Ethan KleinbergOct 25, 2021
Emmanuel Levinas's Talmudic Turn
Philosophy and Jewish Thought
Stanford University Press 2021
In this episode, I interview Ethan Kleinberg, professor of history and letters at Wesleyan University, about his new book, Emmanuel Levinas’s Talmudic Turn: Philosophy and Jewish Thought, recently published by Stanford University Press. In this rich intellectual history of the French-Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas's Talmudic lectures in Paris, Ethan Kleinberg addresses Levinas's Jewish life and its relation to his philosophical writings while making an argument for the role and importance of Levinas's Talmudic lessons.
The book, largely written in two columnar strands of text, explores the difference between Levinas’s conception of “God on Our Side” and “God on God’s Side” to animate two parallel and, at times, conflicting Talmudic readings Levinas engages in. One is historically situated and argued from "our side" while the other uses Levinas's Talmudic readings themselves to approach the issues as timeless and derived from "God on God's own side." Bringing the two approaches together, Kleinberg asks whether the ethical message and moral urgency of Levinas's Talmudic lectures can be extended beyond the texts and beliefs of a chosen people, religion, or even the seemingly primary unit of the self.
Touching on Western philosophy, French Enlightenment universalism, and the Lithuanian Talmudic tradition, Kleinberg provides readers with a boundary-pushing investigation into the origins, influences, and causes of Levinas's turn to and use of Talmud.
Britt Edelen is a Ph.D. student in English at Duke University. He focuses on modernism and the relationship(s) between language, philosophy, and literature. You can find him on Twitter or send him an email.