The Fence and the Neighbor
Emmanuel Levinas, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, and Israel among the Nations
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Reviews the potentially complementary albeit sharp differences between two important contemporary Jewish philosophers.
The Fence and the Neighbor traces the contours of two thinkers, Emmanuel Levinas and Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who crossed the divide between Talmud and philosophy "proper." Adam Zachary Newton shows how the question of nationalism that has so long haunted Western philosophy—the question of who belongs within its "fence," and who outside—has long been the concern of Jewish thought and its preoccupation with law, limits, and the place of Israel among the nations. To those unfamiliar with Talmudic thought Newton shows how deeply its language and concerns shape Levinas. He also offers an introduction to Leibowitz, a conservative religious thinker who was an outspoken gadfly and radically critical voice in the Israeli political scene. Together, their common origin in Jewish Eastern Europe, a common concern with national allegiance, and the common fence of religious Judaism that makes them intellectual neighbors are voiced in penetrating and original dialogue.
Adam Zachary Newton is Associate Professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of Narrative Ethics and Facing Black and Jew: Literature as Public Space in Twentieth-Century America.
"The splendid achievement and pleasure of this text lie in its refusal to simplify. At home in the world of Jewish commentary, Adam Zachary Newton beautifully explicates Levinas and Leibowitz as critics of the Western philosophical tradition, while subjecting their own works to clear-eyed critique launched in part from the other side of the fence. A powerful, timely, and very Jewish book." — David Suchoff, Colby College
"With his wide knowledge of contemporary thought, ranging across many fields, combined with his passionate engagement in the Jewish religious tradition, Adam Newton brings a wealth of fresh insights. His book is an important and necessary corrective: it contributes to the profound task of understanding Levinas's ethical philosophy in the light of the Jewish tradition, and the Jewish tradition in the light of modern thought." — Richard A. Cohen, author of Elevations: The Height of the Good in Rosenzweig and Levinas
"Richly researched and wonderfully written, with some of the most interesting rabbinic text-work I have seen in studies of Levinas." — Peter Ochs, editor of Reviewing the Covenant: Eugene B. Borowitz and the Postmodern Renewal of Jewish Theology