Born in Buenos Aires to a family of Damascene Jews, the rabbi and polymath José Faur died this summer at the age of eighty-six. His great-niece, the scholar Mijal Bitton, reflects on his unusual intellectual life, informed by both Sephardi and Ashkenazi rabbinic traditions as well as postmodern philosophy:
There were many aspects to Faur’s [understanding of the] rabbinic tradition. One of the important aspects central to his thinking was a focus on methodology. For Faur, it was not enough to have information, one needed to acquire wisdom in a systematic way and follow consistent and coherent rules for the application of knowledge. . . .
This approach was different from many . . . streams in the Jewish tradition, according to which one can demonstrate that something is forbidden or permitted by citing some prominent names whose statements have been memorized, without explaining the statements themselves. . . . [S]tudents of Faur would not believe it is enough to quote Maimonides and cite his authority. Rather, they are tasked with following Maimonides’ carefully laid out journey through the sources and understanding his conclusions.
The key to understanding Faur’s [theology] is in approaching God as a writer. Once God is a writer, then anything that God created—be it people, nature, galaxies, or the Torah itself—is a text that we are supposed to read. Faur’s genius was in utilizing the tools and techniques of the academic study of semiotics to generate new ways of approaching the Torah and the world as a “text” meant to be read by us. But [Faur] made no use of scholars like, say, Michel Foucault, who sought to deconstruct discourse in search of genealogies and power dynamics.