Myriam Bienenstock, Cohen face à Rosenzweig

Review by Chiara Adorisio

Myriam Bienenstock, Cohen face à Rosenzweig: Débat sur la pensée allemande. Paris: Vrin, 2009. 250 pp.
In her book, “Cohen face à Rosenzweig: Débat sur la pensée allemande”, Myriam Bienenstock analyzes and compares the works of Hermann Cohen and his disciple, Franz Rosenzweig, with particular emphasis on the ways in which these two German-Jewish philosophers sought to appropriate the theories of German idealism. 
Since a real debate between the two philosophers never took place, Bienenstockʼs book aims to create a sort of virtual debate between them. The first chapter contains biographical references necessary to understanding the relationship between Cohen and Rosenzweig and their common interest in German idealistic philosophy. In the central chapters, Bienenstock (the author) reconstructs Cohenʼs and Rosenzweigʼs approach to aesthetics (chapters II and III), ethics (chapters IV and V) and the philosophy of history (chapters VI and VII). The eighth and final chapter deals with the way in which Cohen and Rosenzweig influenced Emmanuel Levinasʼs and Martin Buberʼs interpretations of German idealism. Thus, Bienenstock discusses both Cohenʼs and Rosenzweigʼs original (re-)interpretations of German idealism and the impact of their ideas on their most important successors. 
Throughout her book, Bienenstock argues that Cohenʼs and Rosenzweigʼs debt to German idealism has too often been neglected, while their debt to their Jewish sources has often been interpreted in a monolithic way. She succeeds in showing that Cohen and Rosenzweig are, in fact, as much indebted to German idealism as they are to their Jewish sources. Bienenstock, furthermore, rediscovers and reconsiders their fundamental contribution to the interpretation of German idealistic thought: beyond serving as key instruments for its understanding, their works can also be considered as original re-interpretations of German thought in general, which had such a considerable impact on the development of modern philosophy – in particular in the fields of ethics and esthetics. 

Last but not least: the author also discusses Cohenʼs and Rosenzweigʼs positions vis-à-vis the difficult problem of the German–Jewish dialogue in the nineteenth century. Referring to, on the one hand, Scholemʼs critical stance against that dialogue, and, on the other, Habermasʼs attempt to revive it in his book, “The German Idealism of Jewish Philosophers” (1961), Bienenstock argues that the German–Jewish dialogue had been facilitated also by the philosophies of Kant and Hegel, who provided the ground on which it developed. 
While emphasizing their importance as interpreters of German idealism, Bienenstock also rightly stresses the fact that the differences between their philosophical, religious, and political positions outweigh the similarities. Whereas Rosenzweig was (deeply) influenced by Hegelian philosophy– an influence evident in his important work, Hegel and the State – Cohen (attempted) to build a neo-Kantian system and was (fiercely) critical of Hegel. 
Bienenstock reveals that Rosenzweig, although a disciple of Cohen, was much more influenced by Hans Ehrenberg than by Cohen himself, and was, in fact, rather critical of Cohenʼs philosophy. This is, for example, focus of the second and third chapters, “La ʻdivinisationʼ de lʼart: Rosenzweig et lʼidéalisme allemande,” and “ ʻLe dieu monothéiste a rendu toute ironie impossible...ʼ: Lʼironie de lʼart, selon Hermann Cohen,” in which the author demonstrates that the central issues of Rosenzweigʼs critique of Cohen was aesthetics in particular, his discussion of the relationship between art and idolatry. Though both Rosenzweig and Cohen considered poetry as very significant for religious consciousness, they nevertheless differed in their conclusions: whereas Rosenzweig, in his association of religion to myth and poetry, remained close to the romantic author of the “oldest systematic program of German idealism”, Cohen, by contrast, faulted romantic philosophy for its pernicious influence on the development of ethics.  [...]
Cohen face à Rosenzweig… in which, Myriam Bienenstock, throughout the whole chapters, analyzes also various aspects of Cohenʼs and Rosenzweigʼs intepretation of Spinoza in order to demonstrate their different positions regarding German idealismʼs interpretation of the great philosopher from Amsterdam, is a perfectly structured and profound contribution to the study of Hermann Cohen’s thought, that should be considered as essential reading by all who are concerned with the problems of twentieth century Jewish philosophy and with the relationship between philosophy and Judaism in the modern tradition. 
(a full lenght review of Bienenstock’s book appeared in Iyyun, The Jerusalem Philosophical Quarterly, published by the S. H. Bergman Center for Philosophical Studies the Faculty of Humanities at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Volume 60, January 2011, p. 99-101, http://www.hum.huji.ac.il/english/units.php?cat=759&incat=758).
(Chiara Adorisio, Università di Roma “La Sapienza”)