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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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Chapter II: Terah’s Shop of Idols And Ethics as First Philosophy 26


Chapter II Terah’s Shop of Idols And Ethics as First Philosophy The sole object of all the trials mentioned in Scripture is to teach [one] what [one] ought to do…so that the event which forms the actual trial is not the end desired; it is but an example for our instruction and guidance. —Moses Maimonides1 To conceive the otherwise than being we must try to articulate the breakup of a fate that reigns in essence… —Emmanuel Levinas2 he previous chapter focused on the dialogic charge that the Hellenic philosophical tradition is oriented around a teleodogmatic search, which is then substituted for conduct and life. Rosenzweig, Buber, and Levinas assert that in this substitution, the individual is treated as an object, but because individuals are not objects, it is as if teleodogmatic rep- resentation and theories erase the individual. This chapter follows the dialogic prescription of substituting life for tel- eodogma by using the biblical narrative of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca and God.3 This narrative illuminates how Rosenzweig, Buber and Levinas transcend teleodogma by substituting “life or conduct” for “representations or theory.” As said, Levinas refines this substitution in his call for “ethics as first Philosophy.”4 T A Terah’s Shop of Idols And Ethics as First Philosophy B 27 In explaining Ethics as First Philosophy, two primary dialogic themes are privileged. First, why Rosenzweig, Buber and Levinas often privilege dialogue or conversation to exemplify ethics. As explained in Chapter One, dialogue or conversation is responsive. One’s words are for...

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