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Interesting Gers: Martha Nussbaum

October 2, 2009

I am going to start a new Friday feature here on Nom De Ger. A short little profile on an interesting or inspiring convert to Judaism. First up, an intellectual hero of mine, Martha Nussbaum.

Martha Nussbaum is one of the most important poltical philosophers working today. She teaches at the University of Chicago, has written a number of books including the must read Sex and Social Justice*. She is just ridiculously smart. She is also a ger.

It is not easy to find a lot of information on Nussbaum’s conversion. It would seem that like many converts, she originally converted for marriage when she married Alan Nussbaum. However, long after she and Alan Nussbaum divorced, she stayed involved in Judaism and had a bat mitzvah in 2008.  At her bat mitzvah, Nussbaum gave a d’var Torah. Here is an excerpt:


As life goes on, if all goes well, we gradually become able to see others as whole people who have needs of their own, and we develop genuine love and concern for them, and guilt about the excessive demands we have made of them, and probably still want to make. Both of our texts emphasize this capacity for concern by focusing on the need to confront the other “face-to-face,” panim b’fanim in Deuteronomy—an idea suggesting the acknowledgment of the other as an end and not merely an instrument of one’s desires. (The eleventh-century commentator Rashi remarks that a face-to-face interaction requires honesty and the suspension of manipulative and dishonest behavior.) In the Isaiah text, similarly, we see that we must all bring messages of joy and consolation not only to ourselves, but, above all, to others, to our fellow citizens in Zion. The imperative, “Comfort ye my people” is a plural, and though many commentators see this as a reference only to a group of prophets, others—prominently including the sixth-seventh century liturgical poet Eleazar Kallir—hold that the addressees are us all, the entire congregation. . .  So, we all should bring messages of concern and consolation to all, and there appears to be no reason, given the universalism of the text as a whole, not to take this to mean the entire world.

You can read the whole piece here. Nussbaum hasn’t shared why she converted, nor why she chose to have a bat mitzvah at age sixty one, but I think her intelligence and sense of justice is a great addition to the Jewish community.
*Nussbaum is also involved in the great gossip of the intellectual elite. She was involved for many years with Cass Sunstein before Sunstein ran off an married Samatha Powers, but that whole thing is a discussion for another blog.

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