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Covenantal Rights

Covenantal Rights: A Study in Jewish Political Theory

David Novak
Series: New Forum Books
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 245
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  • Book Info
    Covenantal Rights
    Book Description:

    Covenantal Rightsis a groundbreaking work of political theory: a comprehensive, philosophically sophisticated attempt to bring insights from the Jewish political tradition into current political and legal debates about rights and to bring rights discourse more fully into Jewish thought. David Novak pursues these aims by presenting a theory of rights founded on the covenant between God and the Jewish people as that covenant is constituted by Scripture and the rabbinic tradition. In doing so, he presents a powerful challenge to prevailing liberal and conservative positions on rights and duties and opens a new chapter in contemporary Jewish political thinking.

    For Novak, "covenantal rights" are rooted in God's primary rights as creator of the universe and as the elector of a particular community whose members relate to this God as their sovereign. The subsequent rights of individuals and communities flow from God's covenantal promises, which function as irrevocable entitlements. This presents a sharp contrast to the liberal tradition, in which rights flow above all from individuals. It also challenges the conservative idea that duties can take precedence over rights, since Novak argues that there are no covenantal duties that are not backed by correlative rights. Novak explains carefully and clearly how this theory of covenantal rights fits into Jewish tradition and applies to the relationships among God, the covenanted community, and individuals. This work is a profound and provocative contribution to contemporary religious and political theory.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2352-9
    Subjects: Religion, Political Science, Sociology, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Abbreviations Used in Text
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-35)

    In modern discussions of political theory, the favored terms seem to be “individualandsociety” or “societyandindividual.” Indeed, the very ordering of these terms by any modern political theorist quickly shows on which side of the great debate over the priority of one entity to the other he or she stands. The debate is usually framed in terms of this essential question: Are the demands of a society to be justified by criteria coming fromtheindividual, or are the demands of individuals to be justified by criteria coming fromthesociety?

    At present, those who favor the...

  6. CHAPTER I God and Human Persons
    (pp. 36-55)

    Looking into Scripture, from which all authentic Jewish thought must begin, one sees that at the most primary level, the unlimited power of God is repeatedly asserted. “See now that I, I am He and there is no power (elohim) along with me. I kill and I give life; there is no one who can escape my hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39). “I am the first and I am the last, besides me there is no god (ein elohim)” (Isaiah 44:6). God has already made everything in the world. That is why no one can stand up against God successfully. “I am...

  7. CHAPTER II Human Persons and God
    (pp. 56-76)

    At first glance, it surely seems impertinent to assume that humans may make any claims on God. After all, are not humans the creatures and God the creator? How can a creature make a claim on his or her creator? By the time of completed creation, is God not already through with us? On what ground could we possibly stand up to make any such claim? “Ever since the day was, I am He; none can deliver from my hand. When I act, who can turn it back (yeshivennah)?” (Isaiah 43:13). To make such a claim is to exercise a...

  8. CHAPTER III God and Covenanted Community
    (pp. 77-98)

    Heretofore, we have examined the relationship between God and human persons in terms of the claims each makes upon the other. Taking rights as primary claims within a normative order, we have seen that all rights are originally God’s as creator. The belief that a creator has claims on his creatures is found in many if not all historical cultures.¹ And, moreover, the very fact that humans can recognize their continual dependence on God implies that they have been given the right to implore God’s aid as an entitlement from God in creation itself. God’s desires to hear from his...

  9. CHAPTER IV Covenanted Community and God
    (pp. 99-116)

    As is the case in the relationship between God and persons, where initial divine claims on humans lead to subsequent human claims on God, so do God’s claims on the covenanted human community lead to the claims this community can make on God. That is, from the underived rights of God come the derived rights of his creatures, which are entitlements (zekhuyot). These entitled rights of human creatures are most easily justifiable when exercised in the interhuman realm itself. Accordingly, at the universal level, since being “made in the image of God” (Genesis 9:6) means that every human being is...

  10. CHAPTER V Between Human Persons
    (pp. 117-152)

    Throughout the history of Judaism, two basic norms have been invoked in discussions of the rights and duties involved in relationships between individual persons. These basic norms are: (1) What is hateful to yourself, do not do to someone else; (2) You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The specific difference between the two norms is that the former is a negative precept and the latter a positive one. Their generic commonality is that they both prescribe a situation of mutuality: I am not to do to others what is not to be done to me by them, or I...

  11. CHAPTER VI Covenanted Community and Human Persons
    (pp. 153-186)

    In the Jewish tradition, it seems that the community makes four types of claims on her individual members. (1) At the most necessary level, the community requires her members not to harm one another. She does that by threatening penalties to anyone who could do so. Communal life cannot function if the members of the community feel they will not be protected from aggression by others.¹ (2) The community adjudicates conflicting interests when humanly culpable harm has been done to persons or their property. Communal life cannot function if there is no social institution for settling interpersonal disputes. (3) Based...

  12. CHAPTER VII Human Persons and Covenanted Community
    (pp. 187-218)

    The question of the rights of an individual person in relation to the duties of the community is the question of what are the just claims that an individual person can make upon the community for fulfillment. There seem to be four kinds of such individual rights: (1) the claims of an individual on the community to protect him or herfromharm by others; (2) the claims of an individual on the communityforassistance in fulfilling the needs of human life; (3) the claims of an individual on the community for the meanstogreater participation in public...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 219-232)
  14. Index
    (pp. 233-240)