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At the common altar : political messianism, practical ethics, & post-war Jewish thought / Elliot Ashley Ratzman

Publication | Library Call Number: BM601 .R38 2009

This dissertation shows that a cohort of twentieth century Diaspora Jewish thinkers have reflected on common themes regarding the nature of “messianic” mass movements, radical responsibility towards others, the lessons of the Holocaust, and the role of Jewish tradition. This dissertation argues, in light of their work, that the primary challenge for Jewish thought is to recover a tradition of political messianism informed by ethical monotheism and religious social practices. The recovery of such messianism corresponds to emerging forms of Jewish progressivism that see religious community as the effective vehicle for organizing universalistic social justice campaigns.Before the world wars, Moses Hess and Hermann Cohen framed radical Jewish politics in the language of messianism. Their Judaism was a universal socialism couched in the language of a particular tradition. However, Cold War liberals such as Jacob Talmon and Isaiah Berlin blamed political messianism for the political disasters of the twentieth century, even tracing their origins to the French Revolution while exempting successful movements such as Zionism. Recent critics of messianism such as Jacqueline Rose and Richard Wolin are examined and discussed in light of a broader conception of messianic politics and progressive Jewish messianism. This dissertation sets all of these figures in the context of the twentieth century Jewish Diaspora.Emil Fackenheim's post-Holocaust theology inverts political messianism by advocating Jewish particularism without the mediation of universal ethics. Fackenheim's politics are considered in light of Emmanuel Levinas, recent trends in Holocaust historiography, and the pervasive problems of preventing mass suffering and death.The projects of Steven Schwarzschild and Michael Wyschogrod illustrate two opposing directions for Jewish philosophical self-conceptions. Jewish ethical identity is conceived as either a disembodied ideal or as a sanctified material condition. The former yields universalism but rejects the world, the latter embraces the people Israel, but diminishes universal ethics. Gillian Rose's account of Judaism as a political community and the possibility of a political Halackah are analyzed and considered as one response.Rose's call for a non-utopian politics of tragi-comic risk requires a sense of the disciplining practices that would cultivate moral selves and instigate moral action in the larger context of justice. Edith Wyschogrod's account of the lives of saints is examined in light of recent work on altruism and adjusted with models of moral exemplarity taken from Jewish religion and Jewish history.This dissertation concludes by suggesting that a tradition of moral messianic politics is best supplemented by the Jewish disciplinary practice of Mussar. The Mussar tradition, if situated in community organizing movements, may serve as the stabilizing bridge between ethical monotheism and redemptive politics.

Format
Book
Author/Creator
Ratzman, Elliot A.
Published
2009
Includes bibliographical references (p. 228-254)
Language
English
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Record last modified: 2018-05-18 16:20:00
This page: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/bib209144