Hofstra professor discusses issues with Judaism in new book launch – The Hofstra Chronicle

The recently published book by Dr Sally Charnow is the first biography of the French Jewish writer Edmond Fleg. // Photo courtesy of the Hofstra Cultural Center.

Dr Sally Charnow, professor of history, author, editor and current co-president of the Society for French Historical Studies, presented his recently published book, “Edmond Fleg and the Culture of Jewish Minorities in 20th Century France” , during a book launch organized on Zoom by the Hofstra Cultural Center on Wednesday, November 17.

Hofstra’s Department of Religion, History and Jewish Studies presented the book launch and discussion. Charnow began by declaring that Edmond Fleg (1874-1963) is “the most famous French Jewish writer you have never heard of”. According to Charnow, Fleg was one of the most influential French authors at the time of his death, and he shaped “a modern French Jewish identity in the 20th century.” However, this perception of Fleg has changed since then. “Why [did] The centrality of Fleg in the self-understanding of French Jews faded from memory in the years following 1945? Charnow asked. Additionally, she argued that the discussion of French Jewish identity became the focus of philosophers after the Holocaust, particularly around Jean-Paul Sartre’s work “Antisemites and Jews”.

Charnow’s discussion focused on things that surprised her during her research on Fleg. “Fleg’s work has not been eclipsed,” said Charnow, “but rather his work has found a voice through the impressive and well-known philosopher Emmanuel Levinas.” Levinas and Fleg shared a common understanding of Judaism, according to Charnow. The two authors appreciated “new readings of freely chosen Jewish ethical texts constituting the foundation of a modern French Jewish spirituality and self-understanding”. The main argument of his book is that the Dreyfus affair deeply affected Fleg and his generation, making Fleg “a unique way to reimagine Jewishness”.

“[He] shaped a minority identity within the Third French Republic …

Additionally, Charnow was surprised by Fleg’s influence. She explained that Fleg was inspired by the French philosopher Henri Bergson. “[Bergson offered] a way out of disenchantment with positivist scientific thinking. Charnow said: “That the world is knowable only through its material manifestations … and what we might call traditional eternalism or institution-based religion.”

From Bergson, Fleg developed his own understanding of the divide between politics and mind. Charnow said that Fleg believed there was a continuity between politics and the mind. “Identity is never discrete, it is never stable, she said, “but it is in constant motion between the intellect or the material and the intuition and the spirit. ”

“It is interesting that Fleg considered [institutional religion and spiritual religion] to be linked together because they have always been apart, ”said Alex Le, a freshman in computer science. “But, what’s even more interesting is that Fleg promoted the idea that the two are separate from each other.”

Additionally, Fleg’s inspiration came from his service to France during WWII. During his service, Fleg “forged an ecumenical spirit,” according to Charnow, which led to the idea of ​​creating a diverse community. After serving, Fleg published many influential plays and essays, most notably “La Maison du Bon Dieu,” which supported his “broad vision of unity across diverse communities, religious and otherwise,” according to Charnow.

“After the war, many Jews began to express their culture in different ways, which I find fascinating but at the same time saddening,” said Daniela Sagastizado, a first year forensic science student. “I find [the impact of Fleg’s work] fascinating because it allows people to connect with [people] just like them during these difficult times.

Guest speaker Dr. Jeff Horn, professor of history at Manhattan College, author, editor and co-chair of the Society for French Historical Studies, closed the event by discussing the importance of Fleg’s perspective on Judaism . “The fact that [Fleg] saw Judaism as the application of ethics in daily life, rather than a formal religious practice, ”Horn said,“ is one of the things Charnow really emphasized.


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