Levinas Facing Biblical Figures - International Conference - December 28-29, 2010, Ben Gurion University, Beer-Sheva, Israel
In the works of the prominent 20th century philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas, we find moments in which he refers to biblical figures. What role do these allusions play in his thought? Can his philosophy open up a unique and fresh way for interpreting the stories and actions of these figures? These questions will direct the discussion of the relation between the philosophy of Levinas and the stories of various figures of the bible. By exploring the stories of figures such as Cain and Abel, Abraham, Moses, Samson, Job, Ezechiel, Ruth, this conference seeks to form a concrete link between the Jewish experience and Levinasian themes such as responsibility, substitution, infinity, immemorial past, paternity, and maternity.
Confirmed Speakers:Michal Ben Naftali (Tel Aviv University), Hanoch Ben Pazi (Bar-Ilan University) Ya'akov Blidstein (Ben-Gurion University), David Brezis (CNRS, Paris) Catherine Chalier (Université Paris Ouest), Richard Cohen (University at Buffalo), Elisabeth Goldwyn (University of Haifa, Oranim College for Education) Joelle Hansel (Raissa and Emmanuel Levinas Center), Annabel Herzog (University of Haifa), Hagi Kenaan (Tel Aviv University), Yael Lin (Ben-Gurion University), Ephraim Meir (Bar-Ilan University), Gary D. Mole (Bar-Ilan University), Eli Schonfeld (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Shalom Hartman Institute), Don Seeman (Emory University), Shmuel Wygoda (Herzog College, The Van Leer Institute), Raphael Zagury-Orly (The Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design)
focuses on Levinas's references to biblical figures, and raises questions about the
role these figures play in Levinas's philosophy. In this context the conference will
question whether the biblical figures function merely as a rhetorical and literary device,
as illustrations of Levinas's ideas, or perhaps they have a deeper philosophical
function that contributes to Levinas's project in general. The conference will also
discuss if Levinas's references to biblical figures work in his philosophy in a way that
other literary figures are incapable of, and how do these references comply with his
conflicted attitude towards literature.
The second set of questions stems from adopting a Levinasian perspective in order
to interpret the actions and stories of biblical figures that are not necessarily
discussed by Levinas himself. This will lead to questions such as: Does Levinas's
thought open up a unique way for understanding biblical figures and their stories?
What is the relation between Levinas's interpretation and the traditional midrash?
Does a Levinasian reading contribute to the tradition of midrashim and exegesis
revealing ways to enhance and enrich these interpretations? Can Levinas's thought
be used for the purpose of offering a new voice by producing new exegeses?
These questions will set up the background for a broader discussion of the relation
between the two main traditions that have influenced Levinas's thought – philosophy
and Judaism, and for the examination of the intersection between philosophy,
Judaism, and literature. It is a known fact that both the Greek (i.e. philosophical)
tradition and the Jewish heritage play a central role in the thought of Levinas. Levinas
adopts a different language in his philosophical works and in his Jewish writings, and
insists on separating between the two, even to the point of publishing them with
Yet, we cannot ignore the interrelations between the two heritages. Levinas himself
has claimed that his project actually consists of the translation of Hebrew to Greek;
that is, articulating the ethics of the bible by using the language of philosophy. The
examination of the links between Levinas's philosophy and the stories of a variety of
biblical figures will serve both as a channel for exploring the ways in which the Jewish
and philosophical traditions interrelate within the thought of Levinas, and for probing
Levinas's complicated approach towards literature, which may be the result of the
influence of the Judaic second commandment forbidding the making of an image.
Webpage of the conference: http://hsf.bgu.ac.il/cjt/files/levinas/index.html