33rd Annual Selfridge Lecture

Moshe Halbertal, Gruss Professor of Law at NYU Law School and John and Golda Cohen Professor of Jewish Thought and Philosophy at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, delivered the 33rd Annual Selfridge Lecture in Philosophy on April 3, 2017. The subject of his lecture was "Three Conceptions of Human Dignity:"

Human dignity has become a central value in political and constitutional thought. Yet its meaning and scope and its relations to other moral and political values such as autonomy and rights remain elusive. This lecture seeks to elucidate the value of human dignity through the exploration of three distinct ways in which such dignity can be violated.

Moshe Halbertal is the Gruss Professor of Law at NYU Law School, the John and Golda Cohen Professor of Jewish Thought and Philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and a member of Israel’s National Academy for the Sciences and the Humanities. Among his books are: Idolatry (co-authored with Avishai Margalit) and People of the Book: Canon, Meaning and Authority, both published by Harvard University Press; and On Sacrifice and Concealment and Revelation: Esotericismin Jewish Thought and its Philosophical Implications, bothpublished by Princeton University Press. His latest book, Maimonides: Life and Thought, was published by Princeton University Press in 2013.

Professor Halbertal also giave a College Lecture entitled “At the Threshold of Forgiveness: Law and Narrative in the Talmud” on Tuesday, April 4, 2017,


From Professor Roslyn Weiss's introduction of Professor Halbertal's Selfridge lecture:

Dr. Halbertal has been a visiting professor, or fellow, at prestigious institutions in the United States, including Yale Law, Harvard Law, and Penn Law, besides currently holding the Gruss Professorship of law at NYU. Dr. Halbertal is a prolific author. His books have received awards including the Goldstein-Goren award for the best book in Jewish thought in the years 1997-2000, and the 2013 National Book Award in Scholarship bestowed by the Jewish Book Council.

Perhaps a brief survey of Prof. Halbertal’s many books will serve as a fit introduction to the breadth and depth of his interests and thinking. His most recent book, co-authored with Stephen Holmes, to be published this May by Princeton University Press, is: The Beginning of Politics: Power in the Biblical Book of Samuel. He is also the author of several books on medieval Jewish thought, including a stunning book on Maimonides, which is available for purchase after the lecture, as well as books on Nahmanides and Menachem ha-Meiri. His book On Sacrifice explores both ritual sacrifice and self-sacrifice and illumines the dangers that attach to the otherwise supreme virtue of self-sacrifice, dangers of violence and of the imposition of obligations on future generations which are reminded incessantly of the self-sacrifice of their predecessors. Idolatry, a book co-authored with Avishai Margalit, explores the implications of the shift from polytheism to monotheism and the fanaticism that is the inevitable result of this shift. Concealment and Revelation: Esotericism in Jewish Thought and Its Philosophical Implications, is the book the Philosophy Department has been reading at its faculty seminar this semester in anticipation of Selfridge week. In this book Prof. Halbertal explores the power of esotericism both to preserve a tradition through its secrecy and, at the same time, to threaten that tradition with extinction and marginalization through precisely the same mechanism of secrecy. Other books include, People of the Book: Canon, Meaning, and Authority, and Judaism and the Challenges of Modern Life, co-authored with Donniel Hartman.

Among Prof. Halbertal’s other achievements is his co-authorship of the Israeli army’s code of ethics.


The Selfridge Lectures in Philosophy are made possible by the bequest of the late Charles W. MacFarlane, C.E. 1876, Ph.D. Freiburg 1893, LL.D. Lehigh 1922. Being deeply interested in Philosophy and Economics, Dr. MacFarlane left his entire estate to Lehigh University, directing that the income be used to maintain the MacFarlane Professorship of Theoretic Economics and the Selfridge Professorship of Pure Philosophy. William Wilson Selfridge was the father of Mrs. MacFarlane. Beginning in 1984, the Department of Philosophy designated part of the income for the Selfridge Professorship as support for this lecture series.

End Date: 
Thursday, June 29, 2017 - 15:45