Cover of A Covenant of Creatures by Michael Fagenblat
A Covenant of Creatures
Levinas's Philosophy of Judaism
Michael Fagenblat

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2010
320 pp.
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Cloth ISBN: 9780804768696
Paper ISBN: 9780804768702
Digital ISBN: 9780804774680
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Finalist in the 2013 Book Award, sponsored by the Goldstein-Goren International Center for Jewish Thought.

"I am not a particularly Jewish thinker," said Emmanuel Levinas, "I am just a thinker." This book argues against the idea, affirmed by Levinas himself, that Totality and Infinity and Otherwise Than Being separate philosophy from Judaism. By reading Levinas's philosophical works through the prism of Judaic texts and ideas, Michael Fagenblat argues that what Levinas called "ethics" is as much a hermeneutical product wrought from the Judaic heritage as a series of phenomenological observations. Decoding the Levinas's philosophy of Judaism within a Heideggerian and Pauline framework, Fagenblat uses biblical, rabbinic, and Maimonidean texts to provide sustained interpretations of the philosopher's work. Ultimately he calls for a reconsideration of the relation between tradition and philosophy, and of the meaning of faith after the death of epistemology.

About the author

Michael Fagenblat is Lecturer in the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation, Monash University.

"Fagenblat provides a fresh and thoughtful approach to understanding the relationship between philosophy and Judaism, that is, to understanding Levinas's phenomenology as midrash"

—Michael Sohn, Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses

"In his elegant book, A Covenant of Creatures: Levinas's Philosophy of Judaism, Michael Fagenblat negotiates the two bodies of Levinas's writings and argues that instead of viewing the phenomenological readings in opposition to the Jewish readings, we should instead see the phenomenology as offering not simply a philosophy of Judaism, but a phenomenology of Judaism."

—Claire Katz, Shofar

"Michael Fagenblat's A Covenant of Creatures is a bold and powerful book . . . I am seduced by Fagenblat's textual interpretations of Jewish texts, through a Levinassian lens."

—Annette Aronowicz, Association for Jewish Studies

"Fagenblat's highly interesting study of Levinas converges with a current trend in philosophy to pay more attention to philosophy's Jewish heritage . . . Fagenblat's interpretation of Levinas is a very good reading."

—Rico Sneller, Ars Disputandi

"As for Fagenblat, by any relevant criterion—depth, clarity, originality, or scholarly integrity—this book is first rate."

Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

"Fagenblat's clear and mostly Levinasian-rhetoric-free writing helps to make the book teachable. . . Fagenblat achieves a great deal in this text. Pairing Levinas with Maimonides provides a teachable and engaging discussion."

—Randy Friedman, H-Net

"This is a rich and sophisticated study of one of the most vital and influential thinkers of the twentieth century. Exploring Levinas's philosophy of Judaism from his philosophical rather than his confessional writings, Michael Fagenblat provides a fresh model that breaks down simplistic distinctions and opens the in-between space wherein the claim of the individual is held accountable through the response to the other and the challenge of the other is redeemed by the demand of the individual."

—Elliot R. Wolfson, New York University

"According to the famous Talmudic story in which a heathen challenges Hillel to reveal the whole of Torah while standing on one foot, the sage not only declares its essence to lie in the ethics of neighbor-love, relegating the rest to the status of 'mere' commentary; he enjoins his interlocutor to study that very textual supplement. Michael Fagenblat has made an utterly compelling case that a similar injunction is at work in Levinas's conception of ethical responsibility in the face of the Other. It, too, implies that this strange creature—the neighbor—can only be revealed exegetically, in the working through of the hermeneutic dimension of the urgent phenomenological 'givenness' of the Other. In this beautifully written and conceptually rigorous page-turner, Fagenblat teaches us to resist the impasses of prior readings of Levinas, which remain stuck within the sterile opposition of phenomenology and theology, Athens and Jerusalem, thinking and reading, mind and tradition. Fagenblat allows us, finally, to grasp the genre proper to Levinasian thought: phenomenology as midrash."

—Eric Santner, University of Chicago