On February 17–20, 2019, The Franz Rosenzweig Minerva Research Center for German-Jewish Literature and Cultural History hosted a conference of the International Rosenzweig Gesellschaft, “Back to Redemption: Rosenzweig’s Star 1919–2019.” Marking the 100th anniversary of Rosenzweig’s completion of The Star of Redemption, the conference hosted nearly one hundred scholars from all over the world, who came together in Jerusalem to reflect on Rosenzweig’s opus magnum, on its central concept of redemption, and on some of the implications of Rosenzweig’s thought for our times. In the two 2020 issues of Naharaim, we are happy to present a selection of the distinctive ideas and research presented at that conference.
On February 16, 1919, Rosenzweig indeed composed the last words of The Star. But in that moment in which Rosenzweig expected to experience a sense of closure befitting such a remarkable achievement, he wrote to Margrit Rosenstock-Huessy in disappointment: “It is already 12 [midnight]. I’ve read all of Hamlet, and two letters from you arrived for dessert. And I finished writing ‘Gate’ [Tor]. I always thought completing the * [i. e., Star] would be worthy of a telegram to you [an euch: Margrit and Eugen]. But as things turned out, I had no desire at all to send one. It wasn’t good enough. I did then improve it in all kinds of ways, and tomorrow morning will do so further. But the redemptive mood of closure is missing [Aber die richtige erlöste Fertigstimmung ist nicht da].” 1
The following day, Rosenzweig appears to have turned a corner and shares a more positive impression of the book’s ending: “Es ist ja doch einfach schön – It is indeed simply beautiful. I just read it through again.” 2 And yet perplexity over his mixed feelings regarding finishing The Star continues to trouble him. On 18 February, he offers an explanation for his own ambivalent relation to the ending of his book. In another letter to Margrit Rosenstock-Huessy, he once again expresses puzzlement: “Contrary to my expectation, this completion does not leave any impression on me.” But he then immediately suggests a musical image by way of explanation. The book’s conclusion is a “Halbschluss – a half cadence (as if you ended on the third [note of a triadic chord] above the root note) – this open ending [offne Ende]. … The fact I completed it was not the least bit important as endpoint. And as starting-point – it is nothing but word.” 3
Why then did Rosenzweig not experience the much-anticipated redemptive feeling of closure upon completing his book? According to Rosenzweig’s explanation, the ending of The Star is a “half cadence,” the completion of a musical segment that doesn’t return to the root note of the tonic key of the piece, but remains suspended in the air, at the fifth interval (or third note of triadic chord) above the root note. This kind of ending invites a musical complement – on the basis of the recollection of the tonic key of the piece – in another musical segment. For this reason it is an “open ending,” as Rosenzweig describes it. Indeed, the conclusion of The Star is such an “open ending.” It invites the reader to complete in life the redemptive course described in the book. Moreover, The Star’s conclusion has invited myriad completions in philosophical and theological thinking ever since. Its ending is still open.
In this special issue of Naharaim we present a diverse sampling of the contemporary thought and scholarship which Rosenzweig’s writings continue to elicit. Martin Zwick presents an original reading of The Star by bringing Rosenzweig’s “system of philosophy” into conversation with systems-theory in his “Words and Diagrams about Rosenzweig’s Star.” Elad Lapidot’s “Jewish Redemptive Epistemologies, Hegelian Teshuvot: Soloveitchik, Rosenzweig, and Kook” asserts a shared Hegelian background to three singular twentieth-century theologies of return, and thereby sheds new light on each’s respective redemptive thinking. Emeline Durand likewise finds Hegel to be a primary interlocutor for Rosenzweig in his philosophy of language; her “Geist der Übersetzung: Franz Rosenzweig on the Redemptive Task of Translation” suggests Rosenzweig’s later writings develop the concept of a “Sprachgeist” to designate the universally-understandable aspect of each language which comes to actualization through translation in history. In “Between Abgrund and Urwirbel: The Story of One Word in the Buber-Rosenzweig Bible Translation,” Ghilad Shenhav surveys the expansive philosophical and literary background to Buber’s and Rosenzweig’s – ultimately unstable – choice to translate the Biblical Tehom by the German “Abgrund” in their German rendition of the second verse of the Hebrew Bible. Yemima Hadad’s “Ich habe nicht geantwortet”: Hermeneutics of Secrecy, Religious Silence, and Dialogvergessenheit in Martin Buber’s Exchange with Franz Rosenzweig about Halakhah” suggests Buber’s silence in response to the challenge of Rosenzweig’s “Builders” rests in Buber’s sense that their moment in the history of divine-human dialogue demanded esotericism with respect to question of the dialogic potential of Jewish Law. Finally, Eveline Goodman-Thau’s “Redemption Restored: The Star in the Context of Modernity,” offers a sweeping, and at once personal perspective on Rosenzweig’s thought as a whole, with particular attention on the way Rosenzweig’s Speech-thinking serves to restore the redemptive task of the human being.
These innovative, original contributions to Naharaim exemplify the continued fruitfulness – and indeed, open-endedness – of Rosenzweig’s thinking for our time.
Franz Rosenzweig to Margrit Rosenstock-Huessy, February 16, 1919, in “Gritli” Letters 1919, p. 37, at http://www.erhfund.org/the-gritli-letters-gritli-briefe/.
Rosenzweig to M. Rosenstock-Huessy, 17, February 1919, p. 38.
Rosenzweig to M. Rosenstock-Huessy, 17, February 1919, p. 39.