Rav Shagar and Heidegger: Some Speculative Archaeology

Rav Shagar and Heidegger:
Some Speculative Archaeology

Some investigation into Rav Shagar’s familiarity with Martin Heidegger deserves clarification. He mentions Heidegger throughout his various writings, in a variety of contexts. Some of his important ideas resonate with, and perhaps even derive from, Heideggerian ideas. Prof. William Kolbrener’s forthcoming review of Faith Shattered and Restored highlights the Heideggerian resonance of Shagar’s shorshiyut, “rootedness” (my thanks to Kolbrener for the sneak preview). R. Zach Truboff has suggested to me that Shagar’s baytiyut may well derive from Heidegger’s zuhaus-sein, neither really translatable but meaning something like a way of existing built on familiarity and identification, potentially called “at-homeness” or “the feeling of being at home.” Shagar’s long-running concern with the meaning of death for a Jew’s existence certainly also echoes Heidegger, something Prof. Admiel Kosman notes in his essay “Bakashat Elohim Be’idan Postmoderni” reviewing two of Shagar’s books (Akdamot 21, 2008). So clarifying what he might have known about Heidegger and when is paramount.

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Primary Literature

The first thing to note when considering what Rav Shagar might have read from Heidegger is that Rav Shagar does not seem to have read extensively, if at all, outside Hebrew (and probably Yiddish, though I haven’t confirmed that). So any Heidegger he read would have been exclusively in Hebrew translation.

We can thus begin with what Hebrew translations of Heidegger were available during his lifetime, between 1950 and 2007. Part of Being and Time was already translated into Hebrew by Alexander Barzel in 1964, but it seems like a full translation is still unavailable (this seems to have been some sort of limited production for Hebrew University students). The Origin of the Work of Art was translated by Shlomo Tsemaḥ in 1968 (Devir publishing). In 1999, a collection of Heidegger’s essays spanning from 1929 to 1959, entitled Ha-Yeshut Ba-Derekh was published, translated by Adam Tennenbaum (who would later translate a new Hebrew edition of The Origin of the Work of Art, published in 2017).

Notably, 1999 is only 8 years before Shagar’s death, so it is unclear how much influence Ha-Yeshut Ba-Derekh would have had on Shagar’s oeuvre. While some texts clearly influence Shagar dramatically in only a short period of time. For example, Eric Santner’s The Psychotheology of Everyday Life was published in Hebrew only in 2005, yet it shows up in several sermons and his student Yishai Mevorach, in the introduction to Teologiah Shel Heser, notes that Shagar encouraged him to read it. Mevorach was the editor who put out essays where Shagar uses Santner, so that may be circular, but other students have told me that Shagar encouraged it as well. Regardless, many of Shagar’s more Heideggerian works were written well before this.


Secondary Literature

Those three works are all of Heidegger was that translated into Hebrew in Shagar’s lifetime (several more translations have been published since then). So what about secondary literature? If there wasn’t much Heidegger in Hebrew, then what did people write about Heidegger in Hebrew? Perhaps unsurprisingly, not a lot. In 1960, Yitzchak Klein wrote a dissertation at Hebrew University on the idea of fundamental ontology in Heidegger’s philosophy. In 1970, Ran Sigd wrote his dissertation on the idea of authenticity in Existentialism which discusses Heidegger. While Shagar does not cite Sigd’s dissertation, he read and cites Sigd’s book on Existentialism, which presumably is essentially the same. In 1988, George Steiner’s Martin Heidegger was put out in a Hebrew translation by Schocken Books. Shagar actually cites this edition in the essay “My Faith” (Luhot u’Shivrei Luhot, 416 n.23; Faith Shattered and Restored 30 n.24). Parenthetically, this is the lone occasion when Shagar actually provides a citation for his usage of Heidegger. In all other instances, Shagar simply throws Heidegger’s name out in the middle of whatever discussion he is having without providing any reference.

1990 saw two dissertations written on Heidegger. The first was by written the aforementioned Adam Tennenbaum at Tel Aviv University, focusing on the idea of truth in the philosophy of the “young Heidegger.” The second, quite significantly, was written by Shagar’s student Eliezer Malkiel at Hebrew U, and focused on Heidegger’s understanding of immanence and redemption. Now some work on Shagar’s similarity with Heidegger can be found in Tomer Danziger’s 2012 Hebrew University thesis on death in Shagar’s thought. He doesn’t do much in the way of historical work, but he does note Kosman’s article, and he reached out to Kosman who directed him to Malkiel. Kosman said that Malkiel and Shagar learned Heidegger together one one one, which Malkiel confirmed, but Malkiel also said that this had been over twenty years ago, and he could not attest to Shagar’s specific vision of Heidegger’s philosophy. We should note, however, that the only Heideggerian texts available in Hebrew at the time were part of Being and Time and The Origin of the Work of Art.

In 1994, Avraham Ansbach wrote a dissertation called “Beyond Subjectivism” (Hebrew) at the Hebrew University, which presumably became part of his Existence and Meaning: Martin Heidegger on Man, Language, and Art (Hebrew), published by Magnes. This dissertation is important because of a story I recently heard from another of Shagar’s one-time students, Ishay Rosen-Zvi. Rosen-Zvi studied under Shagar at Beit Morashah, which Shagar helped found in 1990. Shagar ran the beit midrash there until 1996, when he left to found his own yeshivah together with Rav Yair Dreyfuss. In discussing the fact that Shagar did not read widely, if at all, outside Hebrew, Rosen-Zvi told me the following: When he studied under Shagar, Shagar had been very excited about Heidegger, but had been unable to find much to read on Heidegger (which fits with the state of the translation and secondary literature as I have described it). However, Shagar had a student who studied at Hebrew University and heard about a “thesis” written being written there in Hebrew on Heidegger. Shagar, Rosen-Zvi says, made sure that his student got him a copy of the thesis, and was very excited to read it. Given that only two dissertations were written at Hebrew University between 1990-1996 (Shagar’s time at Beit Morashah), and one of them was by Shagar’s student Malkiel (likely the student in the story), it is likely that the dissertation under discussion was Ansbach’s.

1998-2007 saw 13 theses and dissertations that focused on Heidegger to some degree or another, as well as a Hebrew translation of Timothy Clark’s Heidegger. As there’s nothing more to say about any of them individually, I will simply list them all in an appended list below.


Summary – Citations, Availability, and Speculation

So, based on all this, what can we say about Shagar’s resources for understanding Heidegger? There are essentially three categories of texts.

The first is those cited by Shagar, which is essentially just George Steiner’s Martin Heidegger. That is the only text on Heidegger that we can know Shagar read.

The second category is those texts potentially available to Shagar, even though he does not cite them. This is two Hebrew translation, The Origin of the Work of Art and the collection of essays called Ha-Yeshut Ba-Derekh, as well as part of Being and Time, 20 or so theses or dissertations, and potentially Timothy Clark’s book (though it was published the year Shagar died, so it’s very unlikely he read it).

The third category is the texts we have reason to think Shagar read, even though he does not cite them. The first of these is obviously Malkiel’s dissertation on immanence and redemption, as the two were close and studied Heidegger together (Edit: my thanks to Dr. Aviezer Cohen for confirming that Shagar had and read a copy of Malkiel’s dissertation). The second, based on Rosen-Zvi’s (admittedly 20-year old) testimony, is Avraham Ansbach’s dissertation, “Beyond Subjectivism.” Third, and perhaps most speculatively, is whatever Shagar studied together with Malkiel. As this was sometime around the beginning of the 1990’s, it would likely have been The Origin of the Work of Art, and perhaps the portion of Being and Time that had been published in Hebrew for students of Hebrew University, where Malkiel studied.

So that is it for our speculative archaeological study of Shagar’s library. Further work would involve checking these works inside to see what matched up with Shagar’s fragmentary discussions of Heidegger, and perhaps getting accessed to the unpublished Shagar archives to see what he might cite there. Hopefully someone else can take up that task.


Secondary Literature – 1998-2000


Chavi Karel, מושג המוות של היידגר : קריאה פסיכואנליטית ופמיניסטית, MA thesis at Tel Aviv University

Hayyim Luski, ברור חלום הקיוםהיידגר, ביקורת פרויד וחשיפת ה– DASEIN כמציאות אונירית בהקדמה (לבינסוואנגר) : חיבורו הראשון של מישל פוקו הצעי, MA thesis at TAU


Michael Robeck, אונטולוגיה ומתמטיקה במחשבתו של מרטין היידגר, Dissertation at Hebrew University

Tali Wolf, שאלת ההוויה בהגותו של היידגרמקיום אותנטי לחשיבה, MA thesis at TAU

Yoel Perl, אזור הבינייםמפגש בין האונטולוגיה ההיידיגריאנית לפסיכואנליזה של פרויד ווינקוט, MA thesis at TAU

Idan Dorfman, שפה ועצמיותמהיידגר ללאקאן, MA Thesis at TAU


Sigal Tzoref, חינוך להתייחסות למוות בהתאם לרעיונות הפילוסופיים : של מרטין היידגר ושלוש נובלות של גוזף קונראד, MA thesis at Ben Gurion University of the Negev


Idanah Langenthal, חלל, מקום ובית במשנתו של היידגר, MA thesis at TAU


Amir Konigsburg, הבנה והוויהמושג ההבנה בפילוסופיה של מרטין הידגר, MA thesis at HU


Uri Etzyoni, ביחס לאבסולוטי בחינה השוואתית : הלדרלין והמשורר, קנט והגאון, המיצב של הידגר, MA thesis at TAU

Dror Pimental, כתיבה והוויה : קריאה דרידיאנית בהיידגר, Dissertation at HU


Amit Kravitz, אי ההבנה של אי ההבנה : היידגר וניטשה על שופנהאואר וקאנט, MA thesis at HU

Timothy Clark, מרטין היידגרמבוא, Resling

Yoel Perl, שאלת הזמן בפסיכואנליזה בראי הזמניות של היידגר, Dissertation at Bar Ilan University


A Review of Rabbi Michael Hattin’s “Joshua: The Challenge of The Promised Land”

Joshua: The Challenge of The Promised Land by Rabbi Michael Hattin, Jerusalem: Maggid Books, 2014.


There are many approaches to writing about a section of tanakh, from the disinterestedly academic to the passionately religious. Even between those two poles, the chosen approach can be as nuanced as an academic approach that participates in religious discourse, or a religious book that makes use of academic tools. Rabbi Michael Hattin’s “Joshua: The Challenge of the Promised Land” falls squarely in the latter category. Joshua is not an academic book that gleans religious meaning from dispassionate study but a deeply and unapologetically religious book that uses the best tools of the secular world to uncover the meaning behind the biblical text.

Joshua is essentially a collection of essays on the biblical book of Joshua, arranged according to the order of the biblical text. Each chapter opens with a quick introduction to a section of biblical text, and in short order, an apparent problem within the text or the story is presented. By the end of the chapter not only is the problem resolved, but it is resolved in such a way that what had at first seemed to be a problem is now an expression of a religious theme or ideal. While each chapter focuses on a different concept, there are several recurring concepts that Hattin highlights as the dominant themes of the biblical book of Joshua. Hattin discusses the way the biblical text explores the character of Joshua as he takes over the leadership role of his late mentor, Moses, through parallels between events in the Torah and events in the book of Joshua. He also looks at the tension between divine providence and human initiative as the Israelites transition from the Wilderness, where they were entirely dependent upon God, to the land of Canaan, where they will have to run their own society.

The common thread that runs throughout Joshua is the idea that the biblical text is inherently meaningful. There is no such thing as a passage that doesn’t have relevance to our lives, including the long lists of geo-topographical data in the second half of the book. All of it is meant to guide us in our religious and moral development, and thus the act of studying the biblical text is religious, not literary. This orientation towards meaning drives much of the content of Joshua. The book’s hermeneutic, it’s guiding principles of interpretation, flow directly from this orientation. The discussions of both morality and archaeology throughout the book are not abstract, but driven by their relevance to the modern Jew. The same goes for Hattin’s discussions of rabbinic literature related to the book of Joshua.

The basic religious hermeneutic of Joshua is laid out in the introduction, in a section discussing the pros and cons of secular scholarship. While many fields of academia are trumpeted as greatly valuable, one field is rejected quite forcefully. According to Hattin, source criticism “hinges upon charging the text with literary superficiality that… relegated the underlying message to the proverbial dustbin” (pg. xx). However, it is not that he rejects source criticism, but how he does so, that makes his book so firmly religious. Source criticism can be rejected from a secular perspective; the rise of Literary Criticism in the last half a century more than demonstrates that. That Hattin chooses to reject source criticism from a strictly religious perspective is therefore incredibly significant.

The Tanakh is, at its core, a sacred document that describes the ongoing interaction between God and humanity, between God and the people of Israel. It is a document that continuously challenges us to ask penetrating questions that relate to the essence of human nature and the purpose and meaning of existence. Its ancient but timeless words kindle the spiritual yearning that glows in every human heart, the longing for God, for goodness and a better world. No assault on the text can ever rob it of this transcendent quality. (pg. xx)

With this, Hattin not only rejects source criticism, but also sets up a strictly religious hermeneutic that will guide the reader throughout the rest of the book. It is not simply that source criticism is incorrect, it’s that it fails to appreciate the inherently meaningful nature of the text.

Hattin makes a phenomenal attempt to integrate the narrative of Joshua with modern archaeological discoveries. He rightly trumpets the scorched ruins of H̱atzor as fitting the biblical narrative perfectly. He is willing to remain agnostic on some issues, leaving the challenge to the biblical narrative unanswered, but he is impressively willing to reinterpret the biblical text when the popular interpretation does not fit the archaeology. For example, the ruins of Jericho bear no indication that the entirety of the walls came down in the period of history under discussion. Hattin begins by suggesting why the ruins might indicate this when in fact the entirety of the walls had come down, enabling the reader to affirm the traditional understanding of the text. He then switches gears and discusses traditional approaches that don’t contradict the archaeological record. Applying this method to the issue of the speed of the conquest of the land, which the bible indicates is miraculously fast while archaeology suggests that it was very slow, Hattin differentiates between the conquering of the land, which was fast, and the settling of the land, which was slow. Hattin also points out that not only does this fit with the biblical data from other books of Tanakh, but also with the text of Joshua itself.

Hattin also tackles the moral difficulties of the book of Joshua. It is difficult to read the book of Joshua in the 21st century without being bothered, at least a bit, by the morality of a holy war to conquer the land of Canaan. Hattin’s main argument is that the narrative of Joshua cannot be taken in a vacuum; Joshua assumes the reader is familiar with many of the narratives and polemics of the Torah. Hattin quotes numerous biblical texts which suggest that the war against the Canaanites is not racial but moral; the Israelites are not wiping out a different race, but an incompatible moral system. In this light, the entire discussion of the morality of the conquest is flipped. In place of a morally dubious land grab, Hattin depicts the victory of a divine moral system over pagan moral relativism, of human dignity over oppression.

It is at this point that Hattin perhaps becomes a little overzealous in his depiction of the conquest as a moral war. Hattin sees this moral understanding of the war not just in the voice of the biblical text, but also in the minds of its characters. In discussing the textual depiction of Raẖab, Hattin discusses the way that Tanakh generally takes a rather dismal view of prostitutes, something that surprisingly fails to manifest here. Hattin argues that the reason for the generally dismal view of prostitutes is that they are seen as disloyal. In contrast, he argues that Raẖab should be seen as motivated by the vision of a moral society heralded by the arrival of the Israelite nation. This explains the Tanakh’s positive depiction of Raẖab, as her betrayal of Jericho is not a function of disloyalty but of a strong sense of morality. While this moral depiction of the entire conquest may be the way the Tanakh depicts the war, it seems incredibly forced to read this into Raẖab’s motivation. Hattin ignores the possibility that it is at least as likely that she was motivated by the survival of herself and her family, and that the reason the Tanakh does not depict her badly, despite being a prostitute, is that she was instrumental in the success and survival of the Israelite spies.

A similar instance is found in Joshua’s discussion of the battle with the Southern Kings. He describes the Southern Kings gathering together to fight the Israelites not just because they’re afraid for their survival, but because they see the Israelite invasion as the end of their immoral pagan societies. This moral awareness seems like a stretch in a situation where it is so much simpler and more likely to say that the kings were afraid of physical destruction.

Perhaps the most impressive part of Joshua is the total mastery Hattin displays over not just the biblical text of Joshua itself, but over any and all related rabbinic literature. Throughout the various essays that comprise the book, textual problems are resolved not just from the text, but also from the traditional rabbinic commentaries. But Hattin doesn’t just bring the commentary that he feels best resolves the problem; instead, he brings a variety of opinions, and then shows what in the text led each commentator to their opinion. When those opinions are actually based on midrashim from Hazal, he not only points this out, but goes in depth to show the various exegetical understandings underlying the midrashim.

However, Hattin’s approach to midrashim is frustratingly vague. He continuously refers to midrashim as “traditions,” but this phrase could mean prophetic revelations passed down from Sinai or rabbinic exegeses passed down through the generations. He is also unclear about whether he considers midrashim to be taken literally, figuratively, or some blend of the two. He reads them thematically, showing how the midrash plays off and expands themes of the text, but he doesn’t seem to take them to be entirely metaphorical in nature. Perhaps, however, it is for the best. Hattin’s studies in midrashim and their relationship to the text allow for appreciation of hazal not just as legalists and story-tellers, but as careful readers of texts in a way the “metaphorical” approach does not do. Midrashim are a complex and disparate body of work, and appreciating that complexity by default leads to some vagueness and ambivalence. Hattin does a good job of demonstrating that this in no way detracts from their significance; in fact, it makes them all the more meaningful.

Rabbi Michael Hattin’s Joshua: The Challenge of The Promised Land is a deeply religious book that is simultaneously engaged with modernity, a description that is equally apt when applied to Joshua’s audience. As part of Maggid Books’ new line of English books on Tanakh, Joshua serves as an introduction, not only to the book of Joshua, but to the field of Tanakh study in general. Many Modern Orthodox and Religious Zionist Jews, presumably the book’s target audience, who might once have delayed their forays into Tanakh indefinitely will now find its pages open before them. Rabbi Hattin has succeeded in making Joshua not only accessible, but incredibly meaningful as well. While Hattin does not mention the immediate, everyday, relevance of each chapter, he demonstrates the basic meaningfulness inherent in the text and leaves the reader to apply it to their daily life. Simultaneously, he introduces the reader to a range of modern literary techniques for understanding tanakh, from literary parallels to keywords. Thus armed with both newfound skills and an orientation toward meaning, the reader can begin to approach Tanakh on his or her own.