Analytic philosophy—which since World War II has dominated the discipline in British and American universities—focuses on logic, mathematics, the meaning of words, and the construction of valid arguments. While many of its foremost practitioners rejected religion, along with all claims not grounded in empirical proof, a group of scholars have recently produced a volume that tries to apply analytic thinking to Judaism.
Thus one author seeks to elucidate arguments among medieval commentators over a thorny talmudic legal discussion. In his review, Cole Aronson contends that yeshiva students studying this passage would benefit from this essay. “To ignore tools that explicate a key text or conceptual problem just because those tools were forged outside the tradition would be to miss an opportunity,” writes Aronson.
In another essay, Tyron Goldschmidt, drawing on an argument made by the 12th-century philosopher and poet Judah Halevi, makes an analytical case for the historicity of the Exodus. Aronson comments:
Whether you love or hate (or are pareve about) Goldschmidt’s argument, consider what it represents—a renaissance of Jewish philosophical theology in an analytic mode. Together with his collaborator Samuel Lebens—who’s penned a brilliant article in this collection about midrashic views about meaning in language—Aaron Segal, and others in and out of this volume, Goldschmidt is doing something that to my knowledge hasn’t been attempted by philosophers in English: defending a key empirical thesis of Judaism. Also, Goldschmidt, along with most of the other contributors to this volume, writes like a regular person rather than a member of a clandestine order.
Physicists, historians, psychologists, and linguists may not always (or ever) thank philosophers for their interest, but philosophy has a proud record of learning from and spurring advances in other disciplines. I suspect the same will be true for Jewish thought and analytic philosophy.