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The Unbinding of Isaac

A Phenomenological Midrash of Genesis 22


Stephen J. Stern

In The Unbinding of Isaac, Stephen J. Stern upends traditional understandings of this controversial narrative through a phenomenological midrash or interpretation of Genesis 22 from the Dialogic and Jewish philosophies of Franz Rosenzweig, Martin Buber, and, most notably, Emmanuel Levinas. With great originality, Dr. Stern intersects Jewish studies, Biblical studies, and philosophy in a literary/midrashic style that challenges traditional Western philosophical epistemology. Through the biblical narrative of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Rebecca, Dr. Stern explains that Rosenzweig, Buber, and Levinas Judaically exercise and offer an alternative epistemic orientation to the study of ethics than that of traditional Western or Hellenic-Christian philosophy. The Unbinding of Isaac makes the works of these three thinkers accessible to those outside philosophy and Jewish studies while also introducing readers to the playfulness of how Jewish tradition midrashically addresses the Bible.


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Preface ix


Preface he dynamics of life is a hinge on which truths revolve, yet this hinge is more foundational than any truth produced by relations. For exam- ple, my love for my parents is a dynamic relation that is more than any truth about love or any explanation of love. In other words, loving my parents cannot be nicely packaged in a truth container; loving my parents is more than any truth or explanation of love. In fact, the dynamic continu- ally upends “truths” in the philosophical sense; meanings derived from re- lations with my parents are more than any truth can capture. It is here where one begins to wonder about the philosophical consequences for eth- ics. If meaning overflows truth or truths, what becomes of a tradition of ethics that searches for truth or foundations that inform our behavior? In response to that question, this book explains and uniquely demon- strates the Jewish dialogic concerns of Franz Rosenzweig, Martin Buber and, most notably, Emmanuel Levinas, contrasting their ideas with tradi- tional, Western philosophical approaches to ethics. These three Jewish phi- losophers explain that traditional Western philosophers discussing ethics have concerned themselves with answering the question “what is ethics?” The question presupposes there is an essential answer, which is the truth that can be found. More often than not, this question sets off a search for an answer unconditioned by human encounters and is then adopted at the expense of normative ethical approaches, something seen as a fundamental error according...

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