"Franz Rosenzweig's Modern Mathematics"

Graduate Student Matthew Handelman's article "Franz Rosenzweig's Modern Mathematics" will appear in the Leo Baeck Institute Year Book (2012).

Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929) was a German-Jewish philosopher, pedagogue, and theologian. Rosenzweig’s major accomplishments include his co-founding of the Freies Jüdisches Lehrhaus in Frankfurt am Main, his major theological-philosophical monograph Der Stern der Erlösung (1921), and his work as a translator, most notably,of the Hebrew Bible in cooperation with Martin Buber.

In his article, Handelman investigates the role Rosenzweig’s engagements with mathematics as a medical student and autodidact between 1905 and 1916 played in his later philosophical writings. In particular, he examines how the concept of the infinitely small, taken from popular scientific primers and textbooks on infinitesimal calculus, informs Rosenzweig usage of the differential as the cognitive threshold between nothing and something. Although Rosenzweig’s modern mathematics may differ from disciplinary discourses in mathematics, his usage of the infinitesimal calculus indicates the enduring relevance of mathematics in modern pedagogical, historical, and religious debates.   

Handelman’s article was published as a runner-up for the Leo Baeck Essay Prize 2012 and can be accessed on the Leo Baeck Institute Year Book’s website.

"Franz Rosenzweig's Modern Mathematics" draws on Handelman's research for his dissertation “Applied Mathematics: Rosenzweig, Kracauer, Scholem and the Possibilities for German-Jewish Philosophy.” He has also published on Rosenzweig and Siegfried Kracauer’s correspondence (1921-1923) as well as on Paul Celan and Critical Theory.