(From Tablet Magazine)
The Jewish philosopher ‘looked at the world with irony but without a trace of rancor’
The Jewish philosopher Michael Wyschogrod died Dec. 17 at the age of 87, after a long illness. He was old enough to have stood with his father across the street from Berlin’s main synagogue as it burned on Kristallnacht, when the Brownshirts unrolled a Torah scroll in the street and charged passersby the equivalent of a dime to trample the length of it. Wyschogrod escaped Germany with his family early in 1939 just as the gates were closing, obtaining an American visa thanks to an uncle in Atlanta whose employer knew a U.S. senator. He was a brand plucked out of the fire. And he was, perhaps, our last living link to the engagement of yeshiva-educated Orthodox Jews with continental philosophy.
Educated at the Yiddish-speaking Orthodox day school Yeshiva Torah Vodaath in Brooklyn, Wyschogrod attended City College and then earned a Columbia doctorate with a dissertation on Kierkegaard and Heidegger. At the same time he attended Rav Joseph Soloveitchik’s Talmud class at Yeshiva University. He admonished observant Jews to master Western philosophy, the better to comprehend their own tradition, but he proposed a uniquely Jewish solution to the 20th-century crisis in Western philosophy. His influence was enormous; Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks once told me that Wyschogrod was the closest thing we have to a systematic theology of Judaism. But it was not as great as he hoped it would be in the community he averred would be the ultimate judge of his work, namely Torah-obedient Jews. That has changed in the last several years, and Wyschogrod’s numerous writings will guide Jewish scholars for years to come. Read more