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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Daniel Leib Hundert, Religion

Believing in Oneself: An Analysis of the Views of R. Nosson Sternharts of Nemirov on the Enlightenment

Date & time
Monday, January 25, 2021 (all day)

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Daniela Ferrer



When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


This dissertation will map out a broad and complex picture of the theological universe of R. Nosson Sternharts of Nemirov (1780-1844) on the Enlightenment and the Haskalah, as expressed in his magnum opus: Likutei Halachot. The analysis presented here will result in a substantial revision of the scholarly consensus regarding Nosson’s views, especially of the Enlightenment and the Haskalah: whereas his approach has been previously understood one-dimensionally, as harsh, obsessively and utterly rejectionist, here it will be shown that, although deeply distrustful of modern influences, R. Nosson nevertheless includes a place for the new scientific thinking of the era. In a broader context this study provides a careful analysis of the thinking of a European Jewish believer in the first half of the nineteenth century confronting the challenges of modernity.

As the notion of G-d ascended to the abstract heights of an Aristotelian “unmoved mover,” or receded into the immutable laws of nature of a Spinozist pantheism, the individual was left bereft of a sense of inherent self worth that is rooted in a living relationship with G-d. The personal religious experience, the religious sense of quest, came to be seen as outdated, laughable, and simply false. Hence a major aspect of R. Nosson’s polemic was the reinstatement of the human being to a position of being valued by G-d and capable of engaging in relationship with G-d. This reinstatement is not an abstraction, it must be believed personally: this is called emunah b’atsmo or faith in oneself.

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