Emmanuel Levinas, “A Religion for Adults,” Difficult Freedom (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), p. 21-22.
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Then role played by ethics in the religious relation allows us to understand the meaning of Jewish universalism. A truth is universal when it applies to every reasonable being. A religion is universal when it is open to all. In this sense, the Judaism that links the Divine to the moral has always aspired to be universal. But the revelation of morality, which discovers a human society, also discovers the place of election, which, in this universal society, returns to the person who receives this revelation. This election is made up not of privileges but of responsibilities. It is a nobility based not on royalties [droit d’auteur] or a birthright [droit d’aînesse] conferred by a divine caprice, but on the position of each human I [moi]. Each one, as an ‘I,’ is separate from all the others to whom the moral duty is due. The basic intuition of the majority perhaps consists in perceiving that I am not the equal of the Other. This applies in the very strict sense: I see myself obligated with respect to the Other; consequently I am infinitely more demanding of myself than of others. ‘The more just I am, the more harshly I am judged,’ states one talmudic text. From then on, there is no moral awareness that is not an awareness of this exceptional position, an awareness of being chosen. Reciprocity is a structure founded on an original inequality. For equality to make its entry into the world, beings must be able to demand more of themselves than of the Other, feel responsibilities on which the fate of humanity hangs, and in this sense pose themselves problems outside humanity. This ‘position outside nations,’ of which the Pentateuch speaks, is realized in the concept of Israel and its particularism. It is a particularism that conditions universality, and it is a moral category rather than a historical fact to do with Israel, even if the historical Israel has in fact been faithful to the concept of Israel and, on the subject of morality, felt responsibilities and obligations which it demands from no one, but which sustain the world. According to one apologue in the Talmud, only on the spot where a chosen society worships can the salvation of a humanity come about. The destruction of the Temple compromised the economy of the world. And rabbi Meir, one of the chief Doctors of the Law, has ventured to say that a pagan who knows the Torah is the equal of the High Priest. This indicates the degree to which the notion of Israel can be separated, in the Talmud, from any historical, national, local, or racial notion.
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Time Period: Contemporary (The Yom Kippur War until the present-day)