Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Incomparable

The Jerusalem Post has a short article on the French-Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas. I consider it a blessing to have encountered Levinas as early as I have, and I recommend everyone to read his extraordinary collection of essays on Judaism, Difficult Freedom. Levinas presents nothing less than a vision of Judaism as a unique means of being through which the ethical relationship between human beings is created. His fascination with faces, with the possibility of human relationship based on apprehension and realization rather than the contest for domination, and his extrapolation of these themes through the Talmud constitute an extraordinary intellectual legacy which both embraces the modern and refuses to compromise Judaism or Jewish identity in the process. He proposes a Judaism which is a kind of ethical existentialism, and yet acknowledges the “trace of God” throughout his thought. Unlike most modern Jewish thinkers, he embraced and transmuted the tradition rather than reject or manipulate it for his own purposes. His philosophy is both within and outside the tradition of Western philosophy. Like Judaism itself, he succeeds in existing between worlds.