Levinas and the Talmud
May 3, 2005

I've a ton I want to write, but I haven't had time to do it yet. Plus I'm trying to get ready for the Philosopher's Carnival. (Please submit posts from your blog or even other people's posts you liked) In the meantime I was looking through the early months of the blog for something to snip that perhaps most hadn't seen. I came upon a discussion of Talmud and Levinas. Now I think many might find Levinas' style a bit difficult to get into at first. However if you are familiar with Talmudic writings and interpretation I think he make a bit more sense. Further you can sometimes catch more of his allusions. I also think that either consciously or unconsciously he makes a lot of reference and allusions to the Kabbalah. Perhaps others might disagree on that point. But I recall way back when I first seriously studied Levinas it was also a period when I was interested in the various interpretations of the Kabbalah as well as Kabbalah as a kind of different view of language. (Largely inspired on that point by Umberto Eco) So when I read Levinas, I noticed numerous levels of similarity. Unfortunately it's been years since I last really studied Kabbalah and the last book I read on the subject was viewing it through the lens of Novick. Anyway, I might get back to this topic one of these days. In the mean time here's an excerpt from way back in May of last year.

There is a very interesting link I came upon. It is a phenomenological outlook of the Talmud. For those not familiar with Judaism, the Talmud is the main collection of commentary on the scriptures and midrash. The best comparison for Mormons would be the Journal of Discourses. However even that's not an ideal comparison since the Talmud has a place more akin to how we view Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. What is so interesting about the Talmud is that it is much more a kind of discussion rather than a "thus it is so." The paper focuses in on Levinas, a philosopher that many have noted as being relevant to Mormons. He's a significant philosophical figure as well. Derrida, for instance, is at least as influenced by Levinas as he is Hegel or Husserl.

What is interesting to me is how Levinas brings into a conversation the Hebrew mind with the Greek mind. In a sense, that is what this site attempts to do as well. Of course the Hebrews of late antiquity and especially the medieval era were already thoroughly pervaded by Greek thought. Philo is a famous Jew under extensive Greek influence. But many claim that Jewish thought was profoundly affected by neoPlatonism and, to a lesser extent, Aristotle. So in a sense the Greeks are already there. But that applies to us as well. After all we were profoundly affected not only by Protestantism, but most likely by elements of the Renaissance that made their way into what was called the "hermetic" tradition. Our identity as new Hebrews must be seen as occuring in a period when western philosophy ruled supreme and transformed how we read Hebrew scriptures. So, while I think there important differences from what we find in Levinas from what we find in LDS culture - there can be useful approaches we can learn from this philosopher / rabbi.


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