Jewish Political Studies Review Abstracts - Volume 6, Numbers 1-2 (Spring 5754/1994)
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

Jewish Political Studies Review Abstracts

Volume 6, Numbers 1-2 (Spring 5754/1994)

Max Weber's Conception of Covenant in Ancient Judaism, with Reference to the Book of Judges - Alan Mittleman

Max Weber provided an important methodological tool for the modern study of the Jewish political tradition: a predominantly socio-political analysis of Israelite covenants. Yet in emphasizing a functional analysis of covenanting, Weber problematized covenant as a theological concept. Arriving at an appropriate balance of political and theological elements in the analysis and interpretation of covenant is crucial to any adequate account of the Jewish political tradition. This essay offers an explication of Weber's views, a contemporary critique of them by Julius Guttmann, who was sensitive to the methodological problem, and a challenge to future writing on the Jewish political tradition.

John Selden and the Biblical Origins of the Modern International Political System - Abraham Berkowitz

John Selden, one of seventeenth century England's foremost jurists and legal scholars, wrote many monographs treating the interrelationship between the universe of the Hebrew Bible and that of contemporary Protestant Europe. As we demonstrate, Selden analogized relations among the states of Europe to relations among the biblical nations. Indeed, in defining and in applying the concept of sovereignty to the modern world, Selden relied heavily on the biblical ideal of artificial boundaries and separations in international relations, even locating the very origins of sovereignty in the biblical narrative's affirmation of the principle of boundaries. Most significantly, as we argue, in connecting the principle of sovereignty to the ideal of boundaries, Selden captured in geo-political terms the very essence of the Calvinist worldview, appropriated from the Hebrews and rooted in the austere monotheist system which they share. This system compels man to create artificial boundaries and separations in order to distinguish one entity from another as the only means for protecting the gulf between man and God.

According to Louis Henkin, Selden articulated in Mare Clausum a position that corresponded with England's political and economic interests during the early part of the seventeenth century. At that time, England was navally inferior to Holland, on whose behalf Hugo Grotius, the founder of modern international law, wrote Mare Liberum. Although, as James Brown Scott notes, Grotius' work was a refutation of Spain and Portugal's exclusive claims to the high seas, his arguments challenged as well England's claims to dominion over the high seas to its south and east. Thus, following the publication of Grotius' treatise, King James I commissioned Selden to present a response on England's behalf.

The politics surrounding Selden's Mare Clausum, indeed, the entire problem of the law of the high seas and territorial waters, is fundamental not only for establishing Selden's status as an important figure during the founding decades of modern international relations, but for validating the now ignored biblical origins of the modern international political system. As such, it is worth mentioning that Henkin describes the dispute between Grotius and Selden as "a famous controversy in international law," suggesting as well that Selden's line of reasoning resonated among his contemporaries. In other words, Scott's contention that Mare Clausum "has gone under...[because] is heavy and water-logged" is perhaps true only in part. Mare Clausum has gone under because it was sunk by a world unwilling to recognize the origins of its structure in the biblical principle of boundaries and separations.

Politics and Perfection: Gersonides vs. Maimonides - Menachem Kellner

Gersonides (1288-1344) is consistent in seeing the pure life of the mind as the highest end to which a human being can aspire. Maimonides (1138-1204) certainly presented the vita contemplativa as a crucially important goal but made room in his view of the perfected life for what we would call today statesmanship or politics. Gersonides' view is surprising because he refuses to follow the Platonists in their call for some sort of integration between the vita contemplativa and the vita activa, the Aristotelians who called for their separation, or ibn Bajja in his insistence that the philosopher withdraw from society.

Gersonides' singular view is delineated here by contrasting his positions on prophecy, the imitation of God, and especially the nature of the perfected life, with those of Maimonides. With respect to the latter, in particular, Gersonides held that the perfected life involved the study and teaching of the sciences. In teaching science one is actively imitating God. One seeks out students in order to imitate God (contra ibn Bajja); teaching those students is not the unintended consequence of one's own perfection (as with Maimonides) -- it is the very point of that perfection.

It is suggested here that Gersonides' unusual position on the place of politics in the perfected life reflects the Christian culture which apparently framed his universe of political discourse and it is to that culture, perhaps, that we should look in seeking to understand his unusual position.

The Third Charter of the Jewish Merchants of Venice, 1611: A Case Study in Complex Multifaceted Negotiations - Benjamin Ravid

For over twenty years, the Jewish "projector" Daniel Rodriga sought to convince the Venetian government that it could revive its declining commerce with the Levant, which had once been the source of the greatness of Venice, and thereby also greatly increase its diminishing customs revenues, by issuing a charter allowing Levantine and Ponentine Jews (the euphemism used for Iberian New Christians) to settle in Venice as Venetian subjects. Finally, in 1589, the Venetian government responded favorably, as the Senate approved, for ten years, a slightly changed version of a charter-text that Rodriga had proposed. The Venetian government was pleased with the results, and consequently, at Rodriga's request, it routinely renewed the charter for another ten years in 1598. Five years later, in 1603, Rodriga died, but the special privileges which he had secured for Jewish merchants in Venice were to remain in effect until the end of the Republic in 1797.

This article will examine the complex discussions and negotiations over the renewal of the second charter of 1598, which are of special interest because they yield considerable insight into many complex issues, including the general attitude of the Venetian government toward the Jewish merchants, the economic activities of the merchants, their relationships with the Jewish moneylenders living in Venice, the arrangements for their residence in the ghetto, and a sharp conflict regarding jurisdiction over them between two Venetian magistracies. Thus this article serves as a contribution to Jewish history, to Venetian history, and to economic history.

Jewish Responses to the Nazi Threat, 1933-1939: An Evaluation - Abraham J. Edelheit

The Nazi persecution of German Jewry between 1933 and 1939 elicited a strong response from virtually every corner of the Jewish world. Jewish responses were, however, limited by the political and economic weaknesses of diaspora Jewish communities at the time. Lacking a strong-willed defender, the Jewish communities were able to undertake only limited rescue actions. Moreover, even such actions as were undertaken elicited considerable differences of opinion among Jewish leaders and communal activists. This essay elucidates some of the options for action that were available to diaspora Jews in the 1930s, seeking to place the failure to rescue German (and later, European) Jewry into its proper historical and analytical context.

An Anthropological and Postmodern Critique of Jewish Feminist Theory - Maurie Sacks

Anthropologists believe that cultures operate as whole systems and that subsystems such as religions cannot be understood outside the context of the larger culture in which they operate. Religion, then, is simply an analytical category that bounds certain behavior clusters, but does not encompass the totality of a culture. Postmodernists espouse "a wariness toward generalizations which transcend the boundaries of culture and reason." Together, these two methods of inquiry suggest that it is not possible to separate religion from culture or knowledge from the particular "knower."

Postmodern thought insists attention be paid to multiple realities that exist on the ground in time and space. Applied to Jewish feminist scholarship, it demands that we understand the relationship between Jewish-American feminism and Judaisms (even feminisms) that exist, and have existed, in history. Postmodernism requires that we make contemporary Jewish feminism an object of study and relinquish the comfort of a "God's eye view" that privileges our ideal egalitarian Judaism as morally superior. This essay examines how anthropology has been developing a postmodern social science and how anthropological methods and thought have been useful in examining Jewish gender systems and Jewish feminist theory.