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Modernity: The Jewish Perspective



This paper aims at delivering a definition of modernity as offered by modern Jewish theology: a theological capturing of the modern era as an epoch possessing its own unique and positive religious characteristics. This positive theological evaluation of modernity seems to derive uniquely from the Jewish perspective which sees in modernitas a hopeful repetition of the narrative of Exodus: the story of liberation and autonomous self-constitution of man helped by God who wished his subjects to stop being just subjects, but also wanted to offer them freedom. This emphatically affirmative definition of religious modernity has only one equivalent in Christian theology: the millenarist notion of a “new age” – die Neuzeit, or modernitas – as the third age of the spirit, which greatly influenced the most ambitious strain of modern philosophy: German Idealism and Hegel in particular. In referring to the writings of Jacob Taubes (most of all his Occidental Eschatology) I will attempt to show that the twentieth-century Jewish messianism tends to perceive modernity, also in its Christian version, as an epoch of the reawakening of the original spirit of the Hebrew revelation, conceived most of all as the emancipatory event of Exodus.