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Podcast: Jacob Howland—The Philosopher Who Reads the Talmud

October 30, 2019 | By: Jacob Howland

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“What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”

Oceans of ink have been spilled seeking to answer this question, first posed by the early Church father Tertullian. How do the two intellectual pillars of Western Civilization, Scripture and the philosophical tradition born in ancient Athens, relate to one another? Thinkers like Maimonides sought to reconcile Greek wisdom and Jewish thought. Other thinkers focused on the radically different grounds—reason versus revelation—upon which the insights of each tradition are founded.

Whatever one’s focus, the vital tension between these two modes of thought has produced the most fruitful source of intellectual creativity of our culture. And it’s that vital tension that inspires the work of this podcast’s guest.

In Plato and the Talmud, Professor Jacob Howland demonstrates how the sensibilities he developed through the study of Greek philosophy have shed light on his study of the Talmud. And in a forthcoming essay, Professor Howland will offer a remarkably insightful philosophical reading of the famous Talmudic tale of the “Oven of Akhnai.” In this podcast, he joins Jonathan Silver to explore how, read in a philosophic spirit, this aggadic tale can yield a nuanced and profound political teaching.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble, as well as the original Broadway cast recording of Fiddler on the Roof and “Above the Ocean” by Evan MacDonald.


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