Foto: Matthias Friel
Rav Kook is, for many reasons, a much misunderstood thinker. Part of the problem is his own – he wrote no systematic work, and what he he did write is fragmentary, allusive, and in a Hebrew very much his own. Part of the problem is, however, not of his own making, but rather of his followers. His writings were edited in ways that reflect to no small degree the views of the editors. Finally, an onesided emphasis in disseminating his teachings caused his writings to be understood in a way which often suited a particular ideological standpoint. Only in the last twenty years have new opportunities emerged which allow for richer, more complex, and often surprising readings. That is the perspective reflected in the title of this course. Among the many facets of Rav Kook’s thought, we shall explore his views on ethics, his understanding of Jewish practices as spiritual practices, and his attitude to Kabbalah. Beyond interpreting the texts and views expressed, we shall ask ourselves the question raised in systematic theology: to what extent is this thought meaningful, persuasive and relevant for contemporary faith? The course is, therefore, also intended to be an exercise in systematic theology, or, in another vocabulary, Jewish constructive theology.
The course will be taught in English. The texts will be studied in English and Hebrew. This course is partially based on lectures and therefore attendance and note taking is crucial. Students are expected to participate in class discussions based on the reading assignments. There will be some brief writing exercises and presentations. A five-page final essay is to be submitted at the end of the course. The deadline for submission is final.
Proof of performance includes regular participation, reading the texts given for the weekly meetings and various written self-reflections. If students miss more than one fifth of the class the class counts as “not completed” and no credits can be given.
The course will introduce the student to the thought of one of the most original and significant Jewish theologians of the twentieth century. After an introductory overview, students will learn about the three issues of the title. We shall look at the debate over ethics in the Jewish religious tradition: is there an ethics independent of the Torah? How to understand the purpose of Jewish practices? Finally, how shall we understand the role that a mythic discourse, in this case Kabbalah, plays in an early twentieth century thinker?
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