Modern Jewish Philosophy

Jewish thought in modern times has been shaped by radically new political realities.

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And with Jewish sovereignty reestablished, another salient question concerns the theological significance of the adjective "Jewish" when applied to a state's affairs conducted according to secular principles and considerations.

Does the holiness of the land remove it from mundane geopolitical considerations? Does not the commandment to honor the land as the locus of the divine promise to the people of Israel supersede all pragmatic, even ethical, approaches to solving the conflict with the Arab residents of the land, who have their own competing national claims to the country? Can sovereignty over the land be shared with non‑Jews?

American Jewish Philosophy

American Jewish philosophy and theology focus on a range of disparate themes. Some of these reflect classical theological problems--for instance, the nature of God, the meaning of revelation, or hopes for salvation‑--or momentous historical events: the Nazi Holocaust and the establishment  of the State of Israel, chief among them.

Other themes respond to challenges facing American Jewry in particular--for instance, the meaning of Jewish rituals in a secular age, ways to balance adaptation to American life with retention of Jewish identity, and strategies for Jewish education in a pluralistic religious setting. Similarly, the specifically America themes of American civil religion, interfaith cooperation, and social problems dominate much of Jewish reflection.

In a recent work Harold Schulweis, a leading rabbi and thinker in America's Conservative Movement, examined this assortment of concerns. His guiding image serves well as a metaphor for the totality of Jewish thinking in America. According to Schulweis, an idea of God serves as a mirror reflecting the several faces of American Jews.

To be a Jewish thinker, accordingly, means to offer images of Judaism to American Jews, so they can discover whom they imagine themselves to be.

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Dr. Paul Mendes-Flohr

Dr. Paul Mendes-Flohr is a Professor of Modern Jewish Thought in the Divinity School and the University of Chicago. He is also in the Committee on Jewish Studies and an Associate Faculty in the Department of History.