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Synagogue services were long, mechanical, boring. Returning to school was a homecoming. My passions at Yeshiva were Jewish studies and philosophy. Philosophy was itself a new and exciting world, and it offered the essential tools—or so it seemed—to evaluate the ambitious truth claims of religion. However, there was only so much philosophy one could study at Yeshiva. This was not the case for Jewish studies, and I delayed graduating for a year in order to devote more time to Talmud, the heart of traditional Jewish learning.

Despite some of the standard translations, it is far from clear why simply being frightened of God is supposed to be of great ethical value, or why such fright is so admirable as to be considered “the beginning of wisdom,” as we are told that yirah is in Psalms. That awe of heaven is a great virtue, or that it is the beginning of wisdom, is quite another matter. There is a passage in the Jewish morning liturgy to the effect that a person should always stand in yirah of heaven in private as well as in public.

I much appreciated the personal and intellectual comradeship, not to speak of the philosophical stimulation. The following year Stanford offered me a visiting professorship, and then in 1983 we departed for a new position at the University of Notre Dame, home of a fine graduate philosophy department. In late 1988, I received a call from an old friend at the University of California, Riverside offering me a position and a chance to fulfill something of a lifelong dream: to help create a first-rate research department in which I might have flourished as a graduate student.

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A school dictionary by coll.


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