ASU director explores cultural impact of Jewish philosophy

By

Firoz Jameel

Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud and Moses Maimonides helped shape how the world approaches economics, psychology and law, respectively. While each had his own theories, the three brilliant thinkers did have one common trait, that their Jewishness shaped their work, and, in turn, human thought.

Understanding the impact of Judaism on our societal and cultural development, Hava Tirosh-Samuelson, the director of Arizona State University’s Center of Jewish Studies, seeks to shed light on the contribution of Jewish philosophy to the humanities — from the pursuit of education to justice and social responsibilities.

She is editing the “Library of Contemporary Jewish Philosophy” with Aaron W. Hughes, of the University of Rochester, which will document how Judaism affects modern and contemporary thought. The 13th volume of the series will be released this month through Brill Publishers.

“Jewish philosophy has always interacted with the intellectual traditions of the culture at large," said Tirosh-Samuelson. “It is impossible to think about modern and contemporary philosophy without reference to Jewish philosophers.”

Today’s contemporary Jewish thinkers interpret Judaism’s sacred texts and religious traditions to shape ethical values and legal norms. The culture’s philosophy doesn’t just explore the meaning and purpose of being Jewish, but also touches on the diversity and complexity of our thinking today and the purpose of human life.

The “Library of Contemporary Jewish Philosophy” will feature 20 volumes. Each volume details the contributions of a specific thinker to Jewish thinking in the mid- to late-20th century. Each volume features an essay summarizing the philosopher’s life’s work, a selection of representative works by the philosopher, an interview of the philosopher with Tirosh-Samuelson, and a select bibliography of 120 publications by the philosopher.

There are currently 13 volumes published in the series with seven more to be completed by March.

The “Library of Contemporary Jewish Philosophy” covers a range of fields including theology, politics, ethics and hermeneutics. Featured philosophers include former Chief Rabbi of England Jonathan Sacks, the noted ethicist David Novak and the renowned scholars of Jewish mysticism Moshe Idel and Elliot Wolfson.  

Tirosh-Samuelson believes that the series will enable scholars to appreciate the diversity and complexity of Jewish thought and can inspire continued analysis and discussion about the contributions of Jewish philosophers to the cannon of Western thought.

“Jewish philosophy is a living tradition, not a fossil that needs to be preserved for posterity,” she said. “[It] offers us ways to reflect critically about being human in an age where our humanity is under duress.”