When I heard what the subject chosen for me tonight was, namely, ‘The concept of Jewish philosophy in the sixteenth century’, I was at first not a little worried. Were there any Jewish philosophers in the sixteenth century, and if so, did they produce a Jewish philosophy? I must admit that for me and other historians of Philosophy, the Kabbalah or Jewish Mysticism does not qualify as philosophy and therefore would have to be excluded from my talk.
Three contributions celebrate the occasion of the eight-hundredth anniversary of the death of one of our greatest sages, Moses Maimonides (1135–1204). Maimonides was a master in every branch of Jewish scholarship. He was the great genius who synthesised the vast world of Talmudic law. He threw light on the Mishnah by one of the most lucid commentaries ever to have been written and he wrote numerous responsa advising Jewish community leaders on intricate problems of interpretation and application of rabbinical law. As a practising physician his advice on prophylaxis and medical treatment was highly valued, while he also had a keen interest in human psychology and in the natural sciences in general, including astronomy.
Objectives and Results of Philosophical Enquiry within Wissenschaft des Judentums
The philosophical understanding of Wissenschaft continued to have an impact well beyond Hegel, even though the way Wissenschaft continued to see itself became more and more influenced by those disciplines which were then trying to establish themselves as Einzelwissenschaften and as independent of philosophy. Still, the attempt to constitute philosophy as fundamental to Wissenschaft was a trend of the early nineteenth century, because philosophy was uniquely qualified to provide methodological explanations and to decide, by speculative design or by experiment, what Wissenschaft could be and should be. Wissenschaft, on the basis of philosophy, could clarify the object of research, its domains and overall relevance, assess the method to be used and the objectives to be attained; it could provide the appropriate terminology, as well as a historical analysis and it would present the unifying view and integration against the dangers of too much specialisation.
Scholars have largely examined and identified the historical and philosophical forces prevalent in Germany during the nineteenth century1 which, after having brought about a Wissenschaft des Judentums (a scholarly investigation into Judaism at large in all its various disciplines), eventually led to the establishment of the first rabbinical seminaries in Europe. Although, according to Richard Schaeffler, 'Wissenschaft des Judentums is as old as Judaism itself', it was in its specific German understanding of Wissenschaft a specific product of nineteenth-century German Geistesgeschichte.
Jonathan Magonet, Esther Seidel, and Evelyn Friedlander
Abraham: A Symbol of Hope for Jews, Christians and Muslims, Karl-Joseph Kuschel, London, SCM Press Ltd, 1995, £14.95. ISBN 0826408087
Moses Mendelssohn Gesammelte Schriften, Jubiläumsausgabe Bd. 22: Dokumente 1, bearbeitet v. Michael Albrecht, Stuttgart-Bad Cannstadt, F. Frommann Verlag/G. Holzboog, 1995, 374 pages, DM 234, ISBN 3-7728-1519-7
Moses Mendelssohn and the Religious Enlightenment, David Sorkin, London, Peter Halban Publ., 1996, 214 pages, £20, ISBN 1870015 27 4
The Goldapple Guide to Jewish Berlin, Andrew Roth/Michael Frajman, Goldapple Publishing, 1998, 181 pages, ISBN 3-9806356-0-0
Alfred Wiener and the Making of the Holocaust Library, Ben Barkow, London, Vallentine Mitchell, 1997, 211 pages, Cloth £35.00/Paper £17.50, ISBN 0 85303 329 3
Moses Mendelssohn, Porträts und Bilddokumente, Gisbert Porstmann, 1997, 401 pages, DM145, ISBN 3-7728-1521-9.