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A Christian Anthropology? Early Jewish Readings of Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit

Mon, December 17, 8:30 to 10:00am, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Federal 2 Complex


The topic of Heidegger and religion has occupied much scholarly attention. Most often, it has focused on Heidegger’s roots in, and impact on, Christian theology. With respect to Heidegger and Judaism, critical literature has almost exclusively touched upon Heidegger’s view of Jews and the question of his ties to the Nazi party. While some comparative work between certain elements of Heidegger’s thought and traditions within Judaism is currently being undertaken, little attention has been given to twentieth century responses to Heidegger from self-consciously Jewish perspectives.
In my proposed paper I focus on early Jewish readings of Heidegger in the interwar period in Germany and Palestine and argue that immediately after the publication of his SEIN UND ZEIT (1927), a central prism through which Jewish thinkers read his work was a religious one. By looking at the writings of known figures, such as Hans Jonas and Hugo Bergmann, and less knowns figures, including Albert Lewkowitz and Shlomo Zemach, I wish to show that a central factor in early Jewish receptions of Heidegger’s philosophy is to contest its veneer of neutrality and highlight its theological presuppositions. Specifically, the secularized Christian notions permeating Heidegger’s existential analytic of human being and the lack of references to God or to the human’s being-towards and -from God were found to be faulty by his initial Jewish readership. These faults were perceived as exhibiting the enduring impact of Protestant theological trends on his thought, which in turn preclude its appropriateness for Jewish thought.
Exploring the early Jewish responses of Heidegger’s philosophy does not only enhance our understanding of the reception of this troubling philosopher, but also sheds light on the way in which the Jewish-Christian difference was conceptualized at the time.
This paper is part of a wider effort to develop a less sensational and more content-based and nuanced account of the philosophically, religiously and politically charged Jewish encounter with one of the most important philosophers of the previous century.


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