Levinas and the Torah

A Phenomenological Approach

By Richard I. Sugarman

Subjects: Philosophy, Phenomenology, Jewish Studies, Jewish Religious Studies, Bible Studies
Series: SUNY series in Contemporary Jewish Thought
Hardcover : 9781438475738, 426 pages, September 2019
Paperback : 9781438475721, 426 pages, July 2020

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Table of contents

Note to the Reader
Key to Abbreviations of Works Cited by Levinas

Genesis: Bereishis

On Genesis
Facing Responsibility (Beresheis: In the Beginning)
The Love of Wisdom and the Wisdom of Love (Noach: Noah)
A New Paradigm for the Human Subject: The Other before the Self (Lech Lecha: Go Out of Yourself)
On Justice and Its Surplus (Vayeira: The Lord Appeared)
The Binding of Isaac: The Yours (Akedah: Binding)
The Death of the Other (Chayei Sarah: The Life of Sarah)
Generational Responsibility (Toldos: Generations)
Love and Work in Exile (Vayeitze: He Went Out)
Fear and Anguish (Vayishlach: He Sent)
Settling (Vayeshev: He Settled)
Dreams, Hermeneutics, and Action (Mikeitz: At the End Of)
Substitution and Solidarity (Vayigash: And He Approached)
Intimations of a Messianic Time (Vayechi: And He Lived)

Exodus: Shemos

On Exodus
Proper Names (Shemos: Names)
The Fourfold Promise (Va’eira: I Appeared)
Making Time (Bo: Go)
Taste and Meaning (Beshalach: Sent Out)
The Language of Revelation (Yisro: The Giving of the Torah)
Economic and Social Justice (Mishpatim: Laws for Which Reason Is Easily Adduced)
Feeding the Hungry (Terumah: Portion)
Daily Fidelity (Tetzaveh: Command)
The Trace (Ki Sisa: Take a Census)
After Fire (Vayakhel: Assembling)
Accountability (Pekudei: Reckonings of the Tabernacle)

Leviticus: Vayikra

On Leviticus
The Saying and the Said (Vayikra: To Call)
Speech in the Imperative Mode (Tzav: Command)
Questioning, Responding, and Answering (Shementi: Eighth)
The Skin of Others (Tazria: Skin Disease)
The Sincerity of the Saying (Metzora: The Afflicted)
The Paradox of Pardon: Teshuva and Time (Acharei Mos: After the Death)
Holiness (Kedoshim: The Laws of Holiness)
Time, Holiness, and Alterity (Emor: Say)
On Biblical Social Ecology (Behar: At the Mountain)
An Ethical Eschatology (Bechukoshai: Laws for Which Reasons Are Not Given)

Numbers: Bamidbar

On the Book of Numbers
On the Irreplaceability of the Human (Bamidbar: In the Wilderness)
Intimations of Peace (Nasso: Count)
The Itinerary: Redirection (Beha’ Aloscha: To Raise Up)
Permission for the Promised Land: Granted, Denied, Postponed (Shelach: Send)
Beyond Power Politics: Mutuality and the Asymmetry of Ethical Life (Korach)
The Mystery of Death: Transcendence and the Limits of Intelligibility (Chukkas: Laws That Are Supra-rational)
Prophetism: Inspiration and Prophecy (Balak)
Urgency: Devotion vs. Fanaticism (Pinchas)
Word and Deed (Mattos: Tribes)
Journeys and Refuge beyond Our Intentions (Massei: Journeys)

Deuteronomy: Devarim

On Deuteronomy
First Reiteration (Devarim: Words)
Prayer and Pedagogy (Va’Eschanan: Pleaded)
Santifying Everyday Life (Ekev: Hear)
Economic Justice (Re’eh: See)
On Righteousness and Responsibility (Shoftim: Judges)
Social Justice (Ki Seitzei: Go Out)
The “Pact” (Ki Savo: Enter)
Time and Covenant (Nitzavim: Standing)
Going Forward (Vayeilech: Went)
The Song of the Torah (Haazinu: Listen)
The Blessing (Vazos Haberachah: Blessing)

Appendix 1: Glossary of Talmudic and Biblical Terms
Appendix 2: Glossary of Some Key Philosophical Terms and Phrases Used by Levinas
Biblical Translations and Commentaries
Works Cited

A Levinasian commentary on the Torah.


The French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (1906–95) was one of the most original Jewish thinkers of the twentieth century. This book interprets the Hebrew Bible through the lens of Levinas's religious philosophy. Richard I. Sugarman examines the Pentateuch using a phenomenological approach, drawing on both Levinas's philosophical and Jewish writings. Sugarman puts Levinas in conversation with biblical commentators both classical and modern, including Rashi, Maimonides, Sforno, Hirsch, and Soloveitchik. He particularly highlights Levinas's work on the Talmud and the Holocaust. Levinas's reading is situated against the background of a renewed understanding of such phenomena as covenant, promise, different modalities of time, and justice. The volume is organized to reflect the fifty-four portions of the Torah read during the Jewish liturgical year. A preface provides an overview of Levinas's life, approach, and place in contemporary Jewish thought. The reader emerges with a deeper understanding of both the Torah and the philosophy of a key Jewish thinker.

Richard I. Sugarman is Professor of Religion at the University of Vermont. He has published several books, including Rancor against Time: The Phenomenology of Ressentiment, as well as numerous articles on Levinas.


"Sugarman's book is a welcome contribution to the maturing field of Levinas studies. Beyond the work's unique integration of Levinas and biblical interpretation, it serves as a gentle introduction to major themes and terminology in the philosopher's oeuvre, a different key in which to access Levinas's conceptual language. " — H-Net Reviews (H-Judaic)

"Levinas and the Torah is a rich and compelling text that provides the reader with a general overview and the necessary exegesis and hermeneutic tools for further inquiry. Through persuasive and spirited analysis, Sugarman makes clear a generous intention for his reader. " — Phenomenological Reviews

"Sugarman rightly treats Levinas as a thoroughly Jewish religious thinker, an approach to the great thinker that is much needed. Taking such an approach, he opens up new, innovative horizons in Torah commentary and analysis. Through a perceptive reading of Levinas through the biblical lens, he offers an insightful illumination of both the Bible and Levinas. Some may not be sure what to make of Sugarman's work here, but then that is how it always is with innovative approaches. " — David Patterson, author of The Holocaust and the Nonrepresentable: Literary and Photographic Transcendence