A Bit of History

Philosophy has been studied at the Hebrew University since its founding in 1925.  In 1927, after the death of Ahad Ha'am, a Chair in his name was established under the stewardship of Leon (Haim Yehuda) Roth.  Roth, born, raised and educated in England, was at that time already teaching philosophy at the University of Manchester and arrived in Israel to begin teaching in the fledging Department of Philosophy during the academic year 1928-29.  Samuel Hugo Bergman, who immigrated to Israel in 1929 from Czechoslovakia and was, at that time, Director of the National and University Library, also taught in the Department of Philosophy together with Prof. Roth.

From the beginning, the Department of Philosophy offered advanced degree studies and its students wrote dissertations on various subjects.  During the first 25 years of its existence four of its students earned doctoral degrees.  Two of them – Nathan Rotenstreich and Yehoshua Bar-Hillel continued teaching there and left their mark on the department for many years.  Some of their students continued teaching in the department and a few of them, like their students as well, are still teaching there.  With the passing of the years additional teaching staff has joined the department, many of whom received complete or partial training in institutions other than the Hebrew University, mainly in the US, England and France.  Among the first Hebrew University philosophy teachers who taught both in the Department of Philosophy and other departments were Martin Buber, Gershom Shalom, Yitzhak Julius Guttman and Ernst Akiva Simon.

The nature of the Hebrew University Department of Philosophy and its teaching was already largely determined with its establishment.  The fact that its first two teachers, Bergman and Roth came from different philosophical traditions – the first, the Central European tradition, and the second, the British tradition – immediately created a diversity of approaches and a multiplicity of schools.  The second generation of philosophy teachers created a division between the adherents of Anglo-American (analytical) philosophy with its special interest in logic and mathematics, and natural and formal language on the one hand and, on the other hand, those following more traditional approaches who sought to continue the study of the history of philosophy and continued to believe in the validity of  the classical questions of ontology, theory of knowledge, ethics and aesthetics.

In recent years the boundaries between the different schools or approaches have become blurred and today, the Hebrew University's Department of Philosophy is not aligned with one tradition or school; it maintains the philosophical pluralism by which it has always been characterized and today, too, its students experience different philosophical approaches and become acquainted with the different facets of Western philosophy.

A detailed description of the first years of the Philosophy department can be found in Nir Gordon and Gabriel Motzkin's article, "Philosophy and Nation Building:  Between Universalism and Particularism" inHistory of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem – Foundation and Growth, edited by Hagit Lavski (Jerusalem,The Hebrew University Magnes Press, 2005, in Hebrew).