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Jewish Thought: The Cutting Edge

By Lawrence Kaplan, Dept. of Jewish Studies, McGill University

The past two decades have been an exciting time for the field of Jewish thought. The magisterial portrait of Jewish mysticism painted by perhaps the most important Jewish scholar of the twentieth century, Gershom Scholem, has been subjected to searching criticism, and exciting alternative portraits have been offered by, among others, M. Idel, Y. Liebes, and E. Wolfson. The neglected area of Judaism and science has begun to be charted by Y. Langerman, D. Ruderman, and others. The field of Jewish historiography has been the subject of lively and fruitful debate between Y. Yerushalmi, R. Bonfil, and A. Funkenstein. Jacob Katz and his many students have begun to do justice to the very rich and important area of Orthodox Jewish thought in the modern era. Other examples could be offered.

This paper will, however, focus on a different theme. As the study of the field of Jewish though has broadened and deepened, scholars have begun to examine a wide variety of genres, previously scanted, in order to construct a fuller and richer picture of Jewish thought through the ages. I will examine the recent scholarship devoted to Jewish thought as reflected and refracted in three of these genres: Biblical interpretation, sermons, and halakhic writings. I will speak about the importance of this methodological turn, the main achievements of recent scholarship in these fields, some of the problems and pitfalls in studying these often elusive and recalcitrant genres, and, finally, what remains to be done.

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