Jews Beyond Reason: Exploring Emotion, the Unconscious, and Other Dimensions of Jews' Inner Lives



The mind, as the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria recognized two thousand years ago, is not guided by rationality alone; it is also driven by appetite and by the passions, and from his age until our own, Jewish thinkers and producers of culture have recognized something nonrational at the core of being human. Ancient rabbinic sources speak of the yetser, an inclination or impulse, as a driver of human behavior and a source of creativity and destructiveness. The medieval philosopher Maimonides subordinated imagination to philosophy and yet without imagination, he also realized, there would be no prophecy. And the world owes the discovery of the unconscious to the Jewish physician Sigmund Freud. Jewish thought, history, and culture offer many opportunities to explore those aspects of the mind that lie beneath reason, that go beyond it, that resist it. During its 2015–2016 fellowship year, Katz Center fellows privileged those aspects of internal life that lie beyond reason—emotions and feelings, the unconscious, sensation, imagination, impulse, intuition, and the nonrational dimensions of reason itself, explored from a range of disciplinary perspectives such as history, literary criticism, philosophy, psychology, anthropology, art, and musicology. 

Fellows Anne C. Dailey, Martin Kavka, and Lital Levy edited a volume representing some of the year's best work: Unsettling Jewish Knowledge: Text, Contingency, Desire (Penn Press 2023)