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Marktplatz Leipzig, 2017 (SJ Kessler)

Marktplatz Leipzig, 2017 (SJ Kessler)

This article examines the works of Adolf Jellinek (1821-1893) on the history of mysticism and the Kabbalah, which were written during his fourteen-year residence in Leipzig. It argues that studying the Spanish Kabbalists allowed Jellinek to work through ideas concerning the development of Jewish theology and the interplay of Jewish and non-Jewish philosophical perspectives. The article briefly describes Jellinek’s early education and attraction to Leipzig; his first writings on Kabbalah; and concludes with an analysis of his larger philological and genealogical projects on the authorship and literary background of the Zohar. Though Jellinek’s later prominence as a rabbi and preacher in Vienna has had the tendency to obscure his years in Leipzig, it was Jellinek’s work in Saxony that laid the groundwork for most subsequent scholarship on Jewish mysticism. This article is a brief introduction to this research and one more step toward revealing the still too often forgotten Wissenschaft interest in the history of Jewish mysticism.

Dieser Artikel untersucht Adolf Jellineks (1821-1893) Werke über die Geschichte der Mystik und der Kabbala, die während seines vierzehnjährigen Aufenthalts in Leipzig geschrieben wurden. Er argumentiert, dass das Studium der spanischen Kabbalisten Jellinek erlaubte, Ideen über die Entwicklung der jüdischen Theologie und das Zusammenspiel jüdischer und nichtjüdischer philosophischer Perspektiven durchzuarbeiten. Der Artikel beschreibt kurz Jellineks Ausbildung, die Anziehungskraft, die Leipzig auf ihn ausübte, sowie seine ersten Schriften über die Kabbala und schließt mit einer Analyse seiner größeren philologischen und genealogischen Projekte über die Urheberschaft und den literarischen Hintergrund des Zohar ab. Obwohl Jellineks spätere Prominenz als Rabbiner und Prediger in Wien tendenziell seine Jahre in Leipzig überdeckt, war es seine Arbeit in Sachsen, die den Grundstein für die meisten nachfolgenden Studien über die jüdische Mystik legte. Dieser Artikel ist eine kurze Einführung in diese Forschung und ein Schritt, um das noch zu oft vergessene wissenschaftliche Interesse an der Geschichte der jüdischen Mystik aufzudecken. 

Wrocław (Breslau), 2017 (SJ Kessler)

Wrocław (Breslau), 2017 (SJ Kessler)

This article analyzes Volume 11 of Heinrich Graetz’s History of the Jews, entitled Geschichte der Juden vom Beginn der Mendelsohn’schen Zeit (1750) bis in die neuste Zeit (1848) (‘History of the Jews from the beginning the Mendelssohnian age (1750) until the present times (1848)’), which appeared in 1870. Specifically, it examines Graetz’s discussions of the generation of Jewish scholars and communal leaders that immediately preceded his own, comparing Graetz’s youthful diary entries concerning his early meetings or thoughts about these men with his descriptions of their lives and works in Volume 11. Making such a comparison, I argue, can reveal important shifts in Graetz’s values and compassions, as well provide some new insights into the opinions toward reform and modernism held by lesser-known figures in nineteenth-century German Jewry. The Graetz who wrote about the leading German Jews of the 1830s and 1840s from the vantage of the 1860s was not always the same man as the one who had met those figures twenty or thirty years earlier. My aim in this article is, therefore, to use Graetz’s diary, letters, and Volume 11 as the basis for an analysis of Graetz’s developing intellectual personae within the broader context of his interactions with other leading German Jews, and to reveal thereby not only the growth of his personal identity as an historian but also to uncover the evolving set of values that he and his contemporaries were instantiating in their modernization of Jewish religious practice and scholarship. 

Avignon, 2013 (SJ Kessler)

Avignon, 2013 (SJ Kessler)

The five books that comprise Lawrence Durrell’s Avignon Quintet follow the lives and relationships of nearly a dozen interlocking characters, set against the backdrop of the Second World War, the Occupation of France, and the war in North Africa. The novels unfold around two sets of friends—ostensibly, one “fictional” and one “real”—who live in and travel between the cities of Avignon, Geneva, and Alexandria. Yet what is presented as a story-arc akin to Russian dolls—narratives stacked one inside another—is, repeatedly and in various reversals and sleights-of-hand, revealed to be something far more subtle and complex. What is important about this narrative non-linearity is not only the literary expertise with which Durrell executes this overlapping of characters and chronologies. It is also that this narrative interplay lies at the heart of what makes the Quintet an interesting and provocative creation in the first place, leading to questions about time, the writing and recording of memory, and the quest to convey meaning and experience in literary fiction. It is my contention that the non-linear storytelling that warps and wefts through these novels is part of the strategy by which Durrell devolves upon himself the right to make claims about philosophy, poetry, and psychology in the postmodern era.

Great Synagogue, Rome, 2009 (S J Kessler)

Examined as a whole, Bernard Malamud’s short story collection The Magic Barrel is more cosmopolitan moralism than ghetto tale, where Jews remain central protagonists but the particularities of Jewish life and suffering lose much of their cultural identification as Malamud reaches toward a universal ethical truth. I argue here that through the close reading of one those short stories, “The Lady of the Lake,” we can complement the general scholarly assessment of Malamud’s vision (of “Jews” as universals) with another, this one of Jews and Jewishness as in themselves the pathway to morality. “The Lady of the Lake” reveals Malamud at his most attuned to the complexities of Jewish self-recognition, where he thought that the ethical lay in the act of affirming one’s Jewish self-being. 

Keilstraße Synagoge, Leipzig, 2013 (S J Kessler)

In early 1857, Adolf Jellinek left Leipzig to become the rabbi of the Leopoldstadt Temple in Vienna. Jellinek remained in Leopoldstadt until 1865, when he moved to the Stadttemple in the center of the city and assumed the duties of chief rabbi, following in the steps of Isak Noa Mannheimer. This article describes how, during his eight years in the Habsburg capital, Jellinek used his responsibilities as one of the leaders of a rapidly transforming Jewish community to formulate a unique interpretation of Jewish modernity, developing a language to explain the way traditional rabbinic life and texts could find meaningful and logical symbiosis with the broader tenets of German liberalism and enlightenment rationalism. I argue that the social milieu of immigrant Vienna is interwoven with the epistemological foundations of Jellinek’s vision of Jewish religious modernity. The first section traces the community and politics that Jellinek encountered upon arrival in Vienna. The second section explores the ways that Jellinek created a syncretic rabbinic Judaism from classical Jewish texts and German Enlightenment principles.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin, 2009 (S J Kessler)

Michel Foucault, in his historical and theoretical works, often analyzed the Holocaust by applying his theories of carceral technology and biopower to the German system of concentration camps. This is similarly the case with scholars who write about Foucault as well as those who use his theories in critical application. However, consideration of or allusion to the German-operated death camps of occupied Eastern Europe is surprisingly rare in Foucault’s writings. Attempting to explain this silence about the death camps specifically (as opposed to Foucault’s more numerous references to the German system of concentration camps generally) in both Foucault’s own thought and writings and those of Foucauldian scholars, this article suggest that the death camps occur as something liminal within Foucauldian theory. It argues that, though many of the techniques employed by the Germans in their carceral systems during the 1930s and 1940s were traced by Foucault and his exegetes back to the eighteenth century, looked at differently the German death camps of Eastern Europe in the 1940s represent (within the framework of Foucault’s existing theory) a dramatic and unique departure from earlier instantiations of state violence and biological control. Outlining and examining Foucault’s philosophy of history, this article links Foucault’s silence on the Holocaust death camps to other silences in his historical writings, arguing that the death camps represent a physical instantiation of a transition point in Foucault’s idea of historical epistemes. Such an argument seeks to reframe Foucault’s silence on the death camps as one that reveals an overlooked (but structurally essential) component within his philosophical theorization of history. 


“Religion and the Public University,” Philosophy and Public Policy Quarterly 31, no. 1 (Spring 2013), 19-27. 

Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, 2013 (S J Kessler)

This essay is about religious life and its dysfunctional relationship to public higher education in America. The essay describes my observation that current academic discourse trends and certain long held U.S. government policies have led to an untenable and harmful divorce between Americans who hold religious life as central and American intellectual academia (and its allies on the political left) who place their values elsewhere. As a way of addressing the fraught relations between religion, the State, moral values, and the university, this essay is a combined reading of Emmanuel Kant’s The Conflict of the Faculties and the writings of contemporary social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. It uses the synthesis of Kant and Haidt’s ideas as the foundation for a partial historical reassessment, offering an attempt to recapture (or assemble anew) a common discourse—a discourse whose ultimate goal is the re-enfranchisement of religious Americans into the nation’s public higher education system.


“Systematization, Theology, and the Baroque Wunderkammern: Seeing Nature After Linnaeus,” Heythrop Journal 58, no. 3 (May 2017): 432-445.

Butterflies, American Museum of Natural History, New York, 2010 (S J Kessler)

This article enters religion-science scholarship through two case studies on order in nature: Wunderkammern and binomial nomenclature. In Baroque Europe, natural historians organized and displayed their collections in Wunderkammern. But ordering schemas changed dramatically with the publication of Carl Linnaeus’s Systema Naturae in 1735. I argue here that a society’s broader theological relationship to nature is encapsulated in the ordering structures devised for natural historical study. I conclude by asking if we can use ‘systems’ and ‘seeing’, not Divinity (God), as a way of writing religion-science history.


“The Sacredness of ‘Secular’ Literature: A Case Study in Walter Benjamin,” Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory 12, no. 1 (Spring 2012): 100-114. 

Vatican Library, 2009 (S J Kessler)

It is my observation that a great deal of Jewish cultural memory and tradition speak to the relationship between people and divine words in material form. Yet it is also my observation that we live at a moment in time when, for a vast number of Jews, this metaphysical relationship between the Jewish people and its physical texts seem to have no (overtly sacred) material outlet in their daily or even yearly lives. Thus, I here set out to begin to propose a way of answering the following question: What becomes of the relationship associated with sacred texts (in religious settings) for Jews who no longer live (overtly religious) lives that bring them into contact with sacred texts? This essay is organized as a case study, in which I begin to answer the larger question posed above through an analysis of Walter Benjamin’s writings on books and physical literary production, alongside historical Jewish textual theology and practice. I argue here that Benjamin’s writings offer the contemporary scholar a highly refined and thoughtful example of the way this metaphysical relationship—expressed through cultural memory in response to sacred texts—becomes transformed into a “secularized” (i.e. passively non-religious) sacredness toward literature in the form of books and the written word.