The story of Akedat Yitzhak, the binding of Isaac (Gen. 22), read in synagogues this Shabbat, has posed significant philosophical challenges throughout the history of Jewish and religious thought. In his newest book, Unbinding Isaac: The Significance of the Akedah for Modern Jewish Thought (JPS), Aaron Koller leads his readers on a trek of discovery into this most challenging biblical story — from Soren Kierkegaard’s understanding of the Akeda as teaching suspension of ethics for the sake of faith, through the role the story plays in the thought of Rabbi Soloveitchik.
TRADITION’s Fall 2020 issue featured an extensive review of Unbinding Isaac by Alex S. Ozar (open-access here). We thought it would be interesting to bring the reviewer and his subject together for a discussion about this provocative book. As you’re about to hear, they had a lot to talk about. In this wide-ranging, dynamic conversation, Koller and Ozar discuss and debate the meaning of the Akeda for contemporary Jewish practice and life; how R. Soloveitchik’s philosophical outlook was shaped by world-historical trauma and the radical intellectual environment in which the Rav received his academic training; whether contemporary society really has moved beyond human sacrifice; and how, in light of Koller’s ambitious reading of the Akeda narrative, we might follow Abraham’s lead in achieving a more just world.
Aaron Koller is professor of Near Eastern Studies at Yeshiva University. His previous book was Esther in Ancient Jewish Thought (Cambridge University Press, 2014). Aaron has served as a visiting professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and held research fellowships at the Albright Institute for Archaeological Research and the Hartman Institute.
Alex S. Ozar serves as a rabbi with OU-JLIC and the Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale University, where he is also pursuing a Ph.D. in philosophy and religious studies. He received a BA, MA, and semikha from Yeshiva University. His writing has appeared (or is forthcoming) in such publications as Harvard Theological Review, Journal of Religious Ethics, Torah u-Madda Journal, Dine Israel, and Jewish Quarterly Review.
[Published on November 4, 2020]