of his approach. The Star of Redemption imbues this notion with a full systematic strength, hints toward a possibility to overcome some of its shortcomings and to develop a comprehensive system of religious non-relativistic pluralism. The idea of the "share" in Devine truth that each person might possess, allows us to experience our pluralistic view as a realization of God's word to us. At the same time Rosenzweig calls us to appreciate the equivalent, but different particular point of view of the other, as a sharer of the same truth. One speaks here not the language of mere tolerance, but that of real, deep pluralism. 

Da'at Ma'amina (Reason out of Faith) is a unique attempt to provide the reader with a comprehensive picture of the Star's issues and pre-assumptions. It depicts the entire educational and philosophical path of the book as a journey towards the comprehension of truth, namely as a journey motivated by philo sophia, love of wisdom. Reaching this journey's aim is possible not through ignoring and overcoming what life brings to you on daily bases, and by developing pure conceptual ideas, but to the contrary, on a full systematic reconstruction of what human common sense already knows. In order to do so Rosenzweig must start with life's basic experiences, like the fear of death and the decision to choose life. Through these experiences we learn that we comprehend ourselves only as unique, temporal and single, as confronting the entire world, as "I". 

Da'at Ma'amina offers a double-phase reading of the Star. On the one hand one must walk with Rosenzweig, step by step, from the very first lines of the book till its end, from the fear of death to the "gate" that - as Rosenzweig declares at the last sentence of the book - shows us the way "into life". On the other hand the entire book, starting with the past and with the ultimate past of creation, ending with future and eternity, should be read from the point of view of presence, namely of revelation and of God's love of the person. Rosenzweig discusses revelation exactly at the architectonic center of his book, demonstrating that this is his philosophy's heart and the crossroads of all its discussions. Revelation is the bases not only for all that that is being dealt with at the second half of the Star, but in no lesser way to all that that was discussed in the first part. A second reading should start at this point - reading backwards to the beginning and forwards to the end. This double reading can be of great help in resolving some of the major difficulties of the Star. It can serve also as a key for the comprehension of Rosenzweig's unique notion of Jewish law, of his educational pathos and of his deep commitment to the reading of the Bible both as human scripture and a Divine word. 

Yehoyada Amir
Tel Aviv: Am Oved, Jewish Book Shelve Series, 2004 

Rabbi Dr. Yehoyada Amir, a researcher of modern Jewish thought, is the Director of the Israel Rabbinic Program at Hebrew Union College, Jerusalem. He took both undergraduate and graduate studies at the Hebrew University under the supervision of Prof. Eliezer Schweid, one of the most prominent philosophers and researchers of Jewish Studies in Israel. His Ph.D. dissertation focused on the philosophies of Ernst Simon, Hugo Bergmann, Barukh Kurzweil and Julius Guttmann and their philosophical relationships to Rosenzweig. Other philosphers Amir has researhed include Nachman Krochmal, A.D. Gordon and Hermann Cohen. To contact the author or for more information about the book, please email yamir@huc.edu.


Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu