Franz Rosenzweig


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Influential German Jewish existentialist thinker (1886–1929). Rosenzweig's parents belonged to an assimilated Jewish family with little attachment to Judaism or Jewish life. He himself, although extremely well educated in general German culture and especially proficient in the classics and philosophy, had, at first, hardly any Jewish knowledge. A cousin who had become a Christian urged Rosenzweig to take the same step. The story has often been told of how Rosenzweig felt that if he was to be converted to Christianity he ought to do so as a Jew, moving, as he saw it at the time, from a lower to a higher form of religion. While contemplating his conversion, he attended an Orthodox synagogue in Berlin on Yom Kippur. There he was so profoundly overcome by the devotion of the worshippers as they sought forgiveness from the God of their fathers that he realized there was no need for him to find his salvation outside his ancestral faith. As he was later to put it, the Christian claim that no man can come to the Father except through Jesus was true for all others but not for the Jew, since Jews, being already with the Father, had no need to ‘come’ to Him.

Rosenzweig's major work, The Star of Redemption, was written, in part, on postcards he sent home from the trenches when he was serving in the German army at the end of World War I. In this work, God, the World, and Man are described as interrelated through a process of Creation, Revelation, and Redemption. God created the world and revealed His will for man to find redemption. This theme is represented by two interlocking triangles. At the three points of one triangle, pointing downwards, are Creation, Revelation, and Redemption. At the three points of the other triangle, pointing upwards, are Man, the World, and God. Man relates to the world and through the world to God. God relates to the world through creation and after creation from revelation through to redemption. The two interlocking triangles form the Star of Redemption (see MAGEN DAVID). Rosenzweig claimed to be giving expression to a new (i.e. existentialist) type of thinking. His work, therefore, as he himself states, is heavy-going in parts. It is nevertheless seminal for twentieth-century Jews, though hardly to everyone's literary and philosophical taste.

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.

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