Is There a Jewish Philosophy?: Rethinking Fundamentals

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Leon Roth (1896-1963) was the first Professor of Philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He saw it as his purpose to encourage his students to think, and to think about their Judaism. Typical of his approach is the question with which this selection of essays opens: in what sense, asks Roth, can we talk about Jewish philosophy, and what can we expect to find if we look for it? Defining philosophy as `the search, through thought, for the permanent', Roth argues that in order to say whether there is a truly Jewish philosophy one has to `rethink fundamentals' those elements in our lives, in history, in nature which appear to be not incidental and trivial but basic. The twelve elegantly written essays published here represent a selection of Roth's explorations of various aspects of his theme. The title essay ends with the contention that Judaism must be seen as the classic expression of monotheism; as the antithesis of myth; and as the essence of ethics and morality. The emphasis that Roth placed on ethics as the essence of Judaism was not merely theoretical: in 1951 he resigned from the Hebrew University and left Israel in response to what he perceived as the betrayal of Jewish ethics by the rulers of the newly established State of Israel. Edward Ullendorff's Foreword, based on long years of personal acquaintance, is an appreciation of Roth's singular personality, grace, and moral stature, and of his devotion to an interpretation of Judaism that is rational and humane. A complete bibliography of Roth's writings, compiled by Raphael Loewe, rounds out the picture of the man and his achievements.