Dr. Levi Spectre
24 teaching hours, equivalent to 3 ECTS

PhD Born in Ashkelon, Israel, where he trained in advanced school avoidance, perfecting this skill at the Experimental high-school in Jerusalem. Owned and managed a company in agricultural harvesting, studied at the Hebrew University and received a PhD in Philosophy from Stockholm University. Taught philosophy and Jewish thought at high-school, Hebrew University, Stockholm University, and presently on the faculty of the Open University of Israel as senior lecturer. Author of articles on rational belief and knowledge and related epistemological subjects. Presently researching “Knowledge Resistance” together with an international team of researchers from several fields lead by philosophers from Stockholm University. Readily available for advice on wheat, evidence, and surviving four children.

Our exploration concerns the question of the rationality of religious belief in Jewish thought. The focus on the middle ages is not accidental. Jewish thought meets the ascendance of Islamic philosophy and civilization and through it Greek philosophy science. These became an alternative and a challenge to traditional religious Jewish thought. Specifically, the scientific depersonalization of explanation of natural phenomenon. This depersonalization and furthermore the disenchantment of nature continues to this day. What is the place for the Jewish religion within this new causal picture of the world? 

Jewish thinkers also meet a schools of thought that suggest ways of life and normative – systems of ethics – that were comprehensive and highly developed. Not only in how one person should engage others, but also in how one must lead one’s own life. Greek philosophy, for instance the Stoic school, offers not only a picture of the universe but also a path to personal redemption. In today’s context we can think of it as similar to eastern systems of thought, for instance, Tibetan Buddhism. It offers not only a comprehensive ethic, but also a path to enlightenment. 

This lead Jewish thinkers not only to reflect on their own religion – and we will see this in at least one case – but they also needed to face the temptation that these developed systems posed. This appealing strength of Greek and Islamic philosophy and science, and the competing and undermining depersonalized picture of the world and God, were a great catalyst for reflection and development of Jewish philosophy in the Middle Ages. That it met with a great thinker like Maimonides is an astounding and lucky coincidence that we will have a chance to learn and reflect on.

Our major challenge will be to get a good hold not only on Maimonides’s philosophy but also, as precursor, the much more traditional thought of Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi (as expressed in his book HaKuzari). 

The course as a whole will give us a change to reflect on the possibility of religious belief today. Does religious belief have a place within a modern scientific rational picture of the world? The course will go in a circle. We will start with models of religious belief today, then learn about Yehuda HaLevi and Maimonides, and finally return to religious belief generally.

Dr. Levi Spectre