Junior Fellow: October 2015–December 2016
Research Project: Yeshayahu Leibowitz—Strict Orthodox Practice and Unbound Scepticism
Yeshayahu Leibowitz (1903–94) was an Israeli scientist and religious thinker who exerted a considerable influence on the views of intellectuals as well as the wider public regarding religious, moral, and political issues. Amongst other publications, he has written a book on Maimonides’ faith. Roi Benbassat will explore Leibowitz’s sceptical approach to four interrelated themes: the legitimacy of scepticism in the Jewish religion, the conflict between religion and science, the moral status of Judaism, and Judaism and the ‘Jewish state.’ Leibowitz’s challenging insights regarding ‘religious knowledge’ has granted him the title of ‘a destroyer of idols.’ In his view, the Jewish religion is defined by the institution of Halakha alone, namely by its system of duties, whereas any other feature of Judaism (beliefs in particular) is dismissible. Thus, Judaism is conceived as a normative system, and faith in it as a commitment to a legal system. Leibowitz’s sceptical attitude is drawn in various depictions of his concept of Judaism. He argues that Jewish faith is a volitional decision that does not rely on any belief or reasoning. He also claims that Jewish faith is essentially in conflict with humanism and other moral standpoints. His sceptical attitude goes as far as claiming that God’s existence cannot be assumed or justified by our cognitive capacities, but only by willingly accepting the authority of the Jewish law (Halakhah). The Torah, as he puts it, is ‘data preceding recognition of the Giver of the Torah.’
Roi Benbassat earned his PhD at Université de Paris 1 and Tel Aviv University. Before coming to Hamburg, he held a Minerva Foundation postdoctoral fellowship at Free University Berlin.