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Law, Politics, and Morality in Judaism

Law, Politics, and Morality in Judaism

Edited and with a Preface by Michael Walzer
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: STU - Student edition
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Law, Politics, and Morality in Judaism
    Book Description:

    Jewish legal and political thought developed in conditions of exile, where Jews had neither a state of their own nor citizenship in any other. What use, then, can this body of thought be today to Jews living in Israel or as emancipated citizens in secular democratic states? Can a culture of exile be adapted to help Jews find ways of being at home politically today? These questions are central inLaw, Politics, and Morality in Judaism, a collection of essays by contemporary political theorists, philosophers, and lawyers.

    How does Jewish law accommodate--or fail to accommodate--the practice of democratic citizenship? What range of religious toleration and pluralism is compatible with traditional Judaism? What forms of coexistence between Jews and non-Jews are required by shared citizenship? How should Jews operating within halakha (Jewish law) and Jewish history judge the use of force by modern states?

    The authors assembled here by prominent political theorist Michael Walzer come from different points on the religious-secular spectrum, and they differ greatly in their answers to such questions. But they all enact the relationship at issue since their answers, while based on critical Jewish texts, also reflect their commitments as democratic citizens.

    The contributors are Michael Walzer, David Biale, the late Robert M. Cover, Menachem Fisch, Geoffrey B. Levey, David Novak, Aviezer Ravitzky, Adam B. Seligman, Suzanne Last Stone, and Noam J. Zohar.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2720-6
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)

    • 1 Obligation: A Jewish Jurisprudence of the Social Order
      (pp. 3-11)

      Every legal culture has its fundamental words. When we define our subject as human rights, we also locate ourselves in a normative universe at a particular place. The word “rights” is a highly evocative one for those of us who have grown up in the post-Enlightenment secular society of the West. Even those among us who have been graced with a deep and abiding religious background can hardly have escaped the evocations that the terminology of “rights” carries. Indeed, we try in this essay to take a little credit here and there for the luster that the edifice of rights...

    • 2 Judaism and Civil Society
      (pp. 12-33)

      There is no term for, much less a theory of, civil society in classical Jewish texts.¹ Rabbinic writers do not produce theories; they produce commentaries on a biblical or talmudic text, codes of law, and legal responsa. These sources, moreover, are extremely diverse, covering over two millenniums of history, and were for the most part generated in premodern exile, when Jews lacked a state of their own; lived in compact, internally autonomous, and religiously homogenous communities scattered across continents; and were segregated from general society legally, politically, and socially. Without a state of their own, and with little sense of...

    • 3 Civil Society and Government
      (pp. 34-49)

      Does the Jewish tradition have anything to say about civil society? The answer depends as much upon howcivil societyis defined as upon any investigation into Judaic sources. According to one rather strict conception, the entire notion of civil society—and the ideals, problems, and solutions attributed to it—is situated within the framework of modern ideologies of individualism and liberty. Insofar as traditional Judaism does not adopt this democratic stance, with its emphasis on individualism and liberty, it must regard the project and problematics of “civil society” as inherently alien.¹

      Now in fact I believe that the distance...

    • 4 Autonomy and Modernity
      (pp. 50-54)

      The relationship between state and civil society in the Jewish tradition is complicated by the factors that make Jewish history in many ways unique. Like Islam, the Jewish tradition is political in nature: its laws are intended to be the laws of the state. On the other hand, since Jews did not possess a state for most of their history, the political character of the tradition was necessarily circumscribed. As Noam Zohar argues in his excellent excursus, the semiautonomous communities in which Jews lived as early as the Greco-Roman Diaspora up until the nineteenth century combined many of the features...


    • 5 Land and People
      (pp. 57-82)

      The question of territorial boundaries has been ubiquitous in political discourse throughout history. That is because human life is inconceivable outside of a finite community and its structures. Those who do not need such a defined community are either gods or beasts, as Aristotle so well put it.¹ Now one of the structures of any such defined human community is the place that it occupies. One could very well say that even when a human community does not regard its present place of occupation as permanent (as has been the case with the Jewish people for much of her history...

    • 6 Contested Boundaries: Visions of a Shared World
      (pp. 83-95)

      The task of producing, from within the Jewish tradition, significant responses to a specific set of questions regarding territorial boundaries calls for extensive reexamination—and sometimes, imaginative extension—of traditional sources. Because of the character of Judaism as a religious tradition focused on one particular people, the analysis often appears to deal exclusively with Jewish or Israeli experience. But my intent, paralleling that of David Novak in the preceding chapter, is to draw insights from this experience that may be applied to a more general context. My remarks below—even where they take issue with Novak’s position—are deeply indebted...

    • 7 Diversity, Tolerance, and Sovereignty
      (pp. 96-120)

      Like all religions of long standing, Judaism does not speak in one voice, and perhaps never did—certainly not on the issues under consideration. It is customary to distinguish three major streams or movements within contemporary Judaism in the West—Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform—each standing for a cascade of further divisions. The three movements differ primarily in their attitude to halakah, the code of Jewish law. Whereas Orthodox Jews accept halakah as the first place of reference and sole arbiter of authority, Conservative Judaism sees halakah as a crucial source of value holding “a vote, but not a veto”...

    • 8 Responses to Modernity
      (pp. 121-127)

      As Menachem Fisch notes at the outset, Judaism does not speak with one voice. Indeed, it never has. In fact, as much as anyone, Fisch’s own work has shown how a polyphony of voices constitutes the core moment of the Jewish legal tradition. Furthermore, and in terms of our interest here, it is well to remember that Jewish Orthodoxy, which Menachem has decided to take up in his essay, emerged in the nineteenth century as a reaction to modernizing and pluralistic tendencies within Judaism. With the spread of emancipation and its deepening within society, Jews began to accommodate themselves to...

    • 9 Judaism and Cosmopolitanism
      (pp. 128-146)

      Before one can intelligently present a theological perspective on any matter of contemporary political discourse, he or she must first indicate how any theology, which stems from the perspective of a singularly constituted faith community, can possibly contribute to discussing any normative issue defined largely by those who do not share this faith or any faith. I think the answer to this question depends on how one views the role of religious tradition or traditions (the distinction will soon become evident) in post-Enlightenment secular societies. Here there seem to be four possibilities.

      One, any religious tradition could be regarded as...


    • 10 Commanded and Permitted Wars
      (pp. 149-168)

      There is no Jewish theory of war and peace, and until modern times, there were no theories produced by individual Jews. Discussions of war and peace indeed find a place, though a very limited one, within the Jewish tradition. One might even say that there is an ongoing argument, and I will try to describe its central features in this chapter. But the argument is at best tangential to, and often at cross-purposes with, standard just war theory and international law. Jewish writers argued almost entirely among themselves, in the peculiar circumstances of exile, without reference to any actually existing...

    • 11 Prohibited Wars
      (pp. 169-181)

      Michael Walzer’s chapter presents a comprehensive picture of the status of war, its limitations, and its manner of conduct, as reflected in central trends of the Jewish tradition. The chapter clearly explains the implications of the unique situation that has generated most of the relevant rabbinic literature, namely, a situation of exile (galut), in the absence of a sovereign Jewish state, in which Jewish communities had no political or military impact on international society. But Walzer’s discussion also reveals possibilities immanent in the classical religious sources, even if what these sources have to say on the subject is partial and...

    • 12 Judaism and the Obligation to Die for the State
      (pp. 182-208)

      Dying in the state’s behalf, and at its request, is a matter that one might expect to be of obvious concern to the Jews throughout their history. Twice in bygone eras (roughly 1000–586 B.C.E. and 140–63 B.C.E.), they have been ensconced in their own sovereign land faced with preserving that sovereignty against hostile neighbors and ambitious empires. Elsewhere, in the diaspora, they have been forced to define their relations and responsibilities to the host powers under whose authority they have variously been classed as aliens, residents, and citizens. And now, again, they are reestablished in their own sovereign...

  7. Contributors
    (pp. 209-210)
  8. Index
    (pp. 211-217)