Forum’s third annual conference focuses on ‘Jewish Enlightenment’

David Ruderman of the University of Pennsylvania speaks about Jewish citizens’ roles in the Enlightenment during his keynote address as a part of the George Washington Forum. His speech was held in Baker University Center on Thursday. (Robin Hecker | For The Post)

The George Washington Forum hosted David Ruderman on Thursday night in Baker University Center for a keynote address to kick off the third annual conference at Ohio University.

Ruderman lectured on “The Jewish Enlightenment: Mysticism, Science and Moral Cosmopolitanism,” for their conference on “God and The Enlightenment” in front of about 60 students and Athens residents.

“The forum is a place for intellectual minds to come together when they might not normally get the chance to,” said Robert Ingram, director of the forum.
Ingram said that the forum is in its fourth year here at OU, adding that the first conference was on “Violence in the American Revolution” and the second on “The Great Depression.”

The conference, funded by private foundations, costs about $30,000 in total to put together, he said.

Ruderman’s lecture was based on the idea of how Jews fit into the Enlightenment, focusing on Pinchas Horowitz, a Jewish scholar from Vilna, Germany.

Horowitz published an 18th century book titled Sefer HaBrit that has remained relevant today because it fuses together religion and the natural world, Ruderman said.

Ruderman, a professor of modern Jewish history at the University of Pennsylvania, has written many books on the subject. To him, Horowitz is one of the most important figures in modern Jewish history.

“Horowitz was an Orthodox Jew, but didn’t fit into a certain camp of good or evil,” he said.

Horowitz had the ability to unite two separate ideas, God and the natural world, and make it OK to read even by the most Orthodox Jews, Ruderman said.
“The Enlightenment wasn’t necessarily an anti-religious event … People think secularism stems from the Enlightenment, when really the Enlightenment may have served to support religion,” said Ingram.

Horowitz’s work viably connects these two things: secularism and the Enlightenment.

Ingram elaborated that the forum aims to promote traditional history at OU and believes that this conference is a big step.

“We have 16 scholars here, including three from Europe and the rest from America,” he said.

Ingram’s future plans include turning the conference into a book, he said.
The conference continues Oct. 5 at 8:45 a.m. in Alden Library, Room 319, and concludes on Oct. 6 in Baker 240 at noon.

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