Recently I attended and filmed the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research Conference on “The Jewish Thought of Emil Fackenheim” in Toronto (Sunday, 25 October 2015). Emil Fackenheim (1916-2003) was a German-born Jew who went on to become a philosopher in his own right, a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto and, after making aliyah, a professor at the Hebrew University as well. He was not only a philosopher but also an ordained German Reform Rabbi. Emil Fackenheim became known for probing the antisemitic dimensions of German Idealist philosophy, for studying the impact of the Holocaust on Judaism and on secular modern thought, and for demanding that Philosophy address the Holocaust. In this context he analyzed critically the secular philosophers, including Hegel, Nietzsche, and Heidegger (who espoused the Nazi movement).
Bringing a Jewish perspective to Fackenheim’s thought, Professor David Patterson, Hillel A. Feinberg Chair of Holocaust Studies of the Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies, University of Texas at Dallas, presented a paper: A Jewish Philospher’s Critique of Philosophy: Emil Fackenheim’s Response to the Holocaust. Emil Fackenheim asks the question: What does philosophy have to do with Auschwitz?
Professor James A. Diamond, Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Chair, Jewish Studies, University of Waterloo, compared the writings of the Warsaw Ghetto Rebbe, Rabbi Shapira, with Fackenheim’s teachings in a paper titled God’s Infinite Pain: Encounter between Emil Fackenheim and the Warsaw Ghetto Rebbe. Professor Sally Zerker, Professor Emeritus York University, spoke on the subject Emil Fackenheim and Post Zionist Jewish Intellectuals.
Over lunch time, we were treated to a keynote address by Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, President Emeritus, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. Rabbi John Moscovitz, Rabbi Emeritus Holy Blossom Temple, spoke about Fackenheim’s ideas of Tikkun Olam and Mending the World.
Many of Fackenheim’s students and friends, spoke about Fackenheim’s impact on them. Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Laureate, a colleague, and personal friend, sent a brief video greeting. We were fortunate to have Fackenheim’s son, Joseph Fackenheim, now a theater director living in Toronto, share some thoughts about his father. Joseph feels that he is carrying on his father’s legacy by bringing the Jewish Theatre Aspaklaria to the Toronto stage.
Peter Margo, National Board Member of CIJR, who had known Fackenheim as a young immigrant in Montreal shared: The Young Fackenheim in Canada: a Personal Reminiscence.
Professor Edward Alexander, Professor Emeritus of English, University of Washington sent a Letter on Emil Fackenheim, which was read by Professor Krantz.
Several of Fackenheim’s students were present. Professor Sharon Portnoff, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Connecticut College, and a student of Fackenheim’s, presented a paper, Emil Fackenheim’s Moral Seriousness in the Art of Living. Professor MIchael Morgan, Grafstein Chair in Philosophy and Jewish Studies, University of Toronto, examined Fackenheim’s Legacy. Professor Paul Merkley, Professor Emeritus of History, Carleton University, also a student of Fackenheim’s presented: Emil Fackenheim: The Perspective of a Christian Realist. And another student, Professor Victor Shepherd, Professor of Theology, Tyndale University College and Seminary, presented a spirited tribute: Emil L.Fackenheim: Gratitude for the Gift He Was.
And academic scholars of philosophy also presented these papers:
Professor Kenneth Green, Department for the Study of Religion, University of Toronto presented on Emil Fackenheim and the Political Theology of Diabolical Evil, while Professor David Novak, Department for the Study of Religion, University of Toronto, spoke on Emil Fackenheim and Heidegger. Professor Martin Yaffe, professor of Philosophy and Religion, University of North Texas presented a paper: After 50 Years: Emil Fackenheim on Hermann Cohen.
CIJR (Canadian Institure for Jewish Research) is planning to publish these papers and to post the videos of the lectures.
In the meantime below is a video of Professor Emil Fackenheim himself, presenting his ideas during a conference at the University of Oregon entitled Ethics and the Holocaust: He gave a paper entitled: Holocaust as a Persistent Threat to Thought.
Emil Fackenheim’s talk begins at 8:46 minutes and he speaks for an hour. But you will appreciate this, I am certain, for the originality, the erudition and the passion of his presentation.