Judaism Examined: Essays in Jewish Philosophy and Ethics

Judaism Examined: Essays in Jewish Philosophy and Ethics


Moshe Sokol

Series: Touro University Press
ISBN: 9781618111654 (hardcover)
Pages: 522 pp.
Publication Date: December 2013

Add To Cart

Are there theoretical grounds for tolerance in the classical Jewish tradition? Is human autonomy endorsed by Judaism? What is the range of attitudes towards pleasure that have found their expression in Jewish sources? What does Maimonides have to say about joy, and what does Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik teach about human suffering? This volume of essays examines these and many other key questions about Judaism from the rigorous perspective of philosophical analysis. Unlike most scholarship in Jewish philosophy, which approaches the field primarily from the perspective of intellectual history, this volume also engages in active philosophical dialogue with the texts and thinkers it addresses. Judaism Examined is a much-needed voice to the perennial questions of Jewish philosophy.

Moshe Sokol is dean of the Lander College for Men in Kew Gardens Hills, professor of philosophy, and a member of the Touro College Graduate Faculty of Jewish Studies. He also serves as rabbi of the Yavneh Minyan of Flatbush, a position he has held since 1980. He is the editor of Rabbinic Authority and Personal Autonomy (1993), Engaging Modernity (1997), and Tolerance, Dissent and Democracy: Philosophical, Historical and Halakhic Perspectives (2002).

In one of the many felicitous expressions in this wide-ranging book, Moshe Sokol says that Rabbi Soloveitchik, the subject of several penetrating essays here, made Brisk (the town of his Talmudic origin and tradition) speak in the language of Berlin (where Rabbi Soloveitchik studied philosophy). Similarly, through the subtle application of the tools of analytic philosophy, Moshe Sokol makes both Maimonides and Soloveitchik speak in the accents of Oxford. Analytic philosophy often runs the risk of triviality; in the hands of a masterful practitioner such as Moshe Sokol, it becomes a supple tool for clarifying the obscure. Judaism Examined is well-worth examining—closely!
— Menachem Kellner, University of Haifa
The appearance of Moshe Sokol’s essays in a single volume is a boon for Jewish philosophers. Combining a firm command of Jewish sources with the tools of analytic philosophy, these articles are consistently illuminating and strikingly lucid. The range of topics is impressive. Whether interpreting particular texts or thinkers, categorizing views, assessing philosophical theses, or formulating his own responses to philosophical problems, Sokol is always interesting, penetrating, and creative.
— David Shatz, Yeshiva University
Judaism Examined: Essays in Jewish Philosophy and Ethics is a model of meticulous scholarship that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. Erudite and articulate Judaism Examined: Essays in Jewish Philosophy and Ethics is very highly recommended for personal and academic Judaic Studies reference collections and supplemental reading lists.
— Wisconsin Bookwatch (April 2014)
Judaism Examined is an excellent collection of eighteen essays that plumbs the depth of Jewish and Western thought. Moshe Sokol’s work is a vital contribution to academic scholarship. Readers will gain from and enjoy this book because of Sokol’s insightful analysis on a variety of topics; his vast erudition in traditional Jewish sources; and the way he integrates contemporary, secular thought into his writings. . . . His extensive knowledge of the topic is impressive. . . . The book is recommended for scholars, laymen, rabbis, and ethicists; academics in the fields of Jewish studies, philosophy, comparative religion, and cultural studies; and anyone eager to grow in their understanding and knowledge of Western philosophy and Judaism. Space limits for this review do not allow me to do full justice to the richness, depth, and extreme importance of this book. It should serve as a benchmark in the field as an outstanding example of what it means to be a scholar of Jewish studies, a cultured human being open to the best in the Western secular tradition, and a rabbinic scholar.
— David B. Levy, Touro College, for H-Judaic (July, 2014)

Table of Contents



Chapter I
Maimonides on Joy
Chapter II
Maimonides on the Philosophical Life
Chapter III
Is There a “Halakhic” Response to the Problem of Evil?
Chapter IV
Attitudes Toward Pleasure in Jewish Thought: A Typological Proposal
Chapter V
Mitzvah as Metaphor: Towards a Philosophical Theory of Ta’amei Ha-Mitzvot


Chapter VI
Maimonides on Freedom of the Will and Moral Responsibility
Chapter VII
Master or Slave? Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik on Human Autonomy in the Presence of God
Chapter VIII
The Autonomy of Reason, Revealed Morality and Jewish Law
Chapter IX
Theoretical Grounds for Tolerance in the Jewish Tradition
Chapter X
Personal Autonomy and Religious Authority


Chapter XI
The Allocation of Scarce Medical Resources: A Philosophical Analysis of the Halakhic Sources
Chapter XII
Some Tensions in the Jewish Attitude Toward the Taking of Human Life
Chapter XIII
What Are the Ethical Implications of Jewish Theological Conceptions of the Natural World?

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik

Chapter XIV
Joseph B. Soloveitchik: Lonely Man of Faith
Chapter XV
Ger Ve-Toshav Anokhi: Modernity and Traditionalism in the Life and Thought of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik
Chapter XVI
Transcending Time: Elements of Romanticism in the Thought of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

Interpreting Jewish Texts

Chapter XVII
What Does A Jewish Text Mean? Theories of E’lu Ve-Elu Divrei Elohim Hayyim in Rabbinic Literature
Chapter XVIII
How Do Modern Jewish Thinkers Interpret Religious Texts?