Temple Emanu-El Bilgray scholar to take philosophical approach

Rabbi Michael Morgan

When Rabbi Michael Morgan, Ph.D., comes to Tucson as Temple Emanu-El’s Bilgray scholar, be ready for some lively intellectual discussion. Morgan, a distinguished scholar in post-Holocaust philosophy and the author of 16 books, will be a scholar-in-residence at Temple Emanu-El March 22 to 24, with his first talk at the University of Arizona March 22.

“Reformulating Jewish Belief: Three Great 20th Century Thinkers” will be the theme of the rabbi/philosopher’s lectures. “I’m convinced that a philosophical connection to Jewish experience can lead us to live meaningful lives,” Morgan told the AJP, adding that our challenge is how “we integrate our religious lives and our public lives.”

“It’s different in the United States than anywhere else in the world because of the separation of church and state. The degree to which Jewish life influences you in Reform, or liberal, [American] society is up to the individual,” he explains, “therefore we can decide how much of our religious or ritualistic selves, our moral or ethical selves and our Jewish cultural selves we bring to our public lives.”

A visiting professor of Jewish philosophy at the University of Toronto this semester, Morgan is the chancellor’s professor of philosophy and Jewish studies, emeritus, at Indiana University in Bloomington. In Tucson, his first lecture will be on “Emmanuel Levinas and Judaism” on Thursday, March 22 at 7 p.m. in the Kiva Auditorium at the UA Student Union Memorial Center.

“Levinas was brought up in an enlightened Russian family” in the early 20th century, and he believed in the “priority of the ethical in human existence, which may sound obvious,” says Morgan, “but it’s actually a very controversial thing to say.” For example, if our brains are wired for cooperation, he continues, “some may ask if that’s functional or dysfunctional in how we relate to others.”

“The central teaching of Judaism is that there are standards or principles in every situation, especially in the special character of all relationships,” says Morgan. “Each situation requires very detailed reflection.”

At the Friday evening Shabbat service at Temple Emanu-El on March 23 at 7:30 p.m., Morgan will discuss “Franz Rosenzweig’s Conception of Judaism: Too High a Price to Pay?” The service will be preceded by a dinner at 5:30 p.m., catered by Feast, at $36 per person.

On Saturday, March 24, Morgan’s presentation will be “Emil Fackenheim’s Legacy: Judaism and Tikkun Olam after the Holocaust” at the Rabbi’s Tish with Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon at noon.

The Rabbi Albert T. Bilgray scholar-in-residence weekend is cosponsored by Temple Emanu-El, the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies, UA Hillel Foundation, UA philosophy department and religious studies program, and the Tucson Marriott University Park Hotel.

For more information, or to RSVP for the dinner by March 19, call 327-4501.