The Influence of Non-Jewish Thinking on Jewish Thought

Jewish thinkers have both embraced and directly reacted to foreign ideas and philosophies.

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Some have suggested that Abraham Isaac Kook, the first chief rabbi of Israel, also brought Hegelianism into Judaism. There are echoes in his writings of Hegel's purpose-oriented unfolding of history, with everything being eventually redeemed through its re-absorption back into spirit (God).

Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger initiated the phenomological school of philosophy, which heavily influenced Emmanuel Levinas, a French thinker who contributed to both general and Jewish philosophy.

Levinas continued Husserl's and Heidegger's exploration of the lived encounter with the world, giving particular attention to the distinction between presence and absence, between the world's disclosure to man and its hiding from him. In Jewish terms this translates into a focus on the presence and absence of God. Levinas distinguishes between the biblical spirit, which stresses the former, and the talmudic spirit, which stresses the latter, and expresses sympathy with the latter worldview.


Contemporary Jewish thinkers continue to engage with many of the secular and Jewish philosophers mentioned, as well as with emerging philosophical developments. The diverse spread of current philosophy makes it difficult to pinpoint any one contemporary Jewish school of particular distinction.

In the final analysis, nearly every wave of Western thought has stimulated the Jewish imagination to incorporate ideas and themes into its own grand narrative. This testifies to the flexibility and inventiveness in the Jewish spirit and to the rich and malleable resources its tradition offers.

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Elie Jesner

Elie Jesner lives and writes in London. He has studied Talmud, Jewish Thought, and General Philosophy at Yeshivat Har Etzion, Cambridge University, and the University of Warwick.