Jewish Political Studies Review Abstracts - Volume 8, Numbers 1-2 (Spring 5756/1996)
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

Jewish Political Studies Review Abstracts

Volume 8, Numbers 1-2 (Spring 5756/1996)

"Judaism and Modernity"

Religion and Modernity in Our Day - Eliezer Schweid

In this essay a comparison is proposed between the positions of Jewish Orthodoxy in modernistic Western society before and after World War II. It is assumed that the differences arise as a result of major changes in the cultural nature of modernity. The differences are defined, and it is then claimed that they have led to a radical change in the role of all the Jewish modern Orthodox movements. (As a specifically successful example of integration between Orthodoxy and modernity before the war the changing role of the religious kibbutz movement is particularly examined.) The conclusion is drawn that the modern Orthodox movements can no longer function directly as "bridges" between the religious and the secularistic movements through their former types of synthesis between religiosity and modernity; therefore they seem to lose their position as a unifying factor in Israeli society and much of their influence. Moreover, since Orthodoxy must not pay in our day a visible outward price for its integration in modernity, in terms of faithfulness to the accepted halakhic norms, and since it must not respond to the spiritual challenges of modernity, it is paying an enormous inner price in terms of spiritual quality and cultural creativity. However, it is believed that the modern Orthodox movements can confront the challenges and regain their former position as "bridges," but only if they will dare to change their strategies and redefine their religious and cultural messages.

Halakhah - The Governing Norm - Gerald J. Blidstein

This article describes how halakhah functions as the normative component of Jewish life. It presents the modalities -- intellectual as well as social -- through which halakhah operates as well as sketching its general approach to the different topics it regulates. The method is phenomenological, though changes in historical reality are integrated into the presentation.

American Modernity and the Jews - Robert A. Licht

What is the place of religion in the American polity? Which view of this matter is good for America, and which for the Jews? This essay first elaborates the now-dominant libertarian vision of religion in the American republic, a view prevalent among Jews and endorsed by the Jewish polity, by means of a discussion and critique of Leo Pfeffer's God, Caesar and the Constitution: The Court as Referee of Church-State Confrontation. It is argued that the Constitution is improperly understood as a blueprint for a secular "open society," founded on the principle of radical individual autonomy, to be protected against both church and state by a supreme, rights-defending judiciary. Crucially absent is an account of the ever-necessary consent of the governed, a "second constitution," required not only at first to ratify the written constitution but continuously to command allegiance to the polity. The ruling opinions of the American people who consented to the Constitution combined biblical-Protestant notions of covenantal community built around common faith with natural-rights notions of individual liberty, notions tied to conflicting anthropologies -- one theological, the other philosophical -- each offering a different but equally cosmopolitan account of our humanity. The essay then traces the progressive shift in our ruling opinions, and shows how the unstable covenant built on these two cosmopolitanisms veers in the direction of libertarianism. It explores the meaning and dangers of the emergent hegemony of radical individual autonomy, with special attention to problems of civility, confused identity, arrested adolescence, loss of self-restraint, the intolerance of enforced respect, and, finally, fracture of the community into warring camps, religious and secular. The final section explores the future of the Jewish polity under these changed conditions. It argues that Jewish common opinions concerning anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, and the State of Israel are an insufficient basis for Jewish survival in an America governed by the now-ruling opinions of modernity. The well-being of Jews, both as Jews and as human beings, would seem to require a commitment to wisdom of the sort embodied in the practice of traditional Judaism.

Positivist Rhetoric and Its Functions in Haredi Orthodoxy - Alan J. Yuter

Haredi, or so-called "ultra-Orthodox," Jewry contends that it is the most strict and therefore the most authentic expression of Jewish Orthodoxy. Its authenticity is insured by the devotion and loyalty of its adherents to its leading sages or gedolim, "great ones." In addition to the requirements of explicit Jewish law, and, on occasion, in spite of those requirements, the Haredi adherent obeys the Daas Torah, or Torah views of his or her gedolim. By viewing Daas Torah as a norm within the Jewish legal order, Haredi Judaism reformulates the Jewish legal order in order to delegitimize those halakhic voices which believe that Jewish law does not require a radical countercultural withdrawal from the condition of modernity. According to Haredi Judaism, the culture which Eastern European Jewry has created to safeguard the Torah must be guarded so that the Torah observance enshrined in that culture is not violated.

Halakhic Interpretation from a Constitutional Perspective - Daniel J. Elazar

The breakdown of traditional Jewish society and belief has led to the need to find new common ground for halakhic interpretation if the Jewish people's halakhic framework is to be in any respect preserved in any reasonable manner. One possible way in which that might be done is by applying the canons of constitutional interpretation developed for modern constitutions, allowing for the differences between the comprehensive character of the Torah as constitution and the more limited character of modern frames of government. This article suggests six basic halakhic positions in the contemporary Jewish world that have brought us to where we are and then suggests a fourfold method of constitutional interpretation involving, in order, the plain or literal meaning of the constitutional text, the intentions of the text's framers, the accumulative interpretations of later legitimate interpreters subsequent to the framers, and the sense of what would fulfill the text's purpose in light of the present situation, while at the same time not doing violence to the text's plain sense and the intentions of the framers. After discussing all three in some detail in comparison with the interpretative processes applied to the modern constitutions, it concludes by discussing the interpretive debate surrounding these four elements as suggestive for the Jewish situation.