Junior Fellow: October 2020–September 2021
Research Project: Challenging Reason: Rabbinic Sceptics and Jewish Philosophers in Eastern and Central Europe in the Early Twentieth Century
During the first half of the twentieth century, a series of Jewish thinkers from Eastern and Central Europe challenged the authority of reason as the exclusive key to understanding human beings and the world. Several historical and philosophical developments led them to search for new forms of consciousness. This research project will examine the exchange of ideas between Jewish philosophy and rabbinical theology on this subject through the eyes of four thinkers: Samuel Hugo Bergman, Eliezer Yitzhak Sheinbaum, Shmuel Alexandrov, and Shem-Tov Geffen. In his own way, each of these thinkers tried to problematise reason as the prime avenue of knowledge, offered alternative ways of broadening human consciousness, and shared his ideas with some of the other members of this group.
Very little research has been undertaken on most of these thinkers. Bergman’s thought has been examined in comprehensive studies, but its influences from Eastern European rabbinical thought have not been fully described. This is a groundbreaking research project, and although it deviates from the usual chronological framework adopted by the Maimonides Centre, it offers important modern perspectives on the issues of faith, reason, doubt, and the reliability of different sources of knowledge.
Isaac Slater completed a PhD in Jewish thought at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer-Sheva in 2019. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Jewish History at the University of Haifa in 2019–2020.