The perception of Judaism changed over time. It evolved with the alterations in mainstream philosophies. Nevertheless, some thinkers stood out due to being anti-philosophical and having anti-rational opinions on Judaism. One of the outstanding philosophers was Solomon Ludwig Steinheim. Unlike other philosophers of his time, he did not believe in the metaphysical truth of Judaism. Instead, he claimed that revelation was the foundation of the religion, and it was inseparable from reason and self-criticality. This position centered on the belief that recognizing the superiority of revelation with its natural limits led to liberation because it was based on the harmony between God, creation of the world, and human freedom (Greenberg 206). Due to the existing duality – the connection between one’s inner self and the external natural limits – revelation was both inner and outer conditions for Steinheim. In this way, although it was generated in the inside, the influence of the outside was spectacular (Greenberg 213).
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From this perspective, Steinheim believed that Judaism could be understood by contrasting it with paganism. In this way, the deity is not created by people. Instead, it is God that created causality, and He is independent of people. According to Steinheim, the deity is an epistemological process connected to one’s inner changes and critical reasoning. In this way, it is the outcome of an individual’s conscious development and self-realization. More than that, God created people to be free and granted them an opportunity to live ethically, i.e. choose appropriate patterns of behavior so that they correspond with His rules and the Biblical truths (Greenberg 213). It means that Steinheim believed in anthropocentrism instead of supporting the theocentric stance common for the philosophers of his time (Greenberg 214).
Still, Steinheim was not the only anti-rational thinker. Anti-mainstream opinions were expressed by Samuel David Luzzatto. Instead of supporting theocentricism, he claimed that morality, not God, was at the heart of the Jewish religion (Greenberg 398). However, morality is an emotional condition connected to the feelings of joy and pain, not a rational one. In this way, the true objective of Judaism is to create a good person – one who follows God’s rules and lives according to morally acceptable postulates. Therefore, recognizing only one God is a way to avoid idolization of the evil because a human being was created in God’s image, not the image of other gods (Greenberg 398). As a result, believing in one God is the only way to become united with other people and create strong moral bonds in the community (Greenberg 399). It is especially true for believing in different gods among differing nations. So, if all nations believed in one divine creature, there would be no reasons for misunderstandings and conflicts.
In addition to it, Luzzatto believed in reason. However, he claimed that morality is inseparable from intellectual enlightenment as well as emotional development. In this view, passion can lead to the misery which is one of the determinants of morality. It means that to create a good Jew, it is essential to educate an individual as well as pay specific attention to their emotional development, especially positive feelings, such as joy and rewards of morality (Greenberg 398-399). From this perspective, Luzzatto perceived Judaism as educational religion – the philosophy that helps an individual become intellectually enlightened and emotionally stable turning, as a result, into a person of compassion (Greenberg 404).
To conclude, regardless of focusing on different aspects of the religion, both Luzzatto and Steinheim shared some similarities in their perception of Judaism. For instance, both of them believed that each human being was created with the ability to live freely. In this way, everyone can choose how to act whether to live morally (Luzzatto) or achieve revelation (Steinheim). It means that both of them believed in the opportunity of deploying Judaist stance for living ethically. More than that, both Luzzatto and Steinheim developed their philosophies based on anthropocentrism, not theocentricism. From this perspective, regardless of God’s deity, it is a human that is the center of religion, not God, and it is a human that can choose how to live and apprehend God’s creation. Finally, both of them pointed to the significance of reason – one of the central aspects of an individual necessary for becoming closer to God and becoming a good person.
Greenberg, Gershon. Modern Jewish Thinkers: From Mendelssohn to Rosenzweig. Academic Studies Press, 2011.