Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Comparative Literature (Interdepartmental Program)

Document Type



This dissertation examines Emmanuel Levinas’s Talmudic readings and the hermeneutics employed to translate the Talmud into modern language. Levinas claims to be translating “Hebrew” into “Greek” by rendering into a universal, philosophical language (“Greek”) the ethical structure of subjectivity (“Hebrew”) within the Talmud. Since they investigate the structure of subjectivity, extensive use of his philosophical works and the influential works of others are used to analyze his Talmudic readings. Chapter One places Levinas’s project against the background of the Talmud, Judaic tradition, and projects like Rudolf Bultmann’s New Testament readings and Thorleif Boman’s comparative study of Greek and Hebrew. A brief abstract of Levinas’s philosophy emphasizing his understanding of the hermeneutics of subjectivity is given. Chapters Two and Three examine Husserl and Heidegger’s formative influences, especially their hermeneutics of everyday experience, wherein Levinas locates the essential flaw of Western philosophy, which begins with an already constituted subjectivity. Although all three view the structure of hermeneutics as essentially discursive, Levinas insists that the subject is not the source for these discursive structures, or even for its own subjectivity. Rather, that source, where any philosophical understanding must start, is the Other. Levinas sees exhortations against things like “sorcery” and “temptation” as the Talmud’s mode of resisting and restraining subjectivity’s natural tendency to seek out its own freedom and power. Western philosophy, however, actually tends to either start from this condition or work toward it. Chapter Four discusses the idea of infinity according to Levinas and Descartes, and its role in founding consciousness. In this respect, infinity coincides with the idea of God . Chapter five looks at ethics and its relation to the structure of subjectivity. Levinas reads the Talmud in light of the ethical situation confronting the subject in the encounter with the Other. The Other actually establishes subjectivity and its discursive hermeneutical structures, so subjectivity begins and continues as an ethical response. The Conclusion looks at the idea of “messianic politics,” showing how Levinas describes the structure of subjectivity as a unique “chosenness,” revealing its discursive hermeneutical structures to be orientating the subject to future ethical responses.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Bainard Cowan