Senior Fellow: July–August 2018 and August 2019
Research Project: Open Inquiry in Jewish Thought
This project will address a basic question of medieval Jewish thought: to what extent are Jews permitted to ask truly open questions about metaphysical matters? Examples of such questions are: does God exist? Is God One? Does He know particulars? An attitude of open questioning – i.e. inquiry without predetermined conclusions—is a precursor to any serious philosophy. Nevertheless, it is generally difficult to tell whether any medieval thinker truly adopted such an open attitude, since all of the major medieval philosophers pledged allegiance to religious doctrines of one sort or another. Indeed, I have yet to identify a single rabbi of the medieval or Renaissance periods who permitted pure free-thinking or free-questioning. This is not to say that there were no rabbis or Jewish scholars of those periods who engaged in pure open questioning. What is striking though is that every Jewish scholar who adopted an approach of open inquiry did so in an entirely different way; that is, the religious justification for each approach was radically different for each thinker. Indeed, the thinkers who asked open questions constantly struggled with their own recognition that the very asking of these questions was in a sense contrary to religious law.
Yehuda Halper is a senior lecturer in the Department of Jewish Philosophy at Bar-Ilan University Ramat-Gan.