Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Jewish Political Tradition

The Jewish Political Tradition: Volume I: Authority

Michael Walzer
Menachem Lorberbaum
Noam J. Zohar
COEDITOR Yair Lorberbaum
Copyright Date: 2000
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 640
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1npm95
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Jewish Political Tradition
    Book Description:

    This book launches a landmark four-volume collaborative work exploring the political thought of the Jewish people from biblical times to the present. Each volume includes a selection of texts-from the Bible and Talmud, midrashic literature, legal responsa, treatises, and pamphlets-annotated for modern readers and accompanied by new commentaries written by eminent philosophers, lawyers, political theorists, and other scholars working in different fields of Jewish studies. These contributors join the arguments of the texts, agreeing or disagreeing, elaborating, refining, qualifying, and sometimes repudiating the political views of the original authors. The series brings the little-known and unexplored Jewish tradition of political thinking and writing into the light, showing where and how it resonates in the state of Israel, the chief diaspora settlements, and, more broadly, modern political experience.This first volume,Authority,addresses the basic question of who ought to rule the community: What claims to rule have been put forward from the time of the exodus from Egypt to the establishment of the state of Israel? How are such claims disputed and defended? What constitutes legitimate authority? The authors discuss the authority of God, then the claims of kings, priests, prophets, rabbis, lay leaders, gentile rulers (during the years of the exile), and the Israeli state. The volume concludes with several perspectives on the issue of whether a modern state can be both Jewish and democratic. Forthcoming volumes will address the themes of membership, community, and political vision.Among the contributors to this volume:Amy GutmannMoshe HalbertalDavid HartmanMoshe IdelSanford LevinsonSusan NeimanHilary PutnamJoseph RazMichael SandelAllan SilverYael Tamir

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12772-0
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Table of Contents for Volumes I–IV
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xv)
    David Hartman

    The quest for spiritual meaning is often identified with a “leap of the alone to the Alone,” with the religious experience of lonely men and women of faith. The biblical roots of the Jewish tradition, however, point toward a different conception, in which the central focus of spiritual life is on community. The covenant with God is mediated through a collective drama, the story of a nation deprived of freedom and dignity for generations, delivered from its bondage, and brought into a covenant with God. Only by participating in the collective liberation from Egypt can the individual grasp the meaning...

  5. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvi-xx)
  6. Introduction: The Jewish Political Tradition
    (pp. xxi-xxxi)
    Michael Walzer

    The association of politics with the state is pervasive in Western thought. Without statehood, sovereignty, and coercive power, there doesn’t appear to be anything like political agency, nor, therefore, any point to the standard political questions: Who are the legitimate and authoritative agents? Where does their authority come from? Over what group of people does this authority extend? For what purpose, subject to what limits, is it exercised? One can answer these questions with regard to many different agents and groups, from ancient Assyrians to modern Americans. One can answer them with regard to the Israelites of the biblical age...

  7. The Selection, Translation, and Presentation of the Texts
    (pp. xxxii-xxxviii)
    Menachem Lorberbaum and Noam J. Zohar

    To portray the Jewish political tradition, we have gleaned arguments, stories, interpretations, and commentaries from many different works of different genres, few of which are dedicated solely to political issues. The very nature of the Jewish tradition—and of Rabbinic Judaism in particular—demands close attention to its manifold forms and contexts. The interplay over many centuries of biblical law, monarchic epics, and prophetic critiques; Rabbinic fables, disputes, and legal reinterpretations; medieval communal ordinances, codes, and philosophical writings; and the rediscoveries and rereadings of all these in the course of the modern upheavals of emancipation and Zionism—this is our...

  8. Law, Story, and Interpretation: Reading Rabbinic Texts
    (pp. xxxix-lv)
    Michael Fishbane

    The guiding framework of rabbinic practice is a political order founded upon a divine covenant and its obligations. This covenant, of biblical origin, establishes the community as a sacral fellowship under God. All legitimate actions have coherence and integrity within this order, whereas illegitimate actions disrupt and desacralize the polity. According to Scripture, the prophet Moses first mediated between the divine and human realms as a founding legislator; in due course rabbinic tradition proclaimed itself the heir of this legislation, and has deliberated its contents for more than two millennia. Tradition is therefore the cumulative construction of belief and practice...

  9. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. lvi-lviii)
  10. Volume I. Authority

    • Introduction
      (pp. 1-4)

      Judaism is a God-centered and then a text-centered religion, which is to say that it starts with the boldest and most far-reaching of all authority claims. An omnipotent God has delivered a sacred text. God speaks or at least has spoken; the text can be read. What more is necessary in the way of authority? In fact, God and text are only the beginning, for God requires—this is the Jewish understanding—a people prepared to listen to and obey his words; and the text in which those words are preserved must be interpreted, elaborated, and applied: mere reading is...

    • ONE Covenant: God’s Law and the People’s Consent
      (pp. 5-46)

      Many of the central issues of modern consent theory are already posed in biblical and Rabbinic literature. Reading these texts, one has to keep reminding oneself that their authors were not consent theorists and that a covenant with God is not the same thing as a social contract. Contract and convenant indeed have similar effects—creating political unity and moral obligation—and at least some of the writers represented in this chapter seem to believe that the obligation to obey God’s law derives, and can only derive, from the people’s consent. But God is no equal or near equal, like...

    • TWO Revelation: Torah and Reason
      (pp. 47-107)

      At a certain point in the history of most revealed religions, theological understandings of revelation and history come under philosophical scrutiny. Sometimes the scrutiny is internally produced, as appears to be the case in BT Yoma 67b, where the normal conversation of the sages leads them to the question of revelation’s content and meaning (although even here, among themselves, they imagine skeptical non-Jewish interlocuters: “Satan and the nations”). Sometimes the scrutiny is externally driven, as in the case of Saadiah Gaon, who wrote under the influence of Arabic and Greek philosophy. But the problems posed are always the same: How...

    • THREE Kings
      (pp. 108-165)

      Throughout history, the rule of one has been the most common form of government—also the most stable, at least in the sense that the “one,” however his or her rule ended, was usually succeeded by another “one.” In the earliest Israelite political texts, however, God is the one who rules, and he neither requires nor permits any succession. God is Israel’s first king. What kind of regime is his kingdom? According to the biblical book of Judges, it has no established institutions or routinized practices. God rules either directly (as at Sinai) or through intermediaries, theshoftim,men and...

    • FOUR Priests
      (pp. 166-198)

      Until modern times, theocracy was standardly listed as one of the possible political regimes or forms of government. But it was always an indeterminate form: Who actually ruled when God ruled? God can govern a human community only through intermediaries (this is one of the main points of Spinoza’s critical reading of the biblical texts; see ☾1, §15, and below, §9): a single person or group or a number of different people who plausibly claim to have been chosen by him or to have access to his reason or will. In the biblical texts, as we saw in the last...

    • FIVE Prophets
      (pp. 199-243)

      Prophecy is surely the strangest and most complex of all the political-religious activities described in Jewish literature. It is a role enacted by figures as different as Moses, Deborah, Gideon, Samuel, Elijah, Jonah, Amos, Isaiah, and Ezekiel. Apart from the honorific title “prophet,” what do these people have in common? And who are the “prophets” of Western political thought to whom they might be compared?

      The literary prophets (whose speeches are collected in the biblical books from Amos to Malachi) are most readily recognizable to men and women familiar with political life in the West. Although the comparison is by...

    • SIX Rabbis and Sages
      (pp. 244-306)

      Knowledge has always been one of the central warrants for political rule—or, at least, for the claim to rule. Plato’s argument on behalf of philosophers is the classic example. As it suggests, the claim is not often successful: the Republic is an entirely imaginary polis. School learning and professional expertise more often position people as advisers or counselors than as actual rulers—thus the role of “wise men” in the biblical histories and the book of Proverbs. China’s mandarin bureaucrats are perhaps the great exception here; they actually ruled the country, although they were formally subordinate to an emperor...

    • SEVEN Controversy and Dissent
      (pp. 307-378)

      Sectarianism is the mark of Jewish life in the last centuries of the Second Temple period. But we know very little about what it felt like to be a Pharisee, Sadducee, Qumran sectary, or early Jewish-Christian. How did members of these parties/schools/sects understand themselves and one another? Probably they each saw their own way as the only right way; they are unlikely to have been tolerant in the modern liberal style. But the existence of the Judean commonwealth and the Temple (even for groups that withdrew from its services) held these groups together more or less, whatever they said or...

    • EIGHT The Good Men of the Town
      (pp. 379-429)

      Nowhere in the Bible, and only marginally in the Talmud (in the brief passages with which we open this chapter), are any claims made on behalf of what are today called “lay leaders,” ordinary members of the community selected by their fellow members to take charge of communal affairs. The biblical elders play a role something like this, but the exact contours of that role are never formulated, never even discussed, in the Bible itself. We don’t know how the elders were chosen or what exactly they did or what claims they made. They are not among the political leaders...

    • NINE The Gentile State
      (pp. 430-462)

      Exile and diaspora forced the Jews to confront a new and unprecedented political issue: the legitimacy of non-Jewish kings, states, and laws. We have already seen how questions of legitimacy were discussed when the authority of Jewish institutions or particular Jewish claimants—kings, priests, prophets, rabbis—was in dispute. Arguments were historical, textual, and practical, but they were shaped and ordered by a religious understanding, and they were incorporated within a legal system that had its ultimate source in divine revelation. In a formal sense, non-Jewish legitimacy was treated in the same way. Jeremiah’s injunction to the Babylonian exiles to...

    • TEN The State of Israel
      (pp. 463-524)

      The creation of the state of Israel in 1948 was largely the work of secular nationalists. They aimed at a condition they called “normality,” which is to say, a state and society “like all the nations.” And they also claimed to address, in the only practical and effective way allowed in the modern world, “the needs of the hour.” The Jews were driven by necessity to seek normality: that was the central argument of political Zionism. Zionist legitimacy, then, had a twofold foundation. It derived, first, from the specific crisis of diaspora Jewry in an age of nationalism and dictatorship;...

  11. Glossary of Names
    (pp. 525-544)
  12. Glossary of Terms
    (pp. 545-554)
  13. List of Commentators
    (pp. 555-556)
  14. Index of Biblical and Rabbinic Sources
    (pp. 557-564)
  15. Index of Names
    (pp. 565-570)
  16. General Index
    (pp. 571-578)