"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Jewish Philosophers and the Jewish Jesus

Sometimes it's the books one picks up casually, with initially only very moderate interest, that end up staying with one, shaping one's thinking in a permanent manner, and being so often returned to in one's mind and quoted over and over again.

So it was with me when, at a used bookstore in Ottawa in the mid-1990s, when I was an undergraduate student, I picked up The Levinas Reader. It seemed only moderately interesting at the time, but it was wonderfully discounted so that was sufficient to tempt me to buy it. That was my introduction to the Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, some of whose other works I would later attempt to read.

One in particular is Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, where he writes so memorably about the "ethics of the face" and the face-to-face encounter, noting that the dangers of abstraction and reduction, by which a person is dehumanized, are much harder to sustain when I am confronted by the ethical obligation posed by the mere existence of the person facing me.

From him I have ever after returned to, and lectured about, the "ethics of the face." I thought of him again in writing this piece at Our Sunday Visitor. And in particular in my mind's eye as I was writing, my friend mentioned in the piece was front and centre. As we approach the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, it is astonishing to me that anti-Semitic attacks continue and seem to be increasing in one of the last places on earth one would expect them. Kyrie eleison.

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