“Ideal” and “Real” in Classical Jewish Political Theory
April 2, 1990
This essay considers the degree to which Jewish political and legal theory allows? and, indeed, mandates ? the recognition that the Torah legislates an ideal law which is not appropriate for situations of social and political stress, and the degree to which such situations are really the historical norm rather than the exception. The Talmud, it is shown, adumbrates this concept, but in a fairly marginal form. Maimonides places it at center stage of societal governance, apparently expecting that a Jewish society will of necessity be thrown back upon this option; but he also suggests guidelines for its regulation.