By Lévinas, Emmanuel; Lévinas, Emmanuel; Fagenblat, Michael
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Extra info for A covenant of creatures : Levinas's philosophy of Judaism
55 Handelman did not develop the thought, but it is worth pursuing. 57 Such an invitation to think issued by the heritage of Judaism is not addressed to any particular group or restricted to any particular reception. It is a matter of an “exappropriation” of revelation, as Derrida often called it. In Levinas’s words: “Poured into the common patrimony of humanity, the idea no longer belongs to you. In the final analysis, the idea has no origin. ”58 But if Levinas thinks that the deposits of revelation are only philosophically relevant when ex-appropriated—“the idea no longer belongs to you”—there follows the inevitable question, first posed by Judaism’s greatest ex-appropriator: “Then what advantage has the Jew?
These are the stakes, all proportions aside, surrounding the Jewish status of Levinas’s work. In this light, the picture assumed by so many of Levinas’s critics looks medieval, recalling the critique of medieval allegory expounded by Gershom Scholem. In his influential view the allegorical method discovers the truths internal to the tradition only if they were first “capable of being discovered outside the sphere of religion” by the independent inquiries of philosophy. ”28 The inevitable question posed to the allegorist is the very question asked of Levinas: does this method not make the revealed tradition redundant?
Why affirm the tradition? Why accept the laws? Why not just do philosophy? Framed like this, Levinas would have to avail himself of the standard medieval retort that there is political and pedagogical value to the revealed tradition, as Sa’adia Gaon, Maimonides, and others emphasized. ” But this only confirms the criticism, since it amounts to admitting that there is nothing to Judaism but an instrumentalization of philosophy. ” In other words, having established Levinas’s New Creation that there is a particular content called “Judaism,” which Levinas attempts to “translate” into philosophical terms, does he not “sell out” to philosophy by giving philosophy the methodological authority to determine the very meaning of “Judaism”?