Conference: 'Social Vision: The Lubavitcher Rebbe's Transformative Paradigm for the World'

Thursday, 26 November, 2020 - 4:19 pm

SOCIAL VISION SEMINAR.pngChabad at Oxford University hosted this past Sunday (22 November, 2020) an afternoon conference entitled 'Social vision of Judaism for a modern world' with nine leading scholars from around the world, exploring the question how the philosophical and mystical teachings of Judaism can serve as a paradigm for creating a less fractured and more just society, inspired by the principle of reciprocity and other key ideas of Hasidic ethos. 


The conference was organised by Rabbi Eli Brackman, director of Chabad of Oxford, who invited speakers to focus on their own professional fields, while relating them to themes in the book 'Social Vision: The Lubavitcher Rebbe's Transformative Paradigm for the World' (2019) by Professor Philip Wexler, Eli Rubin and Michael Wexler (2019). Themes included prison reform, inequality, the principle of reciprocity, universal ethics, and other subjects.


Addressing the subject of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's advocacy for more humane treatment of prisoners, Dr. Netanel Dagan - a lecturer at the faculty of law, institute of criminology, at Hebrew University - discussed the question: 'Do prisoners deserve visits and furloughs?' in the context of a Jewish vision of justice in an era of mass incarceration. He argued that while modern criminal theory recognises the need for a more communicative theory that is less about retribution and more about repairing the individual and inclusion, thus supporting furlough and visitation schemes, the Rebbe went further arguing for a humanistic-based model, beyond the justice-based model, for incarceration to be most effective.


Following this talk, Rabbi Eli Brackman, director of Chabad of Oxford, broadened the discussion to discuss what was the focus of a number of the talks at the conference: the subject of inequality in society and how to make the world less fractured and more compassionate. Drawing on the idea that Judaism supports the flourishing of the individual, as presented in the book Social Vision, Rabbi Brackman presented a paper entitled, ‘Maimonides on equality and the problem of expensive tastes,’ arguing that Maimonides supports a radical concept of compassion for the less fortunate members of society, even if this means providing the needs for an individual who may have become accustomed to ‘expensive tastes.’


Social Vision.jpegProf. Frances Stewart, emeritus professor of Development Economics at the University of Oxford, continued on the theme of inequality discussing: 'Why worry about Horizontal Inequalities and what to do about them?' She argued that while there is much discussion about the gross inequality amongst individuals, this neglects an important aspect of inequality that exists across groups. This relates to health, employment and well-being, and the problem with this sort of inequality is that unlike individual inequality, that may be justified when some people may work harder than others, for example, group inequality cannot be justified, and is a cause for conflict. She concluded her talk by praising the view outlined in the book Social Vision that argues for a society based on reciprocity, that means a reciprocal relationship of respect in all its dimensions between people, groups and countries.


Dr. Naftali Loewenthal, who lectures in Jewish Spirituality at University College London’s Department of Hebrew & Jewish Studies, spoke about 'Chabad and the Essence of Socialism,' arguing that although Chabad is a religious organisation, the essence of socialism, as opposed to all its forms, includes human values, as concern for the pain and plight, whether physical or spiritual, for one’s fellow human being. A further idea is the concept of alienation and the concern to regain oneself. He argued that these values are at the heart of Judaism as articulated through Chabad Chassidic teaching, including love thy neighbour, and the idea of alienation that can be repaired through the principle of reciprocity, as explained in Social Vision.


Prof. Paul Franks - Professor of Philosophy and Judaic Studies at Yale University - spoke on the subject: 'Reciprocity and Normative Empowerment: Kabbalistic and Philosophical Sources.' He gave an in-depth understanding to the quote found in Social Vision that relates to his own work regarding a quote from Jurgen Habermas in 1961, how German Idealism in the late 18th century was influenced by translations of the works of Lurianic Kabbalah, particularly the idea of the Tzimtzum (contraction of the Divine light for existence to come into being), thus enabling the idea of reciprocal recognition and thus the principle of reciprocity as outlined in Social Vision.


Dr. Israel Sandman - a Fellow at the Hebrew & Jewish Studies Department at University College - spoke on 'The Forward-Looking Theology of Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson.' He argued in the theology of the Rebbe, a flawed world, or anybody within it, is not something that should be rejected but, rather, with the perception that the world is one with the essence of the Divine, one is empowered to discover our true self and find redemption.


Addressing the underlying concept of the book Social Vision, co-author Eli Rubin presented a lecture entitled: 'The Hasidic Ethos as an Alternative Social Paradigm.' He explained that Professor Philip Wexler, who conceptualised the book, took the cue from the founding thinkers of modern sociology Max Weber and Emile Durkheim, who saw religion as the original resource from which western society’s social ideas and modes of behaviour developed but rather than looking at its governing religious paradigms, Wexler wanted to look at new ideas and with that he discovered that Judaism and in particular the mystical teachings of Chabad philosophy, with both its rich intellectual corpus and successful community ethos, as a possible new paradigm for also wider society.


The conference concluded with two important talks on the life of the Rebbe, as a leader who was not only concerned with the Jewish community but cared for the moral and social well-being of society as a whole. Prof. Lawrence H. Schiffman - Judge Abraham Lieberman Professor in Hebrew & Judaic Studies at New York University and director of the Global Institute for Advanced Research in Jewish Studies - gave a talk entitled 'Between the Particular and the Universal: The Rebbe and the Non-Jew,' whereby he argued that the Rebbe is unique in that he revived an emphasis that had been articulated by the Hebrew prophets, but neglected during the past two millennium, of the role the whole of society, Jew and non-Jew, has in the process of redemption. This theme was followed by sociologist Professor Chaim I. Waxman - Chair of the Behavioral Sciences Department at Hadassah Academic College in Jerusalem and Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Jewish Studies at Rutgers University – who spoke on the question: 'Modern People in Hasidic Garb?' arguing that the Rebbe's outward-looking approach to society and the readiness to use modern technology, while others shunned it, to impact society in the broadest manner indicated that the Rebbe was truly a modern spiritual leader for our times.

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