Podcast: The Philosopher Who Reads the Talmud

Jacob Howland drops by our studio to talk about the ways in which Greek thought can illuminate the Talmud—and vice-versa.



Nov. 1 2019
About the authors

A weekly podcast, produced in partnership with the Tikvah Fund, offering up the best thinking on Jewish thought and culture.

Jacob Howland is McFarlin professor of philosophy (emeritus) at the University of Tulsa. His research focuses on ancient Greek philosophy, history, epic, and tragedy; the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud; Kierkegaard; and literary and philosophical responses to the Holocaust and Soviet totalitarianism.

This Week’s Guests: Jacob Howland


“What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”

Oceans of ink have been spilled in 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? Some thinkers like Maimonides have sought to reconcile Greek wisdom and Jewish thought. Others have focused on the radically different grounds—reason versus revelation—upon which the insights of each tradition are founded. Yet whatever the focus, the vital tension between these two modes of thought has proved to be one of the most fruitful sources of intellectual creativity in our culture. And it’s that vital tension that inspires the work of this podcast’s guest.

In Plato and the Talmud, Jacob Howland, professor of philosophy at the University of Tulsa, explains that the intellectual sensibilities he developed through the study of Greek philosophy have shed light on his study of the Talmud. And in a forthcoming essay, which he describes in this podcast, Howland will offer a remarkably insightful philosophical reading of the famous talmudic tale of the “Oven of Akhnai.” Here he joins Jonathan Silver to explore how, when read in a philosophic spirit, tales like this can yield not just religious teachings but nuanced and profound political teachings as well.

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, from the original Broadway cast recording of Fiddler on the Roof, and from “Above the Ocean” by Evan MacDonald.



Every Thursday, the Tikvah Podcast at Mosaic will bring to your car/earbuds/home stereo/Alexa the latest in our efforts to advance Jewish thought. For more on the new podcast, check out our inaugural post here.

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