The “Yeah, Yeah” Philosopher


Few have better embodied the intersection between rabbinical thought and Western philosophy  as well as the late American philosopher and ordained rabbi Sidney Morgenbesser (1921-2004).

Morgenbesser’s academic focus may have been on the humanities, but he was best known for his whip-smart humor and wit.

One of his most famous retorts involves a lecture given by a prominent philosopher of language. The speaker posited that while two negatives may amount to a positive, two positives will never amount to a negative. “Yeah, yeah,” Morgenbesser responded with a dismissive wave of his hand.

Despite rarely publishing, Morgenbesser’s legacy is cemented in the intelligence, playfulness, and humor of his outlook on life. A friend once said that Morgenbesser “was a philosopher in the…primordial sense of the word. He looked straight at the world.”

And Morgenbesser was clever till the very end. In the last weeks of his life, before he succumbed to Lou Gehrig’s disease, the philosopher asked: “Why is God making me suffer so much? Is it because I don’t believe in him?”

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