Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Communications and Arts


Faculty of Education and Arts

First Advisor

Dr Alan Tapper


Max Kadushin (1895-1980) was a rabbi, professor, and preeminent figure in the history of American Conservative Jewish rabbinic thought. His hermeneutic system, which centers on the idea of organic religious value-concepts, has had a significant influence on the emerging Textual Reasoning movement.

In chapter one, I describe the intellectual climate in which Kadushin's system took shape—providing a short history of the 19th-century reform and haskalah movements, discussing the general outline of Alfred North Whitehead's process philosophy tradition, and placing new focus on the tension between Conservative Judaism and Mordecai Kaplan's emerging philosophy of Reconstructionism as a critical factor in the origin of Kadushin's system.

In chapter two, I summarize and explain Kadushin's philosophy itself—the anatomy and physiology of the organismic complex, the content of his six volumes of published work, the rabbinic texts that attracted his most focused attention—and place it within the context of what Peter Ochs describes as the aftermodernist movement.

In chapter three, I address the relationship between Kadushin and secular Western philosophy. Of particular interest, I argue, is the relevance of his work to philosophical hermeneutics. After outlining how Continental hermeneutics emerged from the largely religious hermeneutics of 19th-century thinkers such as Dilthey and Schleiermacher, I contrast Kadushin's approach with that of Hans-Georg Gadamer and detail the ways in which each of them attempted to describe what Augustine described as the verbum interius—an endeavor that, Gadamer argued, ultimately defines the hermeneutic enterprise.

In chapter four, I reassess Kadushin's work from the disciplinary perspective of religious studies. After interpreting the degree to which Kadushin felt his own work relevant to other faith traditions, I examine previous attempts by Christian theologians to adapt the rough outline of his hermeneutic within their system, and contrast his rabbinic hermeneutic with those religious hermeneutic traditions with which his work is most often compared. I also examine the degree to which Kadushin's populist approach to mysticism and value-concepts reflects that of other contemporaneous Western religious thinkers.

In chapter five, I examine the moral and social implications of Kadushin's priorities. Taking into account how Kadushin evaluated contemporaneous ethical controversies, I argue that while his endeavor is itself descriptivist, the system he asserts bears a strong resemblance to contemporary virtue ethics. In doing this, I show that Kadushin's system of religious morality cannot be accurately classified as a traditional form of consequentialism, rule-based ethics, prescriptivism, or divine command theory. I also examine the implications of Kadushin's system as they pertain to authority, power, and tradition. In conclusion, I argue that his moral system is, in keeping with its rabbinic roots, highly flexible—a trait that can be both an asset and a liability.

This interdisciplinary thesis presents Kadushin's organic hermeneutic in a systematic way, assessing its relevance to the disciplines of philosophy and religious studies. In this thesis, I show that his system of thought rewards serious interdisciplinary study and raises far more general questions than those he specifically intended to address.