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December 25: Franz Rosenzweig

December 25, 2011

Franz Rosenzweig, the founder of the Lehrhaus (Free House of Jewish Learning) in Berlin and the author of The Star of Redemption (1921), was born in Kassel, Germany on this date in 1886. He was on the verge of converting to Christianity in 1913 when he determined first to bring Judaism to the center of his life. Doing so became a life-long commitment; revelation, he would say, became a life-long “orientation.” Rosenzweig built The Star of Redemption out of postcards that he wrote as a soldier during World War I. Among his closest associates was Martin Buber, who helped him build the Lehrhaus into an active center of dialogical learning led by brilliant intellectuals who were questing to retrieve German Jewish identity from its assimilationist closet. Rosenzweig died of ALS in 1929 at age 43. Among the thinkers he strongly influenced was Emmanuel Levinas, the French Jewish philosopher, whose death date in 1995 coincided with Rosenzweig’s birthdate.

“Rosenzweig opened a path for a modern faith, a faith strengthened by skepticism as if by inoculation. He turned the tables on the philosophers, the undertakers of faith, arguing that philosophy itself was . . . the equivalent of a small child stuffing his fingers in his ears and shouting ‘I can’t hear you!’ to ward off the terror of death.” —The Asia Times