Jewish Studies Franz Rosenzweig
Paul Mendes-Flohr
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 January 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0024


A philosopher of religion, Franz Rosenzweig (b. 1886–d. 1929) is most prominently associated with the renaissance of Jewish religious thought that took place in Germany in the years just prior to and especially in the wake of the First World War. Both his life and his thought mark the passage from a studied assimilation to a reaffirmation of a distinctive Jewish cultural and religious identity, a process that entailed a reevaluation of the presuppositions of modern German philosophy. This intensive review of the sources of genuine knowledge yielded what Rosenzweig called a “New Thinking,” which restores to the center of the quest for truth the living God, manifest through revelation. Grounded in a belief in divine revelation as a historical event, whose underlying experience of God’s address is a continuous existential possibility, the New Thinking accordingly conceives of the speech act as the principal organon of truth. Whereas Western philosophy from the pre-Socratics to the present has been guided by reason as the preeminent means to gain access to timeless and universal truth, the New Thinking regards truth, both divine and human, to be revealed through an intersubjective dialogue that takes place in the matrix of concrete time and place in which individuals—specific individuals, each with unique biographies—live their lives. This radical revision of Western thought was accompanied by and refracted through Rosenzweig’s revisiting his ancestral religious tradition, which his family had largely abandoned. The resulting revalorization of Judaism as quintessentially embodied in its liturgical calendar, traditional ritual practice, and sacramental study of religious texts also led Rosenzweig to affirm the Christian Church as born of a covenant equally valid to that which God made with the People of Israel. Indeed, the two covenants complement one another in working to realize God’s Heilsplan, the unfolding of redemption through human history.

Primary Texts

Rosenzweig 1984 (Das älteste Systemprogramm des deutschen Idealismus), Rosenzweig 1918 (Zeit ists: Gedanken über das jüdischen Bildungsproblem des Augenblicks), Rosenzweig 1920 (Bildung und kein Ende), Rosenzweig 2010 (Hegel und der Staat), Rosenzweig 1988 (Der Stern der Erlösung), and Rosenzweig 1980 (his introduction to Jüdische Schriften) document Rosenzweig’s journey from philosophic and historical scholarship to religious faith and a commitment to Jewish education. See also Rosenzweig 1926 (Jehuda Halevi) and Rosenzweig 1937 (“Die Bauleute: Über das Gesetz”).

  • Rosenzweig, Franz. Zeit ists: Gedanken über das jüdischen Bildungsproblem des Augenblicks. Berlin and Munich: Verlag der Neuen Jüdischen Monatshefte, 1918.

    Taking its title from Psalm 119:126, this pamphlet, dedicated to Hermann Cohen, proposes a far-reaching revision of Jewish education. A full English translation of this program, which emphasizes the study of classical Jewish texts, is found in Rosenzweig 2002 (On Jewish Learning, cited under Translations), 27–54.

  • Rosenzweig, Franz. Bildung und kein Ende: Wünsche zum jüdischen Bildungsproblem des Augenblicks insbesondere zur Volkshochschulfrage. Frankfurt: Kaufmann, 1920.

    This pamphlet laid the conceptual foundations of the Freies Jüdisches Lehrhaus (Free House of Jewish Learning) that Rosenzweig was to establish and direct in Frankfurt am Main. It is published in English as “Towards a Renaissance of Jewish Learning” in Rosenzweig 2002 (On Jewish Learning, cited under Translations), 55–71.

  • Rosenzweig, Franz. Jehuda Halevi: Zweiundneunzig Hymnen und Gedichte. 2d ed. Berlin: Lambert Schneider, 1926.

    German translation of the Hebrew poetry of the medieval Spanish Jewish philosopher Judah Halevi, whom Rosenzweig regarded as a kindred spirit, accompanied by commentaries that subtly reflect Rosenzweig’s evolving theology. Originally published as Sechzig Hymnen und Gedichte des Jehuda Halevi (Konstanz, Germany: Osker Wöhrle, 1924). See also Ninety-Two Poems and Hymns of Yehuda Halevi, edited by Richard A. Cohen and translated by T. Kovach (Ithaca, NY: State University of New York Press, 1999), and Barbara Ellen Galli, Franz Rosenzweig and Jehuda Halevi: Translation, Translation, and Translators (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2002).

  • Rosenzweig, Franz. “Die Bauleute: Über das Gesetz.” In Kleinere Schriften. By Franz Rosenzweig, 107–113. Berlin: Schocken, 1937.

    Addressed to Martin Buber, this essay questions the latter’s rejection of the mitzvoth, the divine commandments prescribed in the Torah and elaborated by the rabbis, as a valid means to serve and approach God. Originally published in 1924. It was translated as “The Builders: On Jewish Law” in Rosenzweig 2002 (On Jewish Learning, cited under Translations), 72–92; the correspondence between Buber and Rosenzweig in response to “The Builders” is included in the same volume on pp. 109–118.

  • Rosenzweig, Franz. “Einleitung.” In Jüdische Schriften. Vol. 1, Ethische und religiöse Grundfragen. Edited by Hermann Cohen, xiii–lxiv. New York: Arno, 1980.

    In his detailed introduction to this collection of Cohen’s writings on Jewish themes, Rosenzweig claims that toward the end of his life the neo-Kantian philosopher turned from a strict rationalism to an existential conception of religious faith. This thesis is contested by several scholars; see Altmann 1987 and Schwarzschild 1970 (both cited under Relation to Other Philosophers).

  • Rosenzweig, Franz. Das älteste Systemprogramm des deutschen Idealismus. In Mythologie der Vernunft: Hegel’s “ältestes Systemprogramm des deutschen Idealismus.” Edited by Christoph Jamme and Helmut Schneider, 79–125. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1984.

    While researching his doctoral dissertation, Rosenzweig examined a manuscript recently acquired by the Prussian Royal Library in Berlin. He determined that the author of this anonymous text was F. W. J. Schelling and that it constituted the earliest programmatic statement of German Idealism. The publication of his thesis by the Academy of Sciences in Heidelberg not only established Rosenzweig’s reputation as a scholar, but also set his own philosophical agenda of a systematic integration of the subjective and objective sources of knowledge. Originally published in 1917 (Heidelberg: C. Winter).

  • Rosenzweig, Franz. Der Stern der Erlösung. 3d ed. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1988.

    There are two English translations of this work (with an appendix from the second edition identifying the citations from classical Jewish sources, largely unmarked as such in the body of the text): The Star of Redemption, translated by William W. Hallo (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985), and The Star of Redemption, translated by Barbara Galli (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005). The Hebrew translation is Kochav ha-Geulah, translated by Yehoshua Amir (Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1990). Originally published in 1921 (Frankfurt: Kaufmann); 2d ed. 1930 (Berlin: Schocken).

  • Rosenzweig, Franz. Hegel und der Staat. Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2010.

    Based on Rosenzweig’s doctoral dissertation, submitted to the University of Freiburg in 1912, this work was inspired by his thesis adviser Friedrich Meinecke’s Weltbürgertum und Nationalstaat: Studien zur Genesis des deutschen Nationalstaates (Munich: R. Oldenbourg, 1908), Rosenzweig follows Hegel’s evolving reflections on the relation between the nation-state and the moral ideals associated with the cosmopolitan ethos. When he commenced his study, Rosenzweig viewed the German nation-state forged by Bismarck as a realization of Hegel’s vision of a reconciliation between Kratos (power) and Ethos (moral values), but in the wake of the First World War, he concluded that “a field of ruins marks the spot where [Bismarck’s] empire previously stood.” Herein one discerns the direction Rosenzweig’s political theology will take. Originally published in 1920 (Berlin: R. Oldenbourg).

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