Ayalon Eidelstein’s Openness and Faith focuses on the centrality of the idea of openness, or open-mindedness, to the educational sphere. The first half presents the challenges in modern ‘divided-consciousness’ and its consequences of egoism, materialism, and hedonism on the one hand, and religious fanatism on the other. Eidelstein’s main audience is the Israeli secular public, to which he proposes an educational and philosophical middle-way rooted in sincere human and inter-human openness. This openness is inspired by the idea of disinterestedness that Kant articulates in his Critique of Judgment. Eidelstein refers to additional authors, including Franz Rosenzweig and Emmanuel Levinas, to conceptualize the idea of open-mindedness. In the second half of the book, he engages classical American Pragmatism, specifically that of William James, in order to establish the possibility for, and the validity of, a humane open-mindedness. Pragmatism thus paves the way for accepting beliefs that may otherwise be excluded as superstitions and accords them a legitimate and productive role in the life of a modern individual.
The difficulty, however, lies in Eidelstein’s employment of Kantian disinterestedness, for it is in fact seriously dissonant with the worthy pragmatic educational purposes that Eidelstein elaborates in the second half of his book. Pragmatism is opposed to disinterestedness in that it stresses the entanglement of fact and value, viewing interests as playing a necessary and productive part in moral motivation and action, while Kantian deontology eliminates consequentialism from the moral scope. While for pragmatists (for example John Dewey’s Democracy and Education) the human creature is holistically conceived, as made of flesh and blood and not only as ‘spirit’, Kant maintained the dualistic Cartesian tradition.
This tension calls for a rigorous address. Since Eidelstein’s book is making an important claim about the place open-mindedness has within the Judaism, it must be noted that the disinterestedness of a presumed human ‘self’ is also not easily compatible with the dominant voices in normative Jewish tradition. The Bible does not deal to a large extent with the ‘self’ or with mental intentions, and its conception of the human is not categorically different in the Talmudic corpus. On the contrary, the rabbis frequently endorse pragmatic and ‘external’ reasons, as the motivational basis for action. The kind of purism associated with disinterestedness (as in Mishnah Avot 5:18-19) is barely represented in rabbinic thought.
Openness and Faith: In Search of Cultural Education Here and Now is nevertheless an important contribution to the intellectual discourse over the individual and public virtues. In our ever-more segregated and fenced-off world, there is an urgency to delineating the virtue of openness, hoping that Ecclesiastes is right in contending that “No person has power over the spirit [רוח] to retain it” (8:8). But to make Eidelstein’s point about openness in the second half of his book educationally viable, there a need for a pragmatic refinement of the philosophical anthropology in its first half. One way or the other, Openness and Faith is praiseworthy for its articulateness and depth, which invites its readers to an open-minded conversation about the concept of openness.