Jewish Political Studies Review Abstracts - Volume 3, Numbers 3-4 (Fall 5752/1991)
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

Jewish Political Studies Review Abstracts

Volume 3, Numbers 3-4 (Fall 5752/1991)

"Obligations and Rights in the Jewish Political Tradition"

Obligations and Rights in the Jewish Political Tradition: Some Preliminary Observations - Daniel J. Elazar

In the modern concept of rights developed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, variously formulated as "life, liberty and property" or "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," rights transcend civil society, which then translates them into constitutional, civil, criminal, and property rights. In contrast, the traditional Jewish view on rights is derived from the biblical sense of the obligation of all humans to God as their creator, sovereign, and covenant partner. Fundamental to the Jewish conception is the principle that God is the creator and sovereign of the universe, all of which ultimately belongs to Him including all life within it. What emerges out of the biblical approach are a series of protections and limitations which can roughly be translated into rights and obligations. While humans have nothing other than what God grants or covenants with them, as God's possessions no human instrumentality, certainly no state, can legitimately interfere with their God- given rights, liberties, protections, or obligations. While these may not be natural rights, there are fundamental rights in the sense that all humans are bound by covenant with God, at least through the Noahide covenant. These fundamental rights are in that sense constitutional or federal rather than inherent. A different agenda for the studying of obligations, rights, liberties, and protections must be developed to deal with classical Jewish thought and the subsequent Jewish experience.

The Political and the Sacred: Political Obligation and the Book of Deuteronomy - Harvey Shulman

The Book of Deuteronomy can be read and interpreted as a text with profound political implications. This essay attempts to read this text from the perspective of political theory, generally, and the Jewish political tradition, specifically. The approach followed is to examine the Book of Deuteronomy as it has been redacted, with little attention paid to its date of origin and deuteronomic scholarship, which sees the text through a theological prism.

The Right to Belief in Jewish Philosophy - Norbert M. Samuelson

This essay looks at two texts in Jewish philosophy -- one medieval and the other modern -- and summarizes the logical connections between schematic beliefs about the universe in terms of the physical sciences, ethics in terms of the human sciences, and the dynamically determined nature of Jewish faith. More fully discussed is the logical status of dogma in Judaism with respect to the right of the individual within the community to sincere belief. It is argued that, contrary to what is commonly believed by modern Jews, doxis has as central a role in defining Judaism as does praxis.

Individual and Community: Rights and Obligations as Reflected in Two Nineteenth Century Responsa - Ira Robinson

This essay examines the relevance of the responsa literature to the investigation of the issue of "individual and community" in modern times. It does so through an analysis of two nineteenth century Hungarian responsa, written by Rabbis Moses Sofer and Moses Schick. The analysis indicates that extra-halakhic considerations were introduced into the halakhic discourse in both cases. The ultimate decision in both responsa was largely determined by these extra-halakhic factors.

Haredi Conceptions of Obligations and Rights: Polish Jewry, c.1900-1939 - Gershon C. Bacon

In their speeches and articles, Orthodox politicians and pubicists in Eastern Europe devoted scant attention to the issue of individual rights. The author theorizes that, beyond a predilection in Jewish tradition for obligations rather than rights, the specific historical context of East European Jewry placed the major role in shaping Orthodox concepts of oligarchic rabbinic leadership. Long-term institutional factors, such as the nature of the Jewish communal structure and the strong influience of Hasidism in Eastern Europe, plus more immediate historical factors, such as the rise of secularist Jewish political parties, led to the development of the ideology of daat Torah. This doctrine posited a special kind of Divine inspiration with which great Torah scholars were endowed, which enabled them to find the correct solutions for political and social problems of the day. In such a dangerous era Orthodox voters should exercise their franchise to place into office those politicians willing to follow the directives of the rabbinic sages. The author notes that this doctrine, rather than disappear with the destruction of the large Orthodox communities of Eastern Europe in the Holocaust, has actually solidified into a functioning political myth which has much influence on the political scene in contemporary Israel.

Two Orthodox Jewish Theories of Rights: Sol Roth and Isaac Breuer - Alan Mittleman

Modern theories of rights assume the existence of autonomous individual persons who possess rights by the mere force of their personhood alone. Orthodox Jewish thinkers Sol Roth and Isaac Breuer contest the primitive original character of personhood in this sense. They assert that neither rights nor persons precede a social reality constituted by duties and obligations seeking to ground personhood in moral relationality rather than autonomy. Both thereby negate the modern project of ascribing rights.

Is There a Practical Way to Bridge the Gap Between Traditional Jewish and Modern Expectations of Rights and Obligations? - Daniel J. Elazar

In looking for a bridge between traditional Jewish and modern views of obligations and rights, we can turn to the tradition of federal liberty -- the liberty to live in accordance with the covenant to which one has consented -- as developed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by Reformed Protestant theo-political revolutionaries. Taking the biblical paradigm as the starting point, it is possible to suggest reconstruction of the modern rights model in line with ideas of federal liberty as follows: All human beings are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights -- e.g., life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness. All human beings are also created as social beings and as such must form communities and polities. The basic right of all humans connecting these two aspects of humanity is the right to covenant, which is both right and obligation. The exercise of all rights is through the covenants freely entered into by humans. Every individual human and every human community and polity lives within this network of covenants and only can find expression for rights within a network of covenants. Humanity is the sum of its obligations and rights, not to the state but to a transcendent and mutually accepted morality. Humans are free because only the free can be obligated to be moral and just and only by being obligated to strive to be moral and just do they find expression of their inalienable rights.