Wednesday, April 20, 2011

UCLA History 182G - History of Secular Judaism

A very interesting course has begun running at UCLA: History 182G - Secular Jewish Culture (feed). David Myers teaches a relatively small group of students, so it sounds, the history of Jewish people looking for their secular versions of Judaism. The fact that this is a small group, warrants a lot of interaction with the audience, which on the one hand makes it extra fascinating. On the other hand, for the passive podcast listener, breaks up the structure of the lecture frequently especially when you cannot hear the questions and remarks by the students.

I was expecting that this history of Secular Judaism would start with Spinoza, but Myers takes us much much further back in history and tries to point at much earlier versions of Judaism that were not exactly according the main stream religious precepts. Take for example how the Greek culture in a way threatened Jewish culture. We know in the story of Hanuka how the Jews fended this off, but upon closer inspection we still discern the influence. With a figure like the philosopher Philo who comes from the Jewish community on Alexandria the Hellenistic influence is let in.

The next figure to come up in Myers's course is Maimonides. Like Philo, he let's in the Greek culture - which comes to him through Arabic and just like Philo he gives a genuine Jewish twist to it. And so, even if Maimonides is a great figure in mean stream Judaism when it is about his commentaries to the Halakhah, his philosophy is deemed less so and serves for Myers as example of secular Jewish Culture. And we haven't reached Spinoza yet at all.

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