Page 127 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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GIBBS/LEVINAS AND JEWISH THOUGHT
119
ence of French-speaking Jewish intellectuals, sponsored by the
World Jewish Congress. Each year a topic is chosen, and while
most of the contributors focus on contemporary analyses or on
historical questions, Levinas finds a passage from Talmud to
explore the issue. In 1960-61, the topics were morality and his­
tory, and Levinas began with the discussions in Sanhedrin. The
audience appreciated his efforts to make traditional learning
speak to current concerns, and so requested that he continue
to offer these readings.
Other essays in
Difficult Freedom
defend Judaism against some
of its learned despisers. And still others discuss heroes of Jewish
thought: men like Jacob Gordin and Franz Rosenzweig. What
Levinas respects in these heroes is their effort to think a Judaism
which was not merely historical and which could directly engage
the suffering of Jews in our time. Finally, there is a set of re­
markable essays on Jewish education, which insist that only by
study and fresh engagement with Jewish tradition can Judaism
survive, but even more importantly, that only through such
study can Judaism help save our culture. Judaism has something
distinctive to offer the contemporary scene, a mode of study
and teaching which accentuates the responsibility we bear for
each other.
APPROACHING THE TEXT
Levinas has also published four further volumes of Jewish
writings. The first two were sets of his talmudic readings and
have been translated together in the volume
Nine Talmudic Read­
ings.7
The form of the readings is fairly constant. Levinas offers
a translation of the text for commentary. He then introduces
the reading by disclaiming his ability to interpret Talmud, and
then he moves through the text line by line, trying to explain
both what the text is addressing and what that contributes to
a more general philosophical theme. The
sugyot
he chooses tend
to be aggadic.
Levinas’s interpretations are a continuing effort to discover
what we might call a philosophical Talmud. His preference for
aggadah is both for the content (the more theoretical matters)
7. Emmanuel Levinas.
Nine Talmudic Readings.
Trans, by Annette Aronowicz.
Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1990.