Approaching God aesthetically in modern Jewish thought
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Scholarly article. YU only until April 2025.
Drawing on the writings of the twentieth-century rabbi-philosopher Joseph Soloveitchik (1903-93), and in particular his observations on the nature and value of the aesthetic, this article sketches one element of a larger project that will explore an aesthetic approach to God and religion. The claim here is that bringing Soloveitchik into dialogue with Friedrich Nietzsche, and in particular Nietzsche's claims in The Birth of Tragedy regarding how the world and existence can only be justified as 'aesthetic phenomena,' can act as a springboard for constructing a picture whereby: (1) the experience of the halakhic life can play a life-affirming role for its more sophisticated practitioners, parallel to that played by aesthetic phenomena in Nietzsche's thought; (2) it is the aesthetic element of halakhic practice that explains how it can do this; and (3) these aesthetic elements of halakhic practice enable its practitioners, in varying ways, to experience halakhah as mediating a relationship with a God who cannot be comprehended propositionally. Article Note: Translations of Nietzsche's works are cited by volume and/or section number and are abbreviated as follows: A: The Antichrist, trans. Judith Norman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005). ASC: 'Attempt at a Self-Criticism,' in The Birth of Tragedy, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books, 1967). BGE: Beyond Good and Evil, trans. Judith Norman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009). BT: The Birth of Tragedy, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books, 1967). EH: Ecce Homo, trans. Judith Norman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005). EEM: The Emergence of Ethical Man, ed., Michael Berger (Jersey City, NJ: Ktav, 2005). GM: On the Genealogy of Morality, trans. Maudemarie Clark and Alan J. Swensen (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1998). GS: The Gay Science, trans. Josefine Nauckhoff (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001). TIT: Twilight of the Idols, trans. Judith Norman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005). Works by Joseph B. Soloveitchik are cited by page number and are abbreviated as follows: HMD: The Halakhic Mind (New York: Seth Press, 1986). HMN: Halakhic Man, trans. L. Kaplan (Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Publication Society, 1983). KDD: Kol Dodi Dofek, trans. Lawrence Kaplan as Fate and Destiny: From the Holocaust to the State of Israel (Hoboken, NJ: Ktav, 2000). LMF: The Lonely Man of Faith (New York: Doubleday, 1992). MH: 'Majesty and Humility,' Tradition 17, no. 2 (1978): 25-37. UM: Uvikashtem MiSham, trans. Naomi Goldblum as And From There You Shall Seek (Jersey City, NJ: Ktav/Toras Horav Foundation 2008). WH: Worship of the Heart: Essays on Jewish Prayer, ed., Shalom Carmy (Hoboken, NJ: Ktav, 2003). Works of Nietzsche and Soloveitchik that are cited only once are not abbreviated. Details of the editions used are provided in the footnotes. Byline: Steven Kepnes, Daniel Rynhold
Kepnes, S., & Rynhold, D. (2023). Approaching God aesthetically in modern Jewish thought. Modern Theology, 39(2), 272. https://doi.org/10.1111/moth.12824
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