Page 129 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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GIBBS/LEVINAS AND JEWISH THOUGHT
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with Western Philosophy. The argument focuses on whether
one has the authority to judge a command before accepting
it, and the answer from the Talmud is that the answer from
Exodus 24:7 (‘we will do and we will hear’), allows for a re­
sponsible, ethical acceptance which precedes knowing what is
commanded. From a normal philosophical view, such accept­
ance is naivete, but that view itself presupposes that I am sov­
ereign in my world. Levinas’s interpretation of the text is subtle
and difficult, but the conclusions are striking: not only am I
responsible prior to my rational choice, but I am also responsible
for what others do. I am hostage for the other. This radical
claim is a hallmark of Levinas’s later philosophical work, and
it emerges here, in an interpretation of the talmudic text.
The Levinas Reader*
surveys the various texts and genres of
Levinas’s Jewish writings, and in addition includes several im­
portant philosophical essays. The result is a useful anthology.
The
Reader
is uneven, borrowing the faulty translations of
Dif­
ficult Freedom,
and providing a limited survey of the philosoph­
ical growth of Levinas, but also offering essays from various
works and displaying much of Levinas’s range between two
covers.
The talmudic reading included in the
Reader
(“The Pact”),
shows Levinas working on an example of bizarre rabbinic math­
ematics. The covenants between the Jews and God are multi­
plied by various factors, but the ultimate addition is the respon­
sibility not only for all of the others, but for the others’ respon­
sibility for all of the others’ others. “This must also mean that
my responsibility includes the responsibility taken up by other
men...In the society of the Torah, this process is repeated to
infinity; beyond any responsibility attributed to everyone and
for everyone, there is always the additional fact that I am still
responsible for that responsibility.”9
The editor has included several essays from
Difficult Freedom,
including ones which define Judaism as responsibility for others
and which develop the programs for Jewish education. He also
includes a series of essays on Zionism from Levinas’s fourth
Jewish book:
L ’Au-dela du Verset.10
Levinas is a dovish Zionist.
8.
The Levinas Reader,
ed. Se£n Hand. London: Basil Blackwell, 1989.
9.
Reader,
p. 226.
10.
L’Au-deld du Verset.
Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1982.