Interview with Miriam Feldmann Kaye – Jewish Theology for a Postmodern Age

Anthony Giddens, the world-renowned sociologist divides Western modernity into three periods, the enlightenment, modernism, and late modernity. The Enlightenment as the first form of modernity, characterized by the 18th and 19th centuries’ attempt to turn towards literacy, reason, science, and autonomy, as well as the fight against the old regime and traditionalism. Modernism, the second form of modernity, is the enthusiastic embrace of the late 19th and early 20th centuries’ turn to urbanization, individuality, and new understandings of humanity and society. The goal was to cultivate a religion that grapples with modernist challenges and accounts for individuality. Modernist expert knowledge— such as science or the university— during this period was authoritative. Late modernity, the third form of modernity, was a loss of trust in the expert authority of modernity, which resulted in the emergence of multiple forms of authority while also embracing the new materialism and post-secularism. We are in the later age. Some who emphasize philosophy and theory call this period last period postmodernism, a period that sees the limits of modernism. and its universal visions.

Among those using this philosophic language is the recent book by Miriam Feldmann Kaye, Jewish Theology for a Postmodern Age ( Liverpool University Press in association with  Library of Jewish Civilization, 2019), a short but smart book encouraging us to simultaneously expand our horizons and those of contemporary Jewish theology. Miriam Feldmann Kaye, a recipient of the Cambridge Theological Studies Prize, holds a BA from Cambridge University, MA from the University of London, and PhD in Jewish History from Haifa University.  She is currently a Teaching Fellow at Bar Ilan University. She recently completed a Lady Davis Post-Doctoral Fellowship, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She also teaches in the MA program for Jewish Education at the School of Education, the Hebrew University. She is Founding Director of the Israel branch of the Faith and Belief Forum (formerly the Three Faiths Forum).

Feldmann Kaye’s book seeks to make philosophy and theological meaning from the writings of Rabbi Shagar and Prof Tamar Ross. She seeks to rescue them from sociological explanations grounded in changes in Israeli culture, and instead, sees them as directions for Jewish thought in the post-modern age, postmodern in the broad sense of general philosophic trend after modernity.  

The blog hosted a number of responses to the interview with Miriam Feldmann-Kaye. The first is by Levi Morrow on her use of Rav Shagar- here The second response is by Zohar Atkins on her postmodernism -here.

[For interested in Tamar Ross’ ideas see my interview here (also here and here), for those interested in Rav Shagar, I have 19 posts- see here and here for the end of my many posts and here and here that directly relate to his postmodernism. For those who want the sociological approach to these thinkers, see my review of Smadar Cherlow’s book here.]

Feldmann Kaye’s method is to first present the theological tenor of the current age, followed by showing how Rabbi Shagar and Prof Ross fit into this age, then to give examples and directions for expanding these ideas.  Feldmann Kaye is comfortable contextualizing her subjects in postmodern thinkers even if the subjects themselves have not read them.  If Wittgenstein is important in the 21st century, and her two thinkers fit into this trend of Wittgenstein, then she can offer other thinkers and ideas – such as by Paul Ricoeur, W. V. O. Quine, or Martin Heidegger- to amplify and develop the idea.  This method would be akin to discussing the Existential Age of Buber, Sartre and Camus, then showing that Heschel and Soloveitchik should be contextualized as Existentialists, and concluding with ideas from Tillich, Maritain, or Rahner.

All her discussion points to Feldmann Kaye’s own “visionary theology” bursting out between the lines of the book never articulated, even with my coaxing for this interview. She has sympathy for the post-secular 21st century ideas of Richard Kearney’s anantheism and Jean Luc Marion’s saturated event. She wants to open up to a theology “which does not rely on an ultimate and singular truth, but posits instead that the notion of a multiplicity of truths.” For Feldmann-Kaye “The implications are twofold: firstly, since faith does not lend itself to scientific verification, it becomes difficult to justify a preference for one’s own world view or way of life. Second, if such truths are perceived as culturally particular social constructs, their prime function is limited to defining communal boundaries.”  I heard part of it at the World Congress of Jewish Studies in 2017.  I hope to hear more.

The book focuses on three specific themes in their thought, (1) Cultural Particularism, (2) Language, and (3) Revelation.

In 1979, Lyotard published The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, a work acknowledging that the era of modernism and existentialism had ended. In its place, Lyotard offered skepticism about universalizing theories and a rejection of universals and metanarratives. Feldmann Kaye relies heavily on this seminal work to define the philosophic climate of our era.

The first, cultural particularism is Feldmann Kaye’s way of saying that there are only local religious truths; no longer do thinkers have to respond to modernist universals of authority and knowledge. Rav Shagar has an approach of being at home in the study hall and one finds one’s truth in the study hall, while Prof Ross has an approach of working within the particularistic canon of Kabbalah, Hasidut, and Rav Kook. Feldmann Kaye does not discuss the biographic element that Rav Shagar and Tamar Ross were friends and talked to each about theology. Nor does it discuss their specific personal uses of Hasidut, Rather, her book discusses the relationship of kabbalah and postmodernism in the thought of Sanford Drob and the role of truth in Heidegger.

The concept Feldmann Kaye focusses on is that of language and especially of Lyotard’s reading of Wittgenstein. Lyotard (mis)used Wittgenstein’s phrase “private language” to mean that there are no longer universal truths. She shows how Rav Shagar and Prof. Ross each have a sense of a private language and she discusses parallels in Richard Rorty, Jean Baudrillard, more Heidegger.  I wish she had been more analytic here since Wittgenstein is subject to many interpretations by theologians. Evangelical and Fundamentalists read Wittgenstein as interpreted by the scholar DZ Phillips as a fideism, a dogmatic private language in which the gospels are a private language not subject to any alien methods. In contrast, the scholar Norman Malcolm reads Wittgenstein as only allowing an act of faith since we cannot have any certain knowledge. But I believe Prof Ross is closer to a third reading, in which language is the rules of a game or the grammar.

Finally, Feldmann Kaye’s third topic is revelation based on these ideas of truth and language. She shows that Prof Ross accepts an idea of progressive revelation, a metaphysical idea of the unfolding of the truth, which she based on Kabbalah and Hasidut. But rather than discuss the Ross’ feminist application of this view of revelation, Feldmann Kaye opens up the discussion to Paul Ricoeur’s theory of interpretation. Rav Shagar uses the language of the study hall and treats the ongoing creativity of the Torah scholar in what he calls lamdanut as revelation.  

There will be posted a few responses to this interview in order to generate some discussion. I will return with some clarifications and some of my own views on the topics after the responses. We should thank Miriam Feldmann Kaye for opening this discussion with her smart book Jewish Theology for a Postmodern Age about the importance of contemporary thought for Jewish thology. In the meantime, this is a good chance to read, if you have never read it, Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition a dated period piece and then jump to the 21st century by reading Richard Kearney’s Anatheism: Returning to God After God  (2011) to get a sense of how the secular ideas of postmodernism are used by 21st century religious theologians including Miriam Feldmann Kaye.

  1. Are you actually discussing postmodernism?

The thinkers I deal with Rabbi Shagar and Tamar Ross grapple with late 20th century modernist thought continuing to read current thought through to the current era. Rabbi Shagar joins several Jewish thinkers of the twentieth century who engaged with the existentialist movement, Ross with analytic engagement. Both of them grapple with Rav Kook, joining the ranks of some of the most significant theologians in contemporary times.

It would be reductionist to call them ‘postmodern thinkers’. I have clarified this important point – that the majority of thinkers I deal with, reject the term “postmodern”, and especially the label of “postmodern thinker”, and I have tried to respect this throughout. They are not just postmodern thinkers, but rather, draw on a breadth and a depth of contemporary philosophical movements.

In fact, I am not dependent on the term ‘postmodernism’ and would not have been opposed to using in the title the term “twenty-first century Jewish philosophy”, or even more specifically, contemporary. In the way in which I have used it, postmodernism refers to the temporal era of the end of the 20th and start of the 21st century A period after modernity – literally post-modern- in which we see the limits of modernity. In its most basic sense, postmodernism embodies a critique of different elements of modernity.

Having said that, taking sensitivities into account, I am not afraid of the term postmodern, and neither to use the word relativism, and believe that these words and concepts must challenge and draw us in as much as they repel us.

I do not think that postmodernism immediately signals relativism – it is important and preferable to separate between the two, and challenge the ambivalence towards the term. In the more lenient use of the word ‘postmodern’ in this book, I draw attention to what is meant by using this frame of Jewish thinkers who engage with postmodern philosophy.

2. Is ambivalence towards Postmodernism justified?

I want to address the ambivalence towards the term postmodern. Postmodernism is a contentious word which is easily associated, by some, with a nihilistic relativism. The outlooks it espouses indeed reflect a breakdown of ultimate truths and values.

I actually identify with the hesitation surrounding the term, and have sought to break down the fear in a way that theologians have done for centuries with surrounding cultural movements which have seemed, and which have been, strongly at odds, with the worldview that one seeks to maintain.

This is why I decided to change the title of the book, initially, “Jewish Theology in a Postmodern Age”, to “Jewish Theology for a Postmodern Age”. This change frames the purpose of the book – Jewish theology engages with its contemporaneous philosophical trends, and the volume addresses profound development of what will, in my view, become an immersion in the areas of intellectual creativity that the postmodern age has begun to offer. It must be understood as an enigma which demands our attention and as a challenge to thought, rather than a corrosive problem which must be destroyed.

The change in the book was made to highlight the distinctions between postmodern philosophy and Jewish thought, and to reflect the nature of the book which is a philosophical quest to understand the parameters of a new conversation.

In light of this, theology takes an active role engaging in that conversation where postmodernism as a worldview might be constructive, as well as destructive, to contemporary Jewish philosophical debate.

I made clear in the outset of the book, that my aim has not been to defend postmodernism – rather, to examine its various themes, as a negotiation with diverse elements of Jewish thought in the twenty-first century. This means leveraging what philosophy of religion became towards the end of the twentieth century – existentialist, dialogical, pragmatic, and following how these ideas develop into the new century. In this sense the main question becomes whether and how Jewish thought which can function and be compelling, in today’s world.

This change reflects my approach towards the thinkers I deal with: their engagement with issues of the day, does not necessarily class them as postmodern thinkers. Rather, I have written about their thinking as addressing certain issues that postmodern philosophy raises, and the acute questions it raises.

3. Why is it important to approach Rabbi Shagar’s and Tamar Ross’ thought from a philosophical viewpoint?

One of the main characteristics of the book, has been to set aside sociological analyses of both Shagar and Ross. My own academic training has been in the field of philosophy of religion.

This forms the backdrop for my intense engagement with Shagar and Ross. It is the lens through which I examine numerous texts. I probe their thinking, asking the critical questions of contemporary times, from a Jewish perspective. I specifically analyse Shagar’s later engagement with non-Jewish continental philosophers, even if he did not read them, which is so important, in my view, for understanding the true contribution he makes to contemporary Jewish thought. I am interested in the epistemological and linguistic contributions that Ross makes to Jewish philosophy, seeing feminism as a case in point, rather than as the central objective.

In Israel, some of the discussion around the yeshiva world of Shagar is associated with New Age and the pop-Hasidut of contemporary “spirituality”. Much continues to be written on this topic. Suffice it to say, there is more than meets the eye to this neo-Hasidic thinking, which actually calls for an understanding of the roles of Hasidut and Kabbalah in postmodern theology.

4. What are Rabbi Shagar’s and Prof Tamar Ross’s main contributions?

Ross and Shagar are engaging in an original dialogue about culture, language, revelation.

They both demand a revision of the concept of Torah and revelation for a postmodern age. Shagar and Ross are two of the first thinkers to reconceptualise revelation on terms which do not get caught in the issues of modernity.  Although in the book I deal with their thinking in parallel, I draw points of reference for comparison and contrast.

The book shows how this dialogue is representative of the sort of discussion seeking to engage which strands of contemporary philosophy will be most accepted in contemporary Jewish thought. In this way, we are offered an unusual insight into how they firstly recognise, and secondly handle postmodern ideas. This forms the basis for an analytical consideration of how internal Jewish theological ideas are interpreted in this age.

5. What is Cultural Particularism?

The book is split into three main conceptual sections: cultural particularism, language and revelation.

“Cultural particularism’” is a central feature of postmodernism.I use this term to refer to the position which states that our understanding and interaction with the world is contingent upon culture.

According to radical interpretations of cultural particularism, the category of objectivity is limited altogether, and only multiple different perspectives based on local perceptions and interpretations, each anchored in a specific cultural context, hold water.

Furthermore, in these interpretations the notion of objectivity is a figment of our philosophical imagination, itself conceived through the lenses of our respective cultures.

In my book, I analyse the impact of this contentious theory specifically in the realm of religion. Firstly, postmodern theology regards religion as a particularistic endeavour, fundamentally rooted in cultural idiosyncrasies. As a result, it downplays the modernist quest for universal truth and objectivity outside one’s culture. Secondly, truth claims no longer purport to represent absolute, universal, and justifiable statements about the world. A radical postmodernist world view conceives of an individual’s values and beliefs as a drop in an ocean of culturally-accepted norms.

This shift in thinking carries far-reaching implications in the domain of Jewish theology. Currently, most Jewish religious responses to the challenge of cultural particularism have come, perhaps inevitably, from a generation of thinkers who have found themselves in a transitional period between modernity and postmodernism. Even though philosophically they accept the notion of multiple truths, they still dread the ethical and practical implications of relativism.

6. How does Rav Shagar deal with Cultural Particularism?

In discussing their treatment of the problem of multiple truths and relativism, I show how their arguments facilitate the acceptance of a multiplicity of truth-claims. Nevertheless, I underscore a persistent refusal on their behalf to what they view to be a ‘collapse’ into a relativism according to which one’s own faith holds nothing truer than that of others.

Shagar appropriates cultural particularism by rendering truth subject to a cultural context. He rejects the idea of a fixed, monolithic truth as little more than an artificial, human construct.The way he envisions the community ‘playing’ a sophisticated language game allows for a degree of freedom and human creativity rarely observed in traditional circles.

Cultural particularism, the deconstruction of the universal, of the monolithic, is linked to Shagar’s notion of Beit’iut  -“home-ness” shorashiut – “rootedness”. The philosophical ‘home’ is the starting point of theology, rather than an empirically decided universal standpoint. Beitiut is an example that Shagar uses for cultural particularism. Religious meaning is where the home is. The starting point for ‘doing’ philosophy is not a neutral or objective standpoint – rather it begins and necessarily must remain, in the particularist context called ‘home’.

In Shagar’s discussion on Shabbat and the Hindu ritual of Samadhi, he draws comparisons between the spirituality of these two states of existence. The home is the contextual and therefore conceptual starting point, which I delineate as cultural particularism.

Given the role of immersion in contextual community, often described as a socially constructed community, collective discourses are what inform practice and conversation around its meaning. The individual does not operate in a theological vacuum, as he or she did prior to these times, even in times where existentialism was most prominent in religious discourse – wherein the personal experience affected and was effected by one’s own religious experience – the ennui or malaise of the age.

7. How does Prof Tamar Ross deal with Cultural Particularism?

Tamar Ross views local religious truths as valuable precisely because they are relative to a particular group. She uses this relativism to put forward a non-empirical, kabbalistic, metaphysical truth, and in so doing, endeavours to redeem relativism from its negative connotations. She affirms the relative nature of each religion, and claims that such a conception of religious truth permeates the history of Jewish thought

 Ross, like Shagar, dismisses the self as the frame of reference for determining reality. She reaches this conclusion by exploring the implications of a Kookian, Hasidic conception of the divine as a singular unity, which converge with the postmodern breakdown of subjective and objective.

Having internalized the epistemological uncertainty characteristic of the postmodern critique.

Ross seeks to establish a sound ground for religious knowledge. She turns for that reason to non-foundationalism, a contemporary epistemological position that justifies truth-claims not on the basis of their purported grounding in some neutral or objective source of knowledge, but on the degree to which they cohere with other beliefs and opinions. This attitude she contrasts favourably against any sort of radical postmodern relativism, which turns the rejection of absolute truth into nihilism and anarchy on the simplistic assessment that all truth-claims are of equal value. Instead of establishing the truth-value of a proposition against the background of an objective, metaphysical source, non-foundationalists rely on intersubjective agreement within the wider community

Ross similarly takes Kook’s innovative and non-traditional theology as an inspiring model. She describes him as ‘wise to be suspicious of all claims to absolute truth, or to any direct and perfect correspondence between our perceptions and ontological reality’. Indeed, she identifies with his scepticism and notes that such a feeling ultimately leads to ‘a fundamental shift in the expectations surrounding traditional theological claims’.

However, for her, cultural particularism, does justify one’s ability to posit a belief of ‘truth’, without believing that this constitutes the only truth. From an analytic philosophy perspective if a truth is subjective, then it is not Truth.

From the perspective of continental thought, it is evident that this misses the point. It is perspectival. This forms the demand for postmodern deconstruction of the notion of Truth altogether, linking to the ‘inter-subjectivity’ of Heidegger amongst others.

8. Is Cultural Particularism relativism?

There is a question asked of Shagar: if cultural particularism defines the starting point, the all-pervasive contextualisation of language and culture have the potential to relativize values as a whole.

We find a response to this question in Ross’ discussion of the self through Richard Rorty and Hilary Putnam- even if it was not used by Shagar or Ross. Analytic (behaviouralist or neopragmatic) theories of language, propounded by Rorty, Putnam and Quine, is the idea that language it holds meaning insofar as it means something to the one who uses or understands that language. In other words, a metaphysical being or essence is not assumed when using such language. How is this constructive in philosophy of religion? Because the distinctions between language as ‘true’ or ‘false’ need not bother us so much anymore. Philosophy has moved on from these questions, and this gives us the opportunity to reconsider a Jewish theory of language. I have said many times, that this is not necessarily a new idea, but the response to it, in the relevant discourse, is highly original. 

For Ross, this reading deepens the question as to how mysticism should be understood. If not given to neo Hasidic spirituality, how should mysticism be interpreted on the philosophical level? Empirically or allegorically? In response to the theory of cultural particularism and relativism, she responds by questioning the role that truth claims play, rather than their supposed abstract metaphysical essence.  

Shagar addressed the issue through an interpretation of Slavoj Zizek’s reading of Jacques Lacan, and the idea of chosenness. Shagar provides us with a unique reading of this sort of discourse, interspersed with interpretations of Hasidut, and its relevance to this new thinking. 

Ultimately Shagar bequeaths to us a “hierarchy of truth”, rather than an acceptance of the zero sum game that some modern vs. postmodern debates seem to embody.

I critique all these responses concerning the limitations as to how far Jewish thinkers can go in cultural particularism without falling into relativism. I end this section with a broader observation that the deconstruction of universalism, plays an ethical role in its breakdown of the fallacious belief in ‘one truth fits all’.

9. How do both thinkers deal with language in a postmodern age?

If language cannot describe anything beyond itself, how can any statement be true? Do beliefs serve any purpose if they do not express something true about the world? According to postmodern theory, each culturally particular community functions according to its own semantic and linguistic system, similar to Martin Heidegger’s “intra-worldly” and Ross’ “inter-subjectivity”.

For Tamar Ross, certain aspects of this new postmodern philosophy of religion become fundamental in examining what we mean when we use theological language. To give three examples, Francois Lyotard claimed that meaning is contingent on its context. For Rorty, language serves the claim of different collectives, and in this sense is functional. Jurgen Habermas and others view this in a constructive way – how does meaning arise in a particular cultural context?

Wittgenstein’s theory of the “language game” is utilised at various points in constructing postmodern positions, by Shagar and Ross.

Ludwig Wittgenstein’s concept of ”language games” is often held up as his flagship contribution to the philosophy of language. However, his idea of ‘Forms of Life’ is critical in studying a contemporary Jewish consideration of religious language. It is in fact far more telling of the nature of religion today, and how language functions as a theological tool in our communities.

Thus, the role of Wittgensteinian thought must be reconsidered. It is at this point where the role of language comes in. Ross in a way, clears the path for what Shagar means when he speaks of revelation.

10. Does Language affect Reality?

Before the advent of postmodernism, philosophers generally viewed language as concordant with reality. In other words, they assumed that the words, phrases, and sentences we use correspond to the objects in the world that we purport to describe. This assumption that a ‘signifier’ (most notably, in speech) necessarily relates to a specific ‘signified’ is known as ‘correspondence theory’. Philosophers of language, in turn, seek to investigate the nature of this relation. They consider, among other questions, whether and how language reflects reality. This is known as ‘the problem of language’.

For Shagar, language illustrates, and manifests itself through, reality. It is the nature of reality, which changes, together with that of language. According to Jean Baudrillard, the very nature of reality alters according to the cultural-linguistic turn. I discuss his theory of semiotics as coinciding with theological interpretations of reality.

Shagar wrote about Baudrillard, combining his thinking on the nature of reality with mysticism. This led Shagar to an analysis of the role of mystical language as descriptive of reality, without having to be understood as empirically historic. Semiotics is the study of signs. It relies on the fact that our understanding of society comes through ‘signification’ (signs) which are referred to by language and in the media, but that do not exist in and of themselves. Hence language and cultural rituals symbolize, but do not embody, reality.

Today’s world is full of ‘signs’. Although we may not be fully aware of them, these signs surround us, and effectively build up what Baudrillard terms a simulated ‘hyper-reality’. Facebook and Twitter, for example, create an artificial, simulated social existence. Virtual exchanges on the cyberspace—on our smartphones and computers—allow individuals to bypass reality. It is crucial to recognize that a simulated reality is not a false reality. It means that we are aware of the factors that make our reality what it is. Shagar turns to Baudrillard to reconfigure the role of language in postmodern religion. His position is original on two accounts: it acknowledges the problem of language, and in response, re-envisages it as a network of signs that help the religious community generate its own simulated reality.To him, the language of the community serves to engender, rather than merely refer to, the religious values of its adherents.

The way Shagar is able to accommodate these positions is by relying on the Jewish mystical tradition. He employs concepts drawn most notably from Lurianic kabbalah and Bratslav hasidism to draw out a theological discourse that comprises both postmodern linguistic elements and traditional ones.

Through Ross we arrive at a fascinating, and distinct treatment of the language in her interest in the structures and types of language available to us. For her, the metaphor is instrumental in opening a world of reality which might lend themselves to, as she says, “direct intimations of the Divine”,

 For Jacques Derrida, we find that metaphors can express truths with more power than any literal statement. For language is poetic, and imaginative, rather than literal. So, literal statements about empirical facts on which religious claims might be made, are in fact, lacking in their potential for describing a reality far beyond what is imaginable, and therefore more fitting to the sort of dialogue that we have. The purposes of language in the realm of theology, are less to describe factual events, and more to create and sustain a phenomenologically compelling image of the world as it is true to us. In this sense, we move further away from the language game as a problem for theology.

11. How do the chapters on culture and language lead to a new approach to revelation?

The first two chapters bring together a new approach to Torah min Hashamayim ‘ (loosely ‘translated’ as Torah from Heaven) wherein the ‘text’ responds to the issues raised in the two previous chapters. Torah min hashamayim (Torah from Heaven) is released from modern ongoing debates of science vs religion. Denominations as being formed around responses to these questions. Certain Jewish communities, particular in the diaspora, retain this question as the overall arbiter of what is meant by Jewish thought. Moreover, it is applied to aspects of Jewish practice.

Ross’ epistemology is her idea of cumulative revelation – where Torah min Hashamayim is understood as a perpetually unfolding reality, manifesting itself in the lives of those who live by it. Shagar’s position is not dissimilar – but expressed in a more yeshiva-style way, wherein truths and meaning in Torah are unravelled through Lamdanut  – ultimately a theory of interpretation and hermeneutics. Torah inherently refers to and embodies continual revelation. For both, Torah min Hashamayim is a continual, ongoing, dynamic process, accompanied by upholders of the faith via halakhic debate and praxis, and engagement with textual exegesis and its intersections with the ruach – spirit – of the world around us. The will of God is continually discovered in each generation. Neither position is necessarily ‘postmodern’ but it is expressed in language of the cultural-linguistic turn. So, the “life of the text” as Mikhail Bakhtin argues, presents a solicitation of the text within and outside of a language game, reaching out beyond this world to an unspeakable reality – necessarily undetermined (“deferred” according to Derrida) in postmodern theory.

The book compares Tamar Ross to Paul Ricoeur’s understanding of the “conflict of interpretations” and its meaning in a textually generative community. Linguistic interpretative techniques are esoteric in their nature, pulled out of a static existenceand given a life of their own, in a dynamic, living process. Similarly, for Shagar, Lamdanut, does not constitute a language game, but a reaching out for a reality, generating its genuineness as a phenomenological community. Lamdanut and biblical and Talmudic interpretation, represents a grappling with the text which fits with the notion of postmodern hermeneutic activity as part of the continuing manifestation of oral Torah. It is here that Covenant becomes the immense and intense engagement in this process, in its various manifestations.

12. How is phenomenology important to this thinking about revelation?

The phenomenological movement of the 1920’s sought to explore the philosophical articulation of human experience. Edmund Husserl, and later, Martin Heidegger, put forward the claim that experience happens with human existence, rather than as separate from it. Whilst it was others who were to apply this to religion, it has come to provide a different and more useful way of considering religious language and the experience around linguistic dialogue. Experience is a key component of how religious meaning and truth are understood. Religious phenomena include the sense of the miraculous, the encounter with a striking text, or the sensation of transcendence at a holy site. It is the community as phenomenological discourse, which accepts upon itself the ultimate link to and connection with Torah.

Revelation as “perpetual revelation” is a development on the acceptance of the ideas of cultural particularism and language. Revelation and the language through which it is understood and experienced, depend on the nature of reality.

Torah min Hashamayim becomes the primary cultural particularist, linguistic conduit, for religious experience, rather one that works against it. Study is itself done through language and Torah is transmitted from Moses to Sinai in our very textual and dialogic activity. This is one of the main points that we arrive at in postmodern Jewish theology.

 And it is this that I have termed Visionary Theology – an embryonic model for Jewish thought today.

The methodology reflects the objective, which is to weave together postmodern and Jewish thinking side by side, rather than as conflicting opposites.  I place Jean-Francois Lyotard and Michel Foucault alongside Jewish thinkers in speaking about the first step of my claim – cultural particularism. Much of contemporary Christian post-metaphysical theology deals similar themes, such as that of Jean-Luc Marion and Richard Kearney – an area of theology which I continue to research.

I have put forward the case for their opening up to a Visionary Theology which does not rely on an ultimate and singular truth, but posits instead that the notion of a multiplicity of truths as compatible with Judaism.

The implications are twofold: firstly, since faith does not lend itself to scientific verification, it becomes difficult to justify a preference for one’s own world view or way of life. Second, if such truths are perceived as culturally particular social constructs, their prime function is limited to defining communal boundaries.

Comments are closed.