Please join us on Monday, February 26th at 5pm via Zoom for a presentation by:
PhD Candidate, Religious Ethics
University of Chicago Divinity School
The Universal and Particular: Spinoza vs. Mendelssohn on the Natural Law and “Ceremonies”
Numerous scholars have commented on how, in his Jerusalem, Moses Mendelssohn reckons with the Spinozist critique of Judaism articulated in the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. In the Tractatus, Spinoza calls into question several fundamental aspects of Judaism as interpreted and practiced in his day—for example, the revelatory status of the Hebrew Bible, the nature of God’s covenant with Israel, the point and purpose of ritual practices required by the Mosaic Law (what Spinoza calls caeremoniae, or “ceremonies”), and the traditional authorship of biblical texts. While Jerusalem by no means constitutes a point-by-point response to Spinoza, Mendelssohn clearly has in mind both Spinoza’s fate as an excommunicated Jew and the critique leveled in the Tractatus. In this paper, I will focus on the differences in how Spinoza and Mendelssohn understand the function and relevance of “ceremonies” in Judaism. In particular, I query why, despite both thinkers’ commitment to the metaphysics of natural law, Spinoza’s interpretation of the natural law excludes the possibility of Jewish particularity vis-à-vis “ceremonies,” while Mendelssohn’s interpretation reserves a place within Judaism for what he calls the ceremonial law (Zeremonialgesetz).
I contend that three key points of contrast explain why Spinoza and Mendelssohn hold such different positions on the status of ceremonies despite their shared commitment to natural law metaphysics: (i) their antithetical interpretations of God’s election of Israel; (ii) Mendelssohn’s worry about idolatry compared with Spinoza’s worry about superstition and how ceremonies relate to their respective concerns; and (iii) Mendelssohn’s intersubjective epistemology compared with Spinoza’s individualist one. With these points of contrast in view, we can better understand why Mendelssohn rejects Spinoza’s repudiation of ceremonies and affords them such a central role in Judaism. Concomitantly, this comparative analysis will also accentuate how, despite his commitment to the universality of the natural law, Mendelssohn nevertheless strives to affirm Jewish particularity.
The paper, to be read in advance of the workshop, can be accessed here (password: ceremonies): ZTaylor Jewish Studies Workshop Paper 2024
The Zoom link for the workshop has been sent via email to the Jewish Studies Workshop list.
Please join us on Monday, February 12th at 5pm in Swift 201 for a presentation by:
Ido Telem (PhD Candidate, Comparative Literature):
Tasting Revival: Aesthetic Judgement, Critical Authority and Political Thought in David Frishman’s Literary Criticism
In 1905, Hebrew literary critic David Frishman published a tribute to Friedrich Schiller in the paper, commemorating the centennial of the German poet’s death. More than a eulogy, Frishman’s piece also included a scathing admonition of the Jewish reading public, whom Frishman criticized for their diminished interest in Schiller, interpreting this as indicative of a broader decline in Jewish feeling, thinking, and judging—a lost standard of taste. Drawing from the conceptual history of taste in Enlightenment thought and its more recent critiques, I trace how Frishman employed the notion of taste not merely as an allegedly universal human capacity, which he argued the Jewish readership lacked, but also as a means to articulate a distinct Hebrew sensibility, or Hebrew taste. Frishman’s insistence on taste in both these forms, I argue, is fundamental to his aesthetic and political thought, and provides a fresh perspective on debates surrounding aesthetic autonomy in the Hebrew cultural revival.
The paper, to be read in advance of the workshop, is available here (password: frishman): Telem.FrishmanTaste.JSWorkshop
Please join us on Monday, 01/15 at 5pm in Swift 201 for a presentation by:
Bigelow Teaching Fellow, University of Chicago Law School
“Multiculturalism and the Right of Exit”
This article argues that as important as it is to preserve the distinctive identities of insular religious communities, it is equally if not more important to ensure that the participants that make up such communities have a meaningful ability to exit from them should they wish to. The article spotlights several concrete impediments to the “right of exit” in one large insular religious community, the Hasidic community in New York. It lays out not only how internal communal practices—including and most notably the lack of secular education— hamper members’ ability to exit but also how the state and courts contribute to its curtailment.
The paper, to be read in advance of the workshop, is available here (password: exit): rothschild-multiculturalism and the right of exit
Please join us on Monday, 11/27, in Swift 201 for a presentation by:
PhD Candidate, University of Chicago Divinity School
“The Chastity of Critique: Law, Biopolitics, and Biblical Hermeneutics in Confessions of the Flesh”
Why does Foucault drop the idea of race and turn toward religion in his work on the foundations of the modern state and subject? Drawing “Society Must be Defended” into conversation with Confessions of the Flesh and archival sources, I show how the hermeneutic of the self that Foucault finds in early Christian texts on virginity is premised on a hermeneutics of the text—specifically, a supersessionist figuration of Judaism as a religion of flesh and law. Drawing on J. Kameron Carter among others, I argue that Foucault finds, in his Christian sources, a structure of critique critical to both the maintenance of the state and resistance, and that examining the place of Judaism in Confessions of the Flesh can allow us to trace production of race from religion, and the limits of the critique that we depend on to recognize it.
The paper, to be read in advance of the workshop, can be found here: collins-chastity of critique-JSW-1
Please join us on Monday, 11/13/2023, at 5pm in Swift 201 for a presentation by:
MA, University of Chicago Divinity School
“Ethical Icarus? Levinas Through the Eyes of Teachers”
At first glance, Emmanuel Levinas’s ethics may appear superficially incoherent with human nature. Even as an idealized account of how humans ought to act, the great demand of the Other in Levinas’s ethics would seem to suggest that it would be impossible to ignore the suffering of others. And yet, everyday anecdotal experience demonstrates the ease with which people walk past the basic call to help from others on the street. Another reading might suggest that the way gazes are averted from those in pain suggests just how earnestly individuals attempt to avoid the exact relation to which Levinas’s ethics refers. In contrast, teachers are an ideal case to demonstrate how certain individuals choose to commit the support of others. Through teachers as a test case, this paper asserts the continued relevance of Levinas’s ethics while also suggesting the role of rational choices to impact one’s engagement with others.
The paper, to be read in advance of the workshop, can be found here: Joachim (password: levinas)
PhD Candidate, University of Chicago Divinity School
“Capturing Corpses: The Advent of Photography and Depicting Jewish Death”
Photography and death have had a significant relation ever since the invention of the technology in the mid-19th century. Post-mortem photography was used to construct the “good death” for Christians in the Victorian era and served as a tool for memory. Within Jewish history, however, photography of the dead has mostly meant to signify Jewish suffering. In some cases the act of photographing the Jewish dead body itself has been a form of violence, working to construct the Jewish “bad death.” Although death photography serves a purpose – it can inform the viewer of something significant and even incite moral outrage and action – we should ask what story these photographs construct. Photography of Jewish corpses often tell a narrow story of a bad death or even create that bad death itself. We should consider turning to other images of Jewish death that can tell a more complete story of relationality,community, and care in the face of death.
Precirculated paper: Dine
Please join the Jewish Studies Workshop for a presentation by:
ROMBERCH MEMORY, 1553. Woodcut illustrating the method of loci from Johannes Romberch’s ‘Congestorium Artificiose Memoriae,’ Venice, 1553.
Rachel Brooke Katz
PhD Student, History of Judaism, The University of Chicago Divinity School
Shema as Memory Palace:
A Medieval Hebrew Ars Memorativa
Respondent: Aslan Cohen Mizrahi (PhD Student, The University of Chicago Divinity School)
Monday, May 22, 2023 from 5:00 to 6:30 pm Central
Rachel’s paper, to be read in advance of the session, is available for download below. The password to the document and the information for joining the Zoom session will be emailed to the Jewish Studies Workshop email listserv. If you would like to be added to this listserv, please click the “Subscribe” tab above.
Pre-circulated paper: Katz