Education as ethics: Emmanuel Levinas on Jewish schooling

  • Jordan Glass


For Levinas, the moment of real meaning is in the relation sustained with alterity. This relation is difficult or impossible to characterize philosophically, however, because to render it in comprehensive or objective terms would reduce the relation to one of comprehension and make it commensurate with the ego. Thus philosophy has an ambivalent status with respect to transcendence and ethics; but Levinas is convinced of the essentially transcendent or ethical meaning of Judaic practice: Talmudic exegesis, but also Jewish ritual and the keeping of the sabbath; and these elements are included within a conception of Jewish educational practices. Thus to what extent transcendent meaning can be discussed in philosophical terms and evinced in philosophical work (theoretical and practical)—or rather, to what extent transcendent meaning is possible at all—may be clarified by a sketch of Levinas’ broad approach to Jewish practice, particularly in terms of education. This essay shows how Jewish education is essential for transcendence and ethics for Levinas. Reference is made to several untranslated texts that Levinas published for intellectual but nonacademic French-Jewish journals, in which he explains his own pedagogical vocation. This offers an invaluable perspective on his philosophical and Judaic writings; and above all it gives an indication of his vision of the quotidian and life-long educational practices through which ethics and the transcendent relation between human beings are possible. Finally it raises the question of whether a secular or philosophical education could offer this as well.


Ethics Transcendence Levinas Education Judaism Talmudic study Philosophy 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.MontrealCanada

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