UB Launches David Blitzer Lectures in Jewish Studies

Series endowed by journalist Wolf Blitzer to bring major scholars of Jewish thought to Buffalo

Release Date: January 8, 2010

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Aaron Hughes will present the first lecture of the David Blitzer Lectures in Jewish Studies on Feb. 4.

Philosopher and author Kenneth Seeskin will lecture at UB on March 25.

Philosopher Lenn Goodman will discuss Maimonides on April 8.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo Institute of Jewish Thought and Heritage will present the first David Blitzer Lecture Series in Jewish Studies Feb. 4 to April 22.

The series will feature seven free public talks on and off campus by four exceptional scholars in the field of Jewish philosophy: Aaron Hughes, Kenneth Seeskin, Lenn E. Goodman and Richard Sugarman.

The series was endowed by author and CNN journalist Wolf Blitzer, a 1970 graduate of UB and 1999 recipient of a SUNY honorary doctorate in humane letters, in honor of his late father David, a Jewish Polish refugee.

With the exception of the inaugural lecture on Feb. 4, all speakers in the series will present two free public talks: an afternoon lecture at UB and an evening talk on a related topic in the Jewish Community Center, 2640 North Forest Rd., Getzville.

The series will open with "Why We Should All Be Medieval Jewish Philosophers," a lecture by the associate director of the UB institute, Aaron W. Hughes, PhD, Gordon and Gretchen Gross Professor of Jewish Studies in the UB Department of History.

It will take place at 5 p.m. on Feb. 4 in UB's Jacobs Executive Development Center, Delaware Avenue at North Street, Buffalo. Due to space restrictions, attendance will be by invitation only.

Hughes will introduce medieval Jewish philosophy as a living and engaged conversation with Judaism that took religious belief and practice seriously.

"Rather than circumscribe this attitude by making it the product of the 'dark ages' or 'middle ages,'" Hughes says, "I argue that these thinkers engaged Judaism intellectually and the various ways in which they synthesized Torah study and secular study is a worthy model for emulation in the present."

Hughes has taught at McMaster University (Ontario, Canada), the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Calgary (Alberta, Canada). He is the author of more than 40 articles and book chapters and seven books in the field of Jewish thought, among them "Texture of the Divine: Imagination in Medieval Islamic and Jewish Thought" (2004), "The Art of Dialogue in Jewish Philosophy" (2008) and, forthcoming with Elliot R. Wolfson, "New Directions in Jewish Philosophy" (2010).

On March 25 the guest speaker will be noted philosopher and author Kenneth Seeskin, PhD, Philip M. and Ethel Klutznick Professor of Jewish Civilization in the Department of Philosophy at Northwestern University, where he specializes in Jewish philosophy, ancient and medieval philosophy and the philosophy of religion.

Seeskin uses classic texts in the history of philosophy to shed light on problems of perennial interest. In keeping with that, he will present a 3 p.m. lecture in 120 Clemens Hall, UB North Campus, titled "From Maimonides to Spinoza: Three Versions of an Intellectual Transition" in which he will consider the philosopher as a critic, inheritor or purifier of the Jewish philosophical tradition. Seeskin maintains that Spinoza, having become fed up with his attempt to make sense of the great 13th century Torah scholar, decided to put philosophy on an entirely new footing.

At 7 p.m., Seeskin will present a lecture, "Is Judaism Really Monotheistic?" at the Jewish Community Center. The talk will ask whether or not we even know what monotheism is and, in terms of specific definitions, if Judaism measures up.

Seeskin's prodigious publication record in Jewish philosophy includes "Jewish Philosophy in a Secular Age" (1990); "Maimonides: A Guide for Today's Perplexed" (1991); "No Other Gods: The Modern Struggle Against Idolatry" (1995); "Searching for a Distant God: The Legacy of Maimonides" (2000), which won the Koret Jewish Book Award; "Autonomy in Jewish Philosophy" (2001); "Maimonides on the Origin of the World" (2005); and more than 30 scholarly articles and chapters in books. In 2005 he edited the "Cambridge Companion to Maimonides."

The series will continue on April 8 with Lenn E. Goodman, DPhil, professor of philosophy and Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Vanderbilt University.

At 3 p.m. in 120 Clemens Hall, he will present the lecture, "Maimonides Reads the Muslim Philosophers."

Goodman's philosophical interests center on metaphysics and ethics, and he has paid special attention over the years to Islamic and Jewish philosophical thought and their creative interactions.

He notes that, although widely recognized as the greatest figure in the history of Jewish philosophy, Maimonides did not confine himself to mastery of the biblical and rabbinic canon. He knew the Arabic texts of the great Greek philosophers, and his appreciation of the great Arab and Muslim philosophical masters deeply informed his work.

At 7 p.m., Goodman will deliver the talk "Genesis and Philosophy" in the Jewish Community Center, in which he will cast light on the biblical vision of nature and thus on today's vexed questions about the proper relations between religion and science, and between religion and the norms by which we live.

Goodman's books include "Islamic Humanism" (2003), "In Defense of Truth: A Pluralistic Approach" (2001), "Jewish & Islamic Philosophy: Crosspollinations in the Classic Age" (2000), "Judaism, Human Rights & Human Values, God of Abraham, Avicenna" (1998), "On Justice: An Essay in Jewish Philosophy" (1991) and "Gifford Lectures, Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself" (2007).

A winner of the American Philosophical Association Baumgardt Prize and the Gratz Centennial Prize, Goodman has lectured widely in the U.S. and in Israel, Australia and Europe. He has translated and commented on a number of classic Jewish and Islamic texts.

The final lecture will take place April 22 at 3 p.m. in 509 O'Brian Hall in the UB Law School, North Campus, and will feature Richard Sugarman, PhD, professor, Department of Religion, University of Vermont, where he directs the Integrated Humanities Program.

A Buffalo native and expert on the work of French-Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, Sugarman is the editor of several books including "Rancor Against Time: The Phenomenology of Ressentiment" (1980). He is co-author of "Reclaiming the Humanities: The Roots of Self-Knowledge in the Greek and Biblical Traditions" (1986) and, with Roger B. Duncan, edited "The Promise of Phenomenology: Posthumous Papers of John Wild" (2006).

His talk, "The Scandal of Heidegger and the Re-abilitation of Continental Thought by Levinas," will consider the long shadow cast over Heidegger's philosophical accomplishments by his unrepentant Nazism. It also will look at Levinas' presentation of existential philosophy and phenomenology as alternatives to moral relativism, egocentrism and nihilism.

At 7 p.m., Sugarman will present the lecture "On Generational Responsibility (Jewish and Philosophical Perspectives)" in the Jewish Community Center, in which he will consider Levinas' perspective on our obligations, not only to future generations, but relative to the pasts of others.

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