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Is Judaism a Religion?

July 28, 2014 - August 1, 2014

Course Information

Course Syllabus

Participant Bios

From the eighteenth century onward, modern Jewish thinkers have been concerned with the question of whether or not Judaism can fit into the modern category of religion. After all, Judaism has historically been a religion of law, and hence of practice.  Adherence to religious law, which is in some measure public in nature, does not seem to fit into the category of faith or belief, which by definition is individual and private.  In this advanced institute we will see that the clash between the modern category of religion and Judaism as it has been traditionally practiced gives rise to many of the creative tensions in modern Jewish thought as well as to the question of whether Judaism of Jewishness are matters or religion, culture, or nationality.  


Led by Princeton professor and modern Jewish intellectual Leora Batnitzky, we will ask the challenging big questions: How and why did Moses Mendelssohn invent the idea of Jewish religion?  How does the subsequent development of Reform, Orthodox, and Conservative Judaism relate to Mendelssohn’s invention?  How have Zionist thinkers reacted to the introduction of a Jewish religion?  How does the American regime mold the contours of a Jewish religion in the United States?  Does Haredi Judaism represent a rejection of Judaism’s religious dimension?

The writings of Mendelssohn, Hermann Cohen, Joseph Soloveitchik, Ahad Ha’am, Leo Strauss, and others, will allow us to consider how Jewish arguments about religion anticipate contemporary debates about religion and state, tolerance and pluralism, and religion’s place in the public square.