Is There a Jewish Philosophy?

BookIs There a Jewish Philosophy?

Is There a Jewish Philosophy?

Rethinking Fundamentals

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


March 1st, 1999

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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.

'I conclude by recommending Roth's book highly. Roth's erudition and deep knowledge of philosophy and Judaism are manifested throughout this very worthwhile book.'
- William E. Kaufman, Conservative Judaism

‘Roth’s lucid treatment demands consideration by students in the history of Judaism and the philosophy of religion.’
Gregory Kaplan, Religious Studies Review


‘The first thing one notices in picking up Is there a Jewish Philosophy? is the deep humanity of the author . . . I should confess that I never met Roth and so cannot testify to his personal charm or charisma. Suffice it to say that after reading [this book] I very much wish I had.’
Kenneth Seeskin, Shofar

‘Roth was a clear and lively writer with an analytic grasp of what Judaism is all about. For a taste of vintage Roth, this collection is highly recommended, and not only to the “new generation”.’
- Shubert Spero, Studies in Contemporary Jewry

‘This new collection of writings and lectures reveals him as a profound logical and liberal Jewish thinker.’
Michael Hilton, World Faiths Encounter

Author Information

Following a brilliant academic career in England, Leon Roth (1896–1963) became, at the age of 32, the first professor of philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 1944, at the age of 44, he became its youngest rector. Like Maimonides and Spinoza—both of whom he admired and wrote about—Roth was concerned with the relationships between the Jewish religion and contemporary philosophical ideas. He was a practical philosopher, and was particularly interested in the application of Jewish ethical principles to the problems of his time. Roth's ideal of Judaism as a way of life came into sharp conflict with developments in Palestine after the establishment of the State of Israel. He was particularly troubled by the wanton killing of civilians and by the treatment of refugees following the fighting in 1947–8. In 1953 he resigned his Chair and returned to England. In the remaining ten years of his life he travelled and lectured widely, and wrote most of the essays included in this volume. He died suddenly at the conclusion of a tour of New Zealand, just after his sixty-seventh birthday.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Half Title2
Title Page4
Copyright 5
Publisher's Note9
1: Is there a Jewish Philosophy?22
2: lmitatio Dei and the Idea of Holiness36
3: Jewish Thought as a Factor in Civilization50
4: The Significance of Biblical Prophecy for Our Time95
5: Some Reflections on the Interpretation of Scripture101
6: Baruch Spinoza His Religious Importance for the Jew of Today116
7: Judaism: The Elements129
8: Authority, Religion, and Law142
9: Moralization and Demoralization in Jewish Ethics149
10: Mysticism, Thick and Thin165
11: Back To, Forward From, Ahad Ha'am?177
12: Maimonides190
Bibliography of the Writings of Leon Roth201