Assistant Professor of Jewish Thought and Ethics
Shira Billet is assistant professor of Jewish Thought and Ethics. Before joining the faculty at JTS, she was a postdoctoral associate in Philosophy and Judaic Studies at Yale University, and she completed her doctorate at Princeton University in 2019.
Dr. Billet’s research is focused on 19th-century and early 20th-century German Jewish philosophy, both in historical context and in relation to contemporary conversations in philosophical ethics. Her work considers the intellectual context in which modern Jewish philosophy was born—a context hostile to Jewish scholarship and Jewish philosophy—in relation to contemporary ethical questions about credibility (Who is believed?) and bearing witness (What kinds of testimony are believed?) within the political community and within academic scholarship. Her historical work also focuses on discussions of virtues and power in 19th-century Jewish philosophical conversations with respect to contemporary philosophical ethics about virtue and marginalization.
Dr. Billet’s dissertation from Princeton University focused on the German Jewish Philosopher Hermann Cohen (1842–1918). Entitled “The Philosopher as Witness: Hermann Cohen’s Philosophers and the Trials of Wissenschaft des Judentums,” the dissertation offered an account of Hermann Cohen’s understanding of the role of the (Jewish) philosopher within the political state. Cohen understood the role of the Jewish philosopher within the context of a longstanding strand he identified in the history of philosophy dating back to the trial of Socrates, namely the philosopher’s role as “witness,” in several senses of that word. The notion of the philosopher as witness is key to Cohen’s understanding of the history of Jewish philosophy, including his reading of the biblical prophet Ezekiel, Philo of Alexandria, Maimonides, and Spinoza.
Dr. Billet’s current book manuscript focuses on the virtues of courage, truthfulness, intellectual humility, and fidelity as public virtues—as virtues of citizens within the public square, and of individuals in relation to communities—within Hermann Cohen’s work. In addition, she has several forthcoming articles on Hermann Cohen’s work and on other aspects of modern Jewish thought and ethics. Dr. Billet has lectured and given papers at many institutions and academic conferences. Before coming to JTS, she taught courses in philosophy, Jewish thought, ethics, and theology at Fordham University, Princeton University, and Yale University.