Michael Rosenthal benoemd op de Stroum Chair in Jewish Studies aan de Universiteit van Washington

Professor Michael Rosenthal doceert al jaren aan de Universiteit van Washington. Hij houdt zich tegenwoordig vooral bezig met Spinoza [cf.]. In maart dit jaar gaf hij nog een cursus over “Spinoza and the Struggle for Toleration in the Modern World,” waarvan het interessant is de titels van de thema’s van de diverse bijeenkomsten te zien:

• Why was Spinoza Banned from the Jewish Community? Amsterdam and problem of Religious Toleration

• Does Spinoza want to overcome religion or reform it? Universal Religion and Reform Judaism

• Is Spinoza a Zionist or would he feel more at home in Seattle? Nationalism and Diaspora. [Cf.]

Hij werd ook betrokken bij het programma van het Stroum Center for Jewish Studies aan die Universiteit - een praatje dat hij ervoor hield, ”Is Spinoza Good for the Jews?” werd op internet gezet [cf. blog – en hij is op meer blogs te vinden). Onlangs is hij voor drie jaar benoemd op de Samuel and Althea Stroum Chair in Jewish Studies.
Dr. Hannah Pressman, hoofd communicatie van dat Centrum had een interview met hem dat gisteren op de
website werd geplaatst. Ik neem daaruit één vraag en antwoord over:

HP: How did you get interested in Spinoza and Jewish philosophers like Hannah Arendt?

MR: There are really two answers to this question, one that is primarily scholarly, the other personal. Spinoza is really a perfect figure for me to study. He was a pivotal thinker, whom one scholar described as “the last of the medievals and the first of the moderns.” He was writing in the midst of the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century and an early figure of the Enlightenment. He challenged traditional Orthodoxy and became the basis for modern movements like Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism. Spinoza’s philosophy is deep and influential, not only in Jewish thought but in modern philosophy more generally. I never lose interest in learning more about his ideas and their reception.

The meaning of a Jewish life is not self-evident or fixed. Maimonides wrote an important book at the end of the twelfth century, The Guide of the Perplexed. It was written for Jews who were confronted with questions about their beliefs that came from their encounter with the science of their time, rooted in the philosophy of Aristotle. We need an updated version of this book. In fact, I think that we are always in the process of updating it.

If you think seriously about modern Jewish life, you will be confronted with any number of important questions: Does science challenge or even undermine religious belief? If one believes in a providential and good God—a God who cares about and guides action in the world—then how are such great evils, like anti-Semitism and the Holocaust possible? I also think that historical questions are important: what is the origin and nature of modern anti-Semitism? What is the role of Zionism and its relation to the Diaspora? Of course answers to these questions vary. Modern Jewish thinkers—from Spinoza to Hannah Arendt, along with historians, sociologists, and novelists, of course—help us make sense of our existential situation.

I started thinking about these issues when I began studying for my Bar Mitzvah, believe it or not. My Hebrew tutor challenged me to do more than the rote study required and to see the Torah as part of a larger discussion of the meaning of life. To the dismay of my father, who wanted me to become a doctor—I mean a real doctor!—I really got carried away by all these books and ideas. I interrupted my studies of philosophy at the university to spend time in Israel studying Hebrew and learning about the challenges of modern Zionism in all its variety. I worked on a kibbutz ulpan program for six months and then in a community project (Sherut L’Am) in a high school in Safed. Later I was awarded a fellowship to return for a year of study at the Hebrew University. It was during a course on Spinoza and Moses Mendelssohn, taught by Eliezer Schweid, that I realized I could combine my interests in history, philosophy, and Jewish thought in the figure of Spinoza.

 [Cf. vervolg]