Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A working definition for Peoplehood, perhaps?

Just as "continuity" and "renaissance" have had their days in the sun as buzzwords around which to rally a Jewish educational agenda, the word of the day seems to be "peoplehood" (a phrase so contemporary that the dictionary in Microsoft Word doesn't even acknowledge it as a real word).

Like other buzzwords, "peoplehood" can be useful as a means for generating discussion - but equally, it can become a catch-all phrase that is hard to define.

Here's a definition of "Jewish philosophy" (from the article "Judaism" by Lenn. E. Goodman in the Blackwell Companion to the Philosophy of Religion - a tome I make no claims to have read and whose other chapter headings include such titles as "Theological realism and antirealism," "Eternity," and "Agapeistic ethics") that I think does a good job of explaining what we might mean by Peoplehood:

"What unites practitioners of Jewish philosophy is not some exotic logic that we can label chauvinistically or patronizingly as 'Talmudic,' nor a common store of doctrines, but a chain of discourse and problematics, an ongoing conversation that is jarred but not halted by shifts of language, external culture, or epistemic background. What makes the conversation distinctive is no unique flavor or accent, no values or concerns that are unshared by others, but a respect for prior Jewish efforts found worthy as points of reference or departure as the conversation continues.

"The unity and distinctiveness of Jewish philosophy, then, are both conceptual and historical. There is a historical continuity from one participant to the next - as there is in general philosophy. And there is a critical reappropriation and redefinition of the elements of tradition in each generation - as there must be in any religious or cultural transmission."

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