Wednesday, January 26, 2011
 THE JEWISH CONTRIBUTION TO MODERNITY- Before I jump too far ahead in our study of Modernity- let me try and do a few posts on the contribution that Jewish thinkers added to the conversation. Obviously the influence from Christian thinkers [or those who came from a Christian background] played the majority role in forming the boundaries of philosophical and theological thinking in the Modern period- yet there were a few notable Jewish thinkers who also made some good contributions. Moses Mendelssohn interpreted Judaism thru a rational/modern lens and played the role of liberal theologian- much like the liberal Christian scholars who were attempting to emphasize the universality of religion and focusing less on the idea of exclusiveness. The 19th- 20th century thinker- Hermann Cohen- saw Judaism in terms of a universal ethical humanism- later on he returned to a more particularistic view- stressing the concepts of sin and salvation and how universal ethics by themselves were not able to address these issues apart from a particular religious revelation. Certain schools of theologians view the return of the Jews- spoken about in the Old Testament- to their homeland in the 6th century B.C. as the true beginning of Jewish history and thought- they hold to the liberal view that the Torah was written at this time [as opposed to around 1100 B.C. by Moses] and that this era marked the phase of 2nd temple Judaism. I too view the period from the return from captivity in the 6th century B.C. as a sort of ‘2nd temple Judaism’ yet I reject the idea that the Torah was written at that time- I hold to the conservative view that Moses wrote most of the first 5 books of the Old Testament. Having said that- after the Jews returned to their homeland [6th century B.C.] they would reinstitute temple worship and eventually Herod [Roman ruler] would rebuild the temple and the 1st century Jews would regulate their lives round the temple and it’s rituals- Priests played a major role in religious/political life. In 66 A.D. the Jews rebelled against Roman dominance- and in A.D. 70 Rome destroyed the temple under Titus [the military commander] and the Jews would lose the central religious location that structured their lives for centuries. Eventually Rabbi’s-the interpreters of the law- would play the major role in shaping the religious thought of the Jewish people. As time progressed, society eventually asked the question- which came to be known as ‘the Jewish question’- how should Jewish people be seen? Those living in France and Germany- were they to be accepted as Jews- with a distinct ethnic/religious culture- or should they be seen as German- French citizens? Recently- a famous female journalist [Helen Thomas] made headlines when a u-tube video came out- she was commenting on the ‘Jewish question’ and said the Jews ‘need to get the hell out of Palestine and return to their home countries’ when asked ‘what home countries’ she said Germany and France- obviously the Jewish question still lives in the minds of certain people. In the 17th century you had the development of a Jewish form of Pietism- called Hasidism. And in the 19th century Judaism would split into 3 distinct groups- Conservative, Reform and Orthodox. In the late 19th century you would have the rise of Zionism [the homeland question once again] and eventually the American Evangelical community would take up the cause of Zionism and it would become a major plank in the Dispensational theology of the American Protestant church. Though Zionism [the right of the Jews to once again posses their homeland] started as a purely political concern- over time it became ‘Christianized’ and would become the cause célèbre for many T.V. evangelists of the current day [John Hagee- just to name one].