Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Daniel Elazar Papers Index

Jewish Political Thought

Foundations of the Jewish Polity1

People and Polity: The Organizational Dynamics of World Jewry,
Chapter 1

Daniel J. Elazar

Jews can be fully understood only when they are recognized as members of a polity -- a covenantal community linked by a shared destiny, a promised land, and a common pattern of communications whose essential community of interest and purpose and whose ability to consent together in matters of common interest have been repeatedly demonstrated. In traditional terms, Judaism is essentially a theopolitical phenomenon, a means of seeking salvation by constructing God's polity, the proverbial "city upon a hill," through which the covenantal community takes on meaning and fulfills its purpose in the divine scheme of things.2 From a more secular point of view (if such a distinction can be made), Jewish peoplehood, has been the motivating force for communal life and creativity throughout the long history of the Jewish people. The power and pervasiveness of this force has certainly been demonstrated in our own time.

The Jewish polity has some special characteristics. It is worldwide in scope but territorial only in a limited sense. it is not a state, although a state is an essential part of it.3 It is authoritative but only for those who accept citizenship within it. It does not demand the exclusive loyalty of those attached to it, because many of its members share multiple loyalties.4 And, finally, it exists by virtue of a mystique, and orientation toward a future that looks to the redemption of humanity.

Preeminently, the Jewish polity survives because of the will of its citizens and their active application of that will to carve out an area of autonomous existence in the midst of peoples who would absorb or eliminate them.5 As it turns out, this is as true of Israel in its own way as it has been of the diaspora Jewish communities, just as it was true of all the earlier Jewish commonwealths.

It is always a mistake to underestimate the continuity of culture. Individuals are formed early in their lives by the cultures into which they are born. So, too, is a people. The seeds of whatever Jews are today were planted at the very birth of the Jewish people. Certain key characteristics visible then and deriving from those original conditions have persisted over time despite all the subsequent changes in the Jewish situation.

The Jewish polity is a product of a unique blend of kinship and consent. The blend is already reflected in the biblical account of its origins: a family of tribes that becomes a nation by consenting to God's covenant.6 (It should be noted that the term federal is derived from the Latin foedus meaning covenant.) It continues to be reflected in later biblical narratives.7

Postbiblical Jewish history gave the blend a new meaning. That Jews were born Jewish puts them in a special position to begin with, one which more often than not forced them together for self-protection. Yet sufficient opportunities for conversion, assimilation, or the adoption of a posture of simple apathy toward any active effort to maintain Jewish life were almost always available as options. The survival of organized and creative Jewish life, then, can only be understood in the light of the active will of many Jews to function as a community, in itself a form of consent ratified by repeated consensual acts over the millennia.

Beyond the sheer fact of communal survival, consent has remained the normal basis for organizing the Jewish polity. Jews in different localities consented (and consent) together to form congregations and communities -- in Hebrew the terms are synonymous.8 They did (and do) this formally through articles of agreement, charters, covenants, and constitutions. The traditional Sephardi term for such articles of congregational-communal agreement, askamot, conveys this meaning exactly. The local communities were (and are) then tied together by additional consensual arrangements, ranging from formal federations to the tacit recognition of a particular halakhic authority, shtadlan, or supralocal body as authoritative.9 When conditions were propitious, the de facto confederation of Jewish communities extended to wherever Jews lived. When this level of political existence was impossible, the binding force of Jewish law served to keep the federal bonds from being severed.

Covenantal Foundations

Jews have traditionally organized their communities into coherent bodies politic on a constitutional basis. In Jewish law, every Jewish community is a partnership of its members. There is no such thing as "the state" existing independently of the people in halakhah or Jewish tradition. The ultimate constitutional basis of that partnership is the original covenant establishing the Jewish people, the covenant that tradition records as having been made between God and the twelve tribes of Israel at Sinai. From that covenant came the Torah, the traditional constitution of the Jewish people.

When Jews speak of Torah, they do not refer to the five books of Moses alone but to the Torah as it has grown, with the Talmud added to it, with the interpretations and commentaries added to both, in the light of the historical experience of the Jewish people. Until modern times, nobody disputed the traditional constitution. Jews accepted the Torah. They may have argued over its interpretation, but they accepted it. And out of that acceptance the Jewish polity was given constitutional form.

A covenant is a morally informed agreement or pact between parties having an independent and sufficiently equal status based upon voluntary consent and established by mutual oaths or promises involving or witnessed by a transcendent authority. A covenant provides for joint action to achieve defined ends, limited or comprehensive, under conditions of mutual respect in a way that protects the respective integrities of all the parties to it. Every covenant involves consenting, promising, and agreeing. Most are meant to be of unlimited duration, of not perpetual. Covenants can bind any number of partners for a variety of purposes, but in essence they are political in that their bonds are used principally to create relationships best understood in political terms.

As much as covenant is a theological and a political concept, it is also informed by a moral or ethical perspective that treats political relationships in the classical manner. That is, it links power and justice -- the two faces of politics -- and preserves the classic and ancient links between ethics and politics. Again, the emphasis is on relationships rather than structures as the key to political justice. Structures are always important, but ultimately, no matter how finely tuned the structures, they come alive (or fail to) only through the human relationships that inform and shape them.

Covenant is tied in an ambiguous relationship to two related terms, compact and contract. On one hand, both compacts and contracts are closely related to covenant, and sometimes the terms are even used interchangeably. Moreover, covenantal societies tend to emphasize contractual arrangements at every level of human affairs. However, there are real differences between the three terms. Covenants and compacts differ from contracts in that the first two are constitutional or public and the last private. As such, covenantal or compactual obligation is broadly reciprocal; those bound by one or the other are obligated to respond to one another beyond the letter of the law rather than to limit their obligations to the narrowest contractual requirements. Hence, covenants and compacts are inherently designed to be flexible in some respects and firm in others. As expressions of private law, contracts tend to be interpreted as narrowly as possible as to what the contract explicitly mandates.

A covenant differs from a compact in that its morally binding dimension takes precedence over its legal dimension. In its heart of hearts, a covenant is an agreement in which a higher moral force, traditionally God, is either a direct party to or guarantor of a particular relationship. A compact, based as it is on mutual pledges rather than guarantees by or before a higher authority, rests more heavily on legal as well as moral grounding for its politics. In other words, compact is a secular phenomenon.

This is historically verifiable by examining the shift in terminology that took place in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Although those who saw the hand of God in political affairs as a rule continued to use the term covenant, those who sought a secular grounding for politics turned to the term compact. Though the distinction was not always used with strict clarity, it does appear consistently. the issue was further complicated by Rousseau and his followers, who talk about the social contract, a highly secularized concept, which, even when applied for public purposes, never develops the same moral obligation as either covenant or compact.

In its original biblical form, covenant embodies the idea that relationships between God and humans are based on morally sustained compacts of mutual promise and obligation. God's covenant with Noah (Genesis 9), which came after Noah had hearkened fully to God's commands in what was, to say the least, an extremely difficult situation, is the first of many examples. In its political form, covenant expresses the idea that people can freely create communities and polities, peoples and publics, and civil society itself through such morally grounded and sustained compacts (whether religious or otherwise in impetus), establishing thereby enduring partnerships.10

The covenantal approach is closely connected with constitutionalism. A covenant is the constitutionalization of a set of relationships of a particular kind. As such, it provides the basis for the institutionalization of those relationships; but it would be wrong to confuse the order of precedence. Again, the biblical model whereby a covenant provides the basis for constitutional government by first establishing a people or civil society which then proceeds to adopt a constitution of government for itself, is paradigmatic. Here the constitution involves the translation of a prior covenant into an actual frame or structure of government. Sometimes the constitution includes the covenant within it, serving both purposes simultaneously.

The American Declaration of Independence is an excellent example of a political covenant. The diverse inhabitants of the thirteen colonies reaffirmed that they consented to become a people. It was not without reason, therefore, the Abraham Lincoln fondly described the union created by that act as "a regular marriage."11 The partners do not unquestionably live happily ever after, but they are bound by covenant to struggle toward such an end, a commitment well understood and made explicit by Lincoln during the Civil War.

The covenantal approach not only informs and animates the Jewish polity but represents the greatest Jewish contribution to political life and thought. It is possible that covenant ideas emerged spontaneously in different parts of the world. If covenant thinking is rooted in human nature as well as nurture, it is to be expected that some people everywhere would be oriented toward the idea somehow. However, it is not sufficient for random individuals to be disposed to it for an idea to take root and spread. Somehow a culture or civilization must emerge that embodies and reflects that idea.

The first such civilization or culture was that of ancient Israel whose people transformed and perfected a device originally developed among the west Asian peoples who inhabited the area. The first know uses of covenant were the vassal treaties through which the empire builders of west Asia secured the fealty of lesser peoples and their domains through pacts secured by oath before their respective deities.12 These international or intra-imperial pacts laid out the form that covenants have taken ever since, which included five elements: a prologue indicating the parties involved, a preamble stating the general purposes of the covenant and the principles behind it, a body of conditions and operative clauses, an oath to make the covenant morally binding, and stipulated sanctions to be applied if the covenant were violated.

Either parallel to or derived from these ancient vassal covenants there emerged domestic political and religious usages of covenant. The two were connected in the bible to form the classic foundation of the covenant tradition.13 God's covenant with Israel established the Jewish people and founded it as a body politic, while at the same time creating the religious framework that gave that polity its raison d'etre, its norms, and its constitution, as well as the guidelines for developing a political order based on proper, that is, covenantal, relationships.

Biblical adaptation of the forms of the vassal covenants involved a transformation of the purpose and content so great as to mean a difference in kind, not merely degree. A covenant was used to found a people, making their moral commitment to one another far stronger and enduring that that of a vassal to an imperial overlord. The Bible draws a distinction between "sons of the covenant," bnei brit in Hebrew, and "masters of the covenant," ba'alei brit. Bnei brit is used where the covenant has created a new entity whose partners are bound together as siblings in a family. The covenant that unites and forms the Jewish people in the biblical account and in all later Jewish history makes all Jews bnei brit. However, where the term used is ba'alei brit the covenant is essentially an international treaty. It does not create a new entity, but establishes a relationship of peace and mutual ties between separate entities that remain separate for all purposes outside the limited-purpose pact.

This new form of covenant was understood to be not simply witnessed by Heaven, but as bringing God in as a partner, thus informing it with religious value and implication for the Israelites, who saw no distinction between its religious and political dimensions. The covenant remained a theopolitical document with as heavy an emphasis on the political as could be. The strong political dimension reflected God's purpose in choosing one people to be the builders of a holy commonwealth that would be a model for all others.

It was only later with the rise of Christianity and the beginning of the long exile of the Jews from their land that covenant took on a more strictly religious character for some, in which the political dimension was downplayed, if not downright ignored by Christian theologians on the one hand and diminished by Jewish legists on the other. Christianity embraced the covenant idea as one of its foundations but reinterpreted the old biblical covenant establishing a people and a polity to be a covenant of grace between God and individual humans grated unilaterally and mediated by Jesus.14 Jewish legists simply took the basic covenantal framework of Judaism for granted and concentrated on the fine points of the law as applied to daily living or the expected messianic redemption.15

In the Jewish world, the political dimension of covenanting received new impetus in the eleventh through fourteenth centuries to provide a basis for constituting local Jewish communities throughout Europe. That effort ran parallel to the establishment of municipal corporations throughout the continent, which were legitimized by royal charter, usually negotiated between the municipality and the throne.16

All this is well documented in Jewish sources. Because Jews were always moving, either by choice or by necessity, when they came to new places they had to organize communities, for Jews cannot function Jewishly without organized communities. It was to ease the process that model covenants for setting up communities and communal institutions came into existence. Thus Sefer HaShtarot (The Book of Contracts), a late eleventh or early twelfth century compendium of model laws (significantly, in the form of contracts) by Rabbi Judah HaBarceloni, a Spanish Jew, includes model laws for every contingency, all of which are in accord with the Torah, that is, constitutional.17 It is the first such compendium that we know of in Jewish history. Perhaps it is the first in history. It includes model covenants or contracts for establishing welfare societies, for organizing synagogues, for organizing assistance to widows and orphans, for establishing schools, and many others. Most especially, it includes a model covenant for establishing a kehillah, a local community whose preamble reads as follows:

We, the elders and leaders of the community of ________, due to our many sins we have declined and become fewer and weaker, and until only few have been left of many, like a single tree at the mountaintop, and the people of our community have been left with no head or nasi [magistrate] or head justice or leader, so that they are like sheep without a shepherd and some of our community go about improperly clothed and some speak obscenely and some mix with the gentiles and eat their bread and become like them, so that only in the Jewish name, are they at all different. We have seen and discussed the matter and we agreed in assembly of the entire community, and we all, great and small alike, have gone on to establish this covenant in this community.

The model covenant continues to describe how the community, by this action, establishes its right to enact ordinances, establish institutions, levy and collect taxes -- in short, carry on all the functions of a municipal government.

The principles of community enunciated in the forgoing document are clear. For the actions of a community to be legally binding in Jewish law, it had to be duly constituted by its prospective members, preferably through a constituent assembly and a constitutional document. They must be able to say that "we have met together as the elders, that we have discussed the matter, that we have agreed in assembly of the entire community." If these patterns were not followed the action would not be valid.

Covenant and the Origins of the Polity

Since its beginnings, political science has identified three basic ways in which polities come into existence: conquest, organic development, and covenant.18 These questions of origins are not abstract; the mode of founding of a polity does much to determine the framework for its later political life.

Conquest can be understood to include not only its most direct manifestation, a conqueror gaining control of a land or a people, but also such subsidiary ways as a revolutionary conquest of an existing state, a coup d'etat, or even an entrepreneur conquering a market and institutionalizing his control through corporate means. Conquest tends to produce hierarchically organized regimes ruled in an authoritarian manner: power pyramids with the conqueror on top, his agents in the middle, and the people underneath the entire structure. The original expression of this kind of polity was the pharaonic state of ancient Egypt. It was hardly an accident that those rulers who brought the pharaonic state to its fullest development had pyramids built as their tombs. Although the pharaonic model has been judged illegitimate in Western society, modern totalitarian theories, particularly fascism and nazism, represent an attempt to give it theoretical legitimacy.

Organic evolution involves the development of political life from its beginnings in families, tribes, and villages to large polities in such a way that institutions, constitutional relationships, and power alignments emerge in response to the interaction between past precedent and changing circumstances with the minimum of deliberate constitutional choice. The result it a polity with a single center of power, dominated by an accepted political elite, controlling the periphery, which may or may not have influence at the center. Classic Greek political thought emphasized the organic evolution of the polity and rejected any other means of polity-building as deficient or improper. The organic model is closely related to the concept of natural law in the political order. Natural law informs the world and, when undisturbed, leads to a kind of organic development, which, in turn, results in this model of the polity.

The organic model has proved most attractive to political philosophers precisely because, at its best, it seems to reflect the natural order of things. Thus it has received the most intellectual and academic attention. However, just as conquest produces hierarchically organized regimes ruled in an authoritarian manner, organic evolution produces oligarchic regimes, which, at their best, have an aristocratic flavor and, at their worst, are simply the rule of the many by the few. In the first, the goal is to control the top of the pyramid; in the second, the goal is to control the center of power.

Covenantal foundings emphasize the deliberate coming together of humans as equals to establish bodies politic so that all reaffirm their fundamental equality and retain their basic liberties. Polities whose origins are covenantal reflect the exercise of constitutional choice and broad-based participation in constitutional design. Polities founded by covenant are essentially federal in the original meaning of the term -- whether they are federal in structure or not. that is, each polity is a matrix compounded of equal confederates who come together freely and retain their respective integrities even as they are bound in a common whole. Such polities are republican by definition, and power in them must be diffused among many centers or the cells within the matrix.

Recurring expressions of the covenant model are found among the Jews, whose people started out as rebels against pharaonic Egypt; the Swiss, whose people started out as rebels against the Holy Roman Empire; and the Dutch, Scots and Puritans who rebelled against the Roman Catholic hierarchy in the Reformation era. In the modern epoch, republicans who were rebels against either hierarchical or organic theories of the state adopted the covenant model in one version or another. Frontiersmen -- people who have chosen to settle in new areas where there are no established patterns of governance in which to fit and who, therefore, have had to compact with one another to create governing institutions -- are to be found among the most active covenanters.

What is common to all political societies rooted in the covenant idea is that they have drawn their inspiration proximately or ultimately from its biblical source. There is evidence of other contractual or oath-bound societies and, of course, constitutionalism of various kinds exists outside the biblical tradition. But there is no evidence of any developed covenantal tradition that is not derived from the Bible.

The biblical grand design for humankind is federal in three ways. (1) It is based on a network of covenants beginning with those between God and man, which weave the web of human, especially political, relationships in a federal way -- through pact, association and consent. (2) The classical biblical commonwealth was a fully articulated federation of tribes instituted and reaffirmed by covenant to function under a common constitution and laws. Any and all constitutional changes in the Israelite polity were introduced through covenanting, and even after the introduction of the monarchy, the federal element was maintained until most of the tribal structures were destroyed by external forces. The biblical version of the restored commonwealth in the messianic era envisages the reconstitution of the tribal federation. (3) The biblical vision for the "end of days" -- the messianic era -- not only sees a restoration of Israel's tribal federation, but what is, for all intents and purposes, a world confederation of nations, each preserving its own integrity while accepting a common divine covenant and constitutional order. This order will establish appropriate covenantal relationships for the entire world. Although it shares many of the same positive ends, it is the antithesis of the ecumenical world state envisaged by the Roman and Christian traditions, which see the merging of everyone into a single entity. The biblical-covenantal-Jewish view sees peoples preserving their own integrities within a shared whole.

Covenant theory emphasizes human freedom because only free people can enter into agreements with one another. It also presupposes the need for government and the need to organize civil society on principles that assure the maintenance of those rights and the exercise of power in a cooperative or partnership-like way.

Covenantal (or federal) liberty, however, is not simply the right to do as one pleases within broad boundaries. Federal liberty emphasizes liberty to pursue the moral purposes for which the covenant was made. This latter kind of liberty requires that moral distinctions be drawn and that human actions be judged according to the terms of the covenant. This does not preclude changes in social norms, but the principles of judgement remain constant. Consequently, covenantal societies, founded as they are on covenantal choice, emphasize constitutional design and choice as a continuing process.

The Edah as a Classic Republic

The Jewish polity has followed the covenant model since its inception, adapting it to variegated circumstances in which Jews have found themselves over the millennia -- as a tribal federation, a federal monarchy, a state with a diaspora, a congress of covenantal communities, a network of regional federations or confederations, or a set of voluntary associations.

The classic Hebrew name for this kind of polity is edah. The edah is the assembly of all the people constituted as a body politic. Edah is often translated as congregation; that term has a religious connotation today that it did not have when introduced in sixteenth and seventeenth century biblical translations. Then it had a civil meaning as well. It was a "congregation -- an institutionalized gathering of people who congregate (come together) that meets at regular times or frequently for common action and decision making.19

In Mosaic times edah became the Hebrew equivalent of "commonwealth" or "republic," with strong democratic overtones. The idea of the Jewish people as an edah has persisted ever since and the term has been used to describe the Jewish body politic in every period to the present. In this respect, the term parallels (and historically precedes) similar phenomena such as the landesgemeinde in Switzerland, the Icelandic althing, and the town meeting in the United States.

The characteristics of the original edah can be summarized as follows:

  1. The Torah is the constitution of the edah.
  2. All members of the edah, men, women, and children, participate in constitutional decisions.
  3. Political equality exists for those capable of taking full responsibility for Jewish survival.
  4. Decisions are made by an assembly that determines its own leaders within the parameters of divine mandate.
  5. The edah is portable and transcends geography.
  6. Nevertheless, for it to function completely, the edah needs Eretz Israel.

These basic characteristics have been preserved with such modifications as were necessary over the centuries. This, in biblical times, taking full responsibility for Jewish survival meant being able to bear arms. Subsequently, the arms-bearing measure of political equality gave way to one of Torah study. Today the diaspora measure is contributing to the support of Israel, while arms-bearing is again the measure in Israel. The principles of assembly, leadership and decision making have remained the same although modes of assembling, leadership recruitment, and leaders' roles and responsibilities have changed from time to time. The portability of the desert-born edah is as notable a characteristic as is its attachment to Zion. The Torah has persisted as the edah's constitution albeit with changing interpretations.

The regime most common in Jewish experience has been the aristocratic republic, in the classic sense of the term -- rule by a limited number who take upon themselves an obligation or conceive of themselves as having a special obligation to their people and to God. For Jews, this has been manifested in some combination of a perceived obligation by those of greater status or wealth to utilize their privileged position to help other Jews and by those learned in Torah to serve the will of God by serving the community.

Jewish republicanism is rooted in a democratic foundation based on the equality of all Jews as citizens of the Jewish people. All Jews must participate in the establishment and maintenance of their polity, as demonstrated in the Bible -- at Sinai, on the plain of Moab, before Shechem, and elsewhere -- in Sefer HaShtarot, and in many other sources. Nor is that foundation merely theoretical; even where power may not be exercised on a strictly democratic basis, it is generally exercised in light of democratic norms.

There are problems associated with the use of these terms, but they do help us understand that the Jewish polity often has been governed by a kind of trusteeship. It is a trusteeship because the community is republican, because it is a res publica, a public thing or a commonwealth -- a body politic that belongs to its members. The Jewish people is a res publica with a commitment to a teaching and law, which its members are not free simply to alter as they wish but must be maintained to be faithful to principles.

The Western world today takes the republican revolution for granted. Yet the republican revolution was one of the great revolutions of modernity. It is the foundation of modern democratic government. The West pioneered in the idea and practice of republican government. The Jews were among the first many centuries ago. then came the Greeks and the early Romans. Except for a few outposts, including the Jewish kehillah, republicanism died under the realities of imperial Rome and medieval feudalism, replaced by absolutism. In modern times, a revolution was needed to restore the republican principle. Before the republican revolution, the prevailing view was that the state was the private preserve of its governors. When Louis XIV said "I am the state" he was articulating a classic antirepublican position.

The rise and fall of dictators in the Third World today shows the situation in a region that is in transition from prerepublican to republican government. It is no accident that most of the Arab states, after their revolutions in the 1950s and early 1960s, added the word "republic" to their new names, to signify that they sought to be part of the republican revolution. The Islamic world, far more than Europe, held to the notion for centuries that the organs of governance belonged to whomever held power. The people sought to stay clear of involvement with their governors. At best, the ruler was benevolent; he was Harun al-Rashid, who put on a disguise and wandered in the marketplace and, as he saw injustices, rectified them on the spot. He was a benevolent despot, but it was still despotism; it was not a republican government. More often than not, the despotism was just that, hence the postcolonial revolutions in the Arab world and the at least symbolic embracing of republicanism, which, in most Arab states, has yet to become real.

Still, an aristocratic republic always has a darker side in that it has a tendency to degenerate into oligarchy. the history of governance in the Jewish community ha been one of swinging between the two poles of aristocratic republicanism and oligarchy. Though this is a perennial problem, the basic aristocratic republicanism of the Jewish polity has worked equally well to prevent absolutism or autocracy.

The Jewish people rarely has had anything like dictatorship and then only locally and de facto under unique circumstances. Jews are notably intractable people, even under conditions of statehood where coercion theoretically has been possible; hence, dictatorship has not been an acceptable regime for Jews.

Nor have Jews in the past had anything like the open society of the kind envisaged by many contemporary Westerners, in which every individual is free to chose his or her own "life-style." One of the reasons for this is that being Jewish and maintaining the Jewish polity has not been simply a matter of survival. it has also been a matter of living up to specific norms based on divine teaching and law, which establish the expectation that private and public life is to be shaped according to that teaching and law.

The Three Arenas of Jewish Political Organization

From earliest times, the Jewish polity has been organized in three arenas. Besides the edah, or national, arena, there are countrywide or regional, and local arenas of organization. The immediately local arena comprises local Jewish communities around the world of varying sizes, under varying forms of communal organization. Whether we are speaking of Yavneh or Saragossa, Mottel or Chicago, the local community remains the basic cell of Jewish communal life. Here the institutions that serve the Jewish community are organized and function.

Beyond the local arena, there is a larger, countrywide arena in which the Jews in particular regions, countries, or states organize for common purposes. The organizational expressions of that arena have included such phenomena as the Resh Galuta (Exilarch) and Yeshivot of Babylonia, the Vaad Arba Aratzot (Council of the Four Lands) of late medieval Poland, the State of Israel, the Board of Deputies of British Jewry, and the congeries of "national" (meaning countrywide) organizations of American Jewry framed by the Council of Jewish Federations. Fund-raising for Israel, for example, depends on work in local communities but is generally organized in this second arena on a country-by-country basis.

Beyond the second arena, there is the third, that of the Jewish people as a whole: the edah. This arena was extremely weak for nearly a millennium but has been given new institutional form within the last century, most particularly in our time. The edah is the main focus of the reconstitution of the Jewish people in our time.

This threefold division into separate arenas of governance, once formulated in early Israelite history, has remained a permanent feature of Jewish political life. This is so despite frequent changes in the forms of organization of the several arenas and in the terminology used to describe them.

The Bible delineates the first form in which these three arenas were constituted. The edah was constituted by the shevatim (shevet, tribe), each with its own governmental institutions. Each shevet was, in turn, a union of batei av (bet av, extended household). After the Israelite settlement in Canaan, the most prominent form of local organization was the ir (city or township) with its own assembly (ha'ir) and council (sha'ar ha'ir or ziknai ha'ir).

Subsequently, in the local arena, just at the bet av gave way to the ir, the ir gave way to the kehillah (local community) wherever the Jewish population was a minority. The kehillah became the molecular unit of organization for all postbiblical Jewry, especially because new kehillot could be established anywhere by any ten adult Jewish males who so constituted themselves. Although the kehillah survives in the diaspora, in contemporary Israel, the local arena is once again governed by comprehensive municipal units -- cities or villages.

Similarly, the breakdown of the traditions tribal system (a phenomenon that long preceded the first exile) resulted in the replacement of the shevet by the medinah (properly rendered as autonomous jurisdiction or province in its original meaning), a regional framework, which embraces a congeries of kehillot that it unites in an organizational structure, as in Medinat Yehud (Judea in the Persian Empire). In the diaspora, the term medinah became almost interchangeable with eretz (country) to describe the intermediate arena, as in Medinat Polin (the organized Jewish community in Poland) or Eretz Lita (the organized Jewish community in late medieval Lithuania). In modern times, the term came to mean a politically sovereign state and is now used only in connection with Medinat Yisrael (the State of Israel).

The term edah, as an expression of the widest form of Jewish political association, retained its original usage unimpaired until transformed in colloquial modern Hebrew usage, where it came to denote a country-of-origin group in Israel. Occasionally, it was replaced by such synonyms as Knesset Yisrael. The edah managed to survive the division of Israel into two kingdoms, the Babylonian exile, and the Roman conquest of Judea by developing new forms of comprehensive organization. During the period of the second commonwealth (c. 440B.C.E. - 140C.E.) and again from the second to the eleventh centuries, it was particularly successful in constructing a fully-articulated institutional framework that embraced both Israel and the diaspora. The breakdown of the universal Moslem empire and the consequent demise of the edah-wide institutions of Resh Galuta and Gaonate in the middle of the eleventh century left world Jewry bereft of comprehensive institutions other than the halakhah itself. From then until the mid-nineteenth century, the edah was held together principally by its common Torah and laws as manifested in a worldwide network of rabbinical authorities linked by their communications (responsa) on halakhic matters.20

The Three Ketarim

Classically, leadership in the Jewish polity has been divided and shared among three domains known in Hebrew as the three ketarim (crowns): the keter torah, the domain of the Torah; the keter kehunah, the domain of the priesthood; and the keter malkhut, literally, the crown of kingship but more correctly understood as the domain of governance. Each of these ketarim has functions it must perform if Jewish life is to be complete; hence, all are necessary for the survival and development of the edah.21 There has never been a time when the edah has not in some way functioned through some kind of division of authority and powers among the three ketarim. This is not separation of powers in the modern sense. The ketaric division is for comprehensive polities which embrace more than the organs of government in the modern sense. Hence it comes prior to the executive-legislative-judicial division. Each keter combines a range of functions, institutions, and roles within its domain.

The keter torah embraces those who are responsible for the maintenance and application of the Torah, its laws, principles, and spirit in the life of the Jewish people and governance of the edah. Its roots go back to Moses, the first navi (prophet) and, as such, the first to bear that keter. After the age of prophecy, it passed to the soferim (scribes) and then to the Sanhedrin with its hakhamim (sages) and rabbis. In the traditional Jewish polity, its bearers functioned primarily as teachers and judges.

The keter kehunah embraces those who are responsible for the ritual and sacerdotal expressions of Jewish being, designed to bring Jews closer to Heaven individually and collectively (and hence to each other as Jews). From a public perspective, the functions of this crown play a major role in determining the fact and character of citizenship in the edah. Originally granted in the Torah to Aaron and his heirs, it is principally identified with the cohanim, but after the destruction of the Second Temple, its functions passed to other religious functionaries, principally hazzanim and, more recently, congregational rabbis, and generally were confined to the most local arena of Jewish organization.

The keter malkhut embraces those who are responsible for conducting the civil business of the edah: to establish and manage its organized framework, its political, and social institutions, to raise and expend the money needed for the functioning of the edah, and to handle its political and civic affairs. Although like the other, it is bound by the Torah-as-constitution, this keter has existed as a separate source of authority since the beginning of the edah, with its own institutions, responsibilities, and tasks. It is the oldest of the ketarim, emerging out of the patriarchal leadership of the original Israelite families. Later, it passed to the nesi'im (magistrates), shofetim (judges), and zekenim (elders), and then to the melekh (king). After the end of Jewish political independence in Eretz Israel, it was carried on by the Nasi (patriarch) in Eretz Israel and the Resh Galuta (exilarch) in Babylonia, the negidim of Spain, and the parnassim of the kehillot.

Thus, one of the ways in which Jews attempted to prevent the corruption of their governing bodies was through the division of powers in the polity. The legitimacy of the division is made explicit in many texts. For example, Bereshit Rabbah, the Midrashic commentary on the Book of Genesis, comments on the verse: "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his legs" (Gen. 49:10). According to the Midrash, the "scepter" is interpreted as the exilarchs in Babylon, who rule the people, Israel, with the stick; the "ruler's staff" are the patriarchs of the family of Rav, who teach Torah to the populace in the land of Israel.

Another explanation of the verse if offered: "The scepter is the Messiah, son of David (Mashiah ben David) who will rule over the kingdom, that is to say, Rome, with a stick. And the ruler's staff are those who teach halakhah to Israel." Even after the Messiah comes there will have to be a separation of powers, for even he is not to be trusted with all the powers alone. Even if he can rule over Rome, there still must be the great Sanhedrin to teach halakhah to Israel.

This traditional pattern underwent many changes in the modern epoch but continued to be the basic model for the edah and its kehillot, if only out of necessity because the classic division persisted in new forms. In the Western world in the nineteenth century, the institutions of the keter kehunah became stronger at the expense of the others as Jewish life was redefined under modernity to be primarily "religious," even as Jews ceased to rely on the Torah as binding law. The synagogues became elaborate institutions and their rabbis the principal instrumentalities of the keter kehunah. Today, however, the Jewish polity is in the midst of a resurgence of the keter malkhut. This is principally because of the reestablishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Israel, but it also reflects changes in the orientation of Jews in the diaspora.

The increasing narrowness of approach of the traditional bearers of the keter torah, coupled with the growing secularization of Jews which made that sphere and the sphere of keter kehunah less attractive to them, all contributed to this power shift. In the political world, that domain with the key to political power obviously had an advantage. In addition, as the other two domains were fragmented among different movements, each claiming to be authoritative, the keter malkhut became the only domain in which all groups would meet together, at least for limited political purposes, further strengthening the latter's position in the edah. These shifts in power are only several of many in the history of the edah, part of the continuing and dynamic tension among the ketarim.

The Constitutional Periodization of Jewish History

Implicit in the foregoing discussion and otherwise a matter of commonsense knowledge is that the edah has gone through periodic regime changes in the course of Jewish history. the key to understanding those changes is to be found in the patterns of constitutional development of the Jewish people and its polity. Indeed, it is possible to suggest that Jewish history can be read as the progression of the generations through a series of historical epochs, each marked by the unfolding and subsequent undoing of its own constitutional synthesis within the overall framework of the Torah, leading in turn to a new epoch and the necessity for a new constitutional synthesis. It has been the genius of the Jews as am and edah to keep the flow of generations intact via those periodic reconstitutions, through exile and dispersion. Hence the issue of constitutionalism and constitutional change is central to the study of Jewish political history in its entirety and provides a base for its periodization. Basically, this is because the Jewish constitution has differed from modern constitutions, most significantly because of its all-embracing character. It is not confined to the delineation of the political power of a secular society, but extends into virtually all phases of life. A study of constitutionalism in Jewish history, accordingly, must embrace far more than the record of specific fundamental political laws. A reconstruction of the communal constitution of any particular period of Jewish history must come to terms with the entire range of communal living during that time and thereby provide a framework that can encompass virtually all aspects of Jewish civilization.22

The Torah is, in this respect, both an exemplar and a touchstone. It contains all the characteristics of organic and all-embracing law; it has also (for the vast majority of Jewish history and by the vast majority of the Jewish people) been perceived to be of Divine origin. On both counts, the Torah must be regarded as the basic and foremost constitutional document of Jewish history. Its subsequent modifications and/or amplifications must, therefore, be considered to be necessitated by overwhelming pressures for constitutional change. All subsequent constitutional referents claim, whether explicitly or implicitly, to maintain the traditions embodied in the Torah; but all nevertheless do so in a manner which supplements and redirects the original in line with the pressures of contemporary conditions. The Mishnah, Gemara, and the great halakhic codes (to cite only a few such documents) thus constitute indices for the identification and analysis of such adjustments and an explanatory device for relating the change from one epoch to another. Indeed, the Torah-as-constitution can be understood as a kind of nucleus to whose original core have been added layers of additional material, each of which becomes compacted onto the original to the point where it is bonded to it permanently and there is no operational difference between earlier and later materials even where it is possible to distinguish between them.

At the same time, the Torah is a uniquely Jewish constitution in that it is first and foremost a teaching, as the word Torah itself indicates. Although binding on Jews through the Sinai covenant, as a teaching it is based on the recognition that, in a covenantal system, its binding character still requires consent. Jews must hearken to their constitutional teaching, and since hearkening begins with hearing, they must be rendered open to hearing. In Jewish tradition, this openness comes as a result of learning, not by nature or grace. This characteristic of the Jewish constitution is reflected, inter alia, in the use of terms which refer to teaching to describe the most important constitutional referents, e.g., Torah, Mishneh Torah (Deuteronomy), Mishnah, Gemara, Talmud.

The idea of Jewish history as constitutional history is not new, just as explicit reference to the Torah as the fundamental constitution of the edah is at least as old as Philo and Josephus.23 Applying this idea in the special way in which the constitution of the Jewish people embraces more than fundamental political law, it is possible to discuss meaningfully constitutions and constitutionalism in Jewish history. Indeed, the principal value of the constitutional approach to the study of Jewish history lies in its ability to provide a framework that can embrace virtually every aspect of Jewish life without either deemphasizing or overemphasizing the political dimension.

What is distinctive about this approach is its deliberate emphasis on the political facet of Jewish history. Accordingly, it is not bound by conventional historiographical categories. Most conspicuously is this so in the thorny matter of chronological divisions. The traditional breakdown into "ancient," "medieval," and "modern" periods is superseded by a more refined typology based on the rhythm of political life; so, too, is the less obtuse (but hardly more helpful) division into standard subperiods: "biblical," "postbiblical"; "talmudic," "posttalmudic"; "premodern," "modern," and the like.

Patterns of Constitutional Development

We begin, the, by distinguishing periods of constitution-making and constitutional change in the course of Jewish history on the basis of the Jewish response, or series of connected responses, to challenges from within or without the edah. In doing so, we can rely first on recognized constitutional texts and the benchmarks of Jewish political history and constitutional development, noting how they relate to one another. Out of those relationships temporal patterns emerge, with each period representing a particular rhythm of challenge and response. Once that rhythm is identified, the framework within which it moves -- and which it modifies -- can be identified as well. Each epoch is not only characterized by its constitutional synthesis but also by particular institutional expressions of that synthesis. Each is set off by founding, climactic, and culminating events which set its constitutional agenda, bring that agenda to whatever degree of fruition is achieved, and tie off the epoch's loose ends in such a way as to start the movement toward a new constitutional agenda for a new epoch.

Constitutions are changed or modified only as the necessity for change becomes overwhelming. In the Jewish polity this is particularly true because of the traditionally Divine nature of Jewish fundamental law. Hence these epochal transitions occur relatively infrequently. By tracing the subsequent constitutional modifications of the Torah which supplemented and redirected the original Torah in line with the demands of later ages, we posit that Jewish history can be divided into fourteen constitutional epochs, each of approximately three centurie's duration and each of which can be seen to possess a distinct political character of its own, as follows:

  1. Ha-Avot/The Forefathers c. 1850-c. 1570 BCE
  2. Avdut Mizrayim/Egyptian Bondage c. 1570-c. 1280 BCE
  3. Adat Bnei Yisrael/The Congregation of Israelites c. 1280-1004 BCE
  4. Brit ha-Melukhah/The Federal Monarchy 1004-721 BCE
  5. Malkhut Yehudah/The Kingdom of Judah 721-440 BCE
  6. Knesset ha-Gedolah/The Great Assembly 440-145 BCE
  7. Hever ha-Yehudim/The Jewish Commonwealth 145 BCE-140 CE
  8. Sanhedrin u-Nesi'ut/The Sanhedrin and the Patriarchate 140-429 CE
  9. Ha-Yeshivot ve Rashei ha-Golah/The Yeshivot and Exilarchs 429-748 CE
  10. Yeshivot ve-Geonim/Yeshivot and the Geonim 748-1038 CE
  11. Ha-Kehillot/The Kehillot 1038-1348 CE
  12. Ha-Va'adim/Federations of the Kehillot 1348-1648 CE
  13. Hitagduyot/Voluntary Associations 1648-1948 CE
  14. Medinah ve-Am/State and People 1948- CE

There are fourteen constitutional epochs of Jewish history as delineated in accordance with the above criteria. The thirteen epochs that have been completed were remarkably uniform in duration. Each epoch extended over nine historical generations (the years available to mature humans for participation in public affairs), between 25 and 40 years in length. The shortest epochs were approximately 280 years in length and the longest 320. This seems to indicate rise and decline of historical epochs within a similar general pattern. Each of these epochs corresponds with parallel periods of general history which had their impact on the Jewish people. but what is of the essence in this scheme is the Jewish response to whatever challenges are posed, external as well as internal. Indeed, its emphasis on the internal Jewish rhythm of events is one of the marks of its authenticity. Significantly, the patterns itself is suggested in the Torah, which marks off epochs on a similar basis, i.e., ten generations from Adam to Noah (nine preflood and then the generation of the new founding), ten more from Noah to Abraham, 322 years from the birth of Abraham to the death of Jacob, ten generations in Egyptian bondage, and ten more from Moses to David.

The Generational Rhythm

The structure of each constitutional epoch reflects the generational rhythm of human affairs. Man's own biological heritage provides him with a natural measure of time. We often use the concept of the generation in a commonsense way for just that purpose, as when we talk about the "lost generation" or the "generation gap." In fact, social time does move in sufficiently precise generational units to account for the rhythm of social and political action. If we look closely and carefully, we can map the internal structure of each generation in any particular civil society and chart the relations among generations so as to formulate a coherent picture of the historical patterns of its politics.24

During a period rarely, if ever, less than twenty-five and rarely, if ever, more than forty years, averaging thirty to thirty-five, most people will move through the productive phase of their life cycles and then pass into retirement, turning their places over to others. Every individual begins life with childhood, a period of dependency in which his role as an independent actor is extremely limited. Depending upon the average life expectancy of his society, he begins to assume an active role as a member of society sometime between the ages of sixteen and thirty -- at which point he has between twenty-five and forty years of "active life" ahead of him during which he is responsible for such economic, social, and political roles as are given to mature men and women in hi society. Sometime between the ages of sixty and seventy-five, if he is still alive, he is relieved of those responsibilities and is by convention, if not physically, considered ready for retirement.

Human political life reflects this generational pattern on both an individual and a collective basis. Because political beginnings occur in history from time to time, they establish a much greater regularity of generational succession in social and political life than the random processes of human biology. Biology taken alone should lead to a constant "changing of the guard" because births and deaths constantly occur. In fact, the biological basis for the progression of generations is modified by historical and social processes -- what may be termed factors of geo-historical location. These regularities reflect the influence of founding -- of peoples, civil societies, and polities -- on human events. Stated simply, foundings as beginnings establish a more or less orderly pattern of generational succession because founders are generally people at the threshold of their public careers. In the course of founding the new entity, they not only establish the institutions, offices, and roles to be filled but become the first incumbents, remaining in those positions of authority and power until retirement, a generation later. Only when they vacate their positions can a new generation occupy them and, since they generally start together, their retirement tends to come at the same time, thereby opening the way for beginning the process all over again. Given sufficient data, we could probably trace the generational cycles and patterns back to the very foundations of organized society. In the United States, for example, a society whose foundings are recorded in detail, we can do just that.

Each new generation to assume the reins of power is necessarily a product of different influences and in a historical society (as distinct from a preliterate or primitive one), is shaped to respond to different problems, heightening the impact of the change and encouraging new political action to assimilate the changes into their lives. At the same time, the fact that three or (at the most) four biological generations are alive at any given time creates certain linkages between generations (e.g., the influence of grandparents on grandchildren) that ensure a measure of intergenerational contacts and social continuity and also help shape every generation's perception of its past and future.

Here we come to the linkage between generations of people and generational patterns of events. Individual generations not only have their own integrity but combine to become the building blocks of historical epochs. Each epoch follows a process of constitutional development which parallels the intragenerational process of political change. A review of Jewish constitutional history indicates how this process works. A specific constitutional framework -- at first the Torah and in subsequent epochs structured elaborations or restatements of the Torah -- emerges at the beginning of the epoch, based on a Jewish response to the needs of the age and locale, usually embodied in a critical series of events. With the exception of the second, each of the first seven epochs was inaugurated in its first generation by a formal covenant involving the people, their leader or leaders, and God, which, beginning with Epoch III, was then followed (approximately a generation later) by the acceptance of a text of constitutional character. All but one of the next six epochs were inaugurated by the introduction of a code in some form. This constitutional framework becomes the basis for action and interpretation during the historical period in which it is dominant. The epoch itself unfolds through a series of generations until, about midway through it, a generation of climactic events occurs. Those events bring out the character and thrust of the epoch and usually are of constitutional significance. The remaining generations in the epoch basically follow the patterns established by the climactic events and the entire epoch comes to an end with a series of culminating events.

Epochs, Covenants, and Constitutions in Ancient Israel

1. Ha-Avot Brit bein ha-Betarim
(Abraham's Covenant)
2. Avdut Mizrayim - Masoret he-Avot
(Patriarchal Tradition)
3. Adat Bnei Yisrael Brit Sinai
(Sinai Covenant)
Torat Moshe
(Mosaic Law)
4. Brit ha-Melukhah Brit between David and Am before God Torat Moshe and Mishpat ha-Melekh
(Law of Kingship)
5. Malkhut Yehudah Covenant renewed on Pesah by Hezekiah Torat Moshe and Mishpat ha-Melekh and Prophetic works
6. Knesset ha-Gedolah Amanah (Covenant) of Ezra and Nehemiah Torat Moshe and Takkanot Ezra ve-ha-Soferim
(Ordinances of Ezra and the Scribes)
7. Hever ha-Yehudim Brit between Simon the Hasmonean, the Zekenim, and the Am Torat Moshe and Torah she-b'al Peh (Oral Torah)

During the epoch, a body of interpretations of the Torah, as understood through the constitutional framework established at the epoch's beginning, is developed, reaching its apogee in the climactic generations and thereafter. Then after some three hundred years, new challenges of time and place demand a more thorough revision of the framework. Utilizing the body of interpretations developed since the preceding constitutional revision (some of which already set forth guidelines for the new era), a revision emerges that provides a basis for meeting the new conditions. Then the process begins again. In the course of the epoch, each new revision becomes universal in its application, not confined to the part of the world in which it originated. So far as the local differences need to be considered, they are provided for in the interpretative process, but within the constitutional framework of time.

The Epochs in Outline

The first two epochs, which are by far the most obscure, reflect the biblical traditions of the Patriarchs and the Egyptian bondage. The first (roughly the nineteenth-sixteenth centuries BCE) begins with the covenant with Abraham which marks the first emergence of the Jews as a distinctive entity and culminates with the descent of Jacob's family into Egypt. Under this original covenant, it might be said that the family which later became the Jewish people first began to function as Jews. The operative elements of the constitution were probably an unwritten set of tribal traditions rather than a written code. This does not lessen its importance as a fundamental organic law which could be, and was, applied and developed as the basis of Jewish life until the time of Moses and the Exodus. The second (roughly the sixteenth-thirteenth centuries BCE) embraces the generations of slavery in Egypt where the descendents of Jacob retained their identity and traditional tribal organization.

The third epoch (c.1280-1000 BCE) marks the emergence of the Jewish people in its first "national" stage, as an edah -- a tribal confederacy -- and as a religious civilization based on a fundamental organic law, or constitution, the original Mosaic Torah (Torat Moshe) that was promulgated at Sinai after the covenant there. Under Torat Moshe, the Jewish people conquered Canaan, became conscious of a basic common identity and destiny, and embarked on the road toward national unity under the monotheistic Jewish religious civilization with all that it entailed.

The fourth epoch (1000-722 BCE) begins with the emergence of the first major revision of the Mosaic constitution, the establishment of a federal state under a constitutional monarchy at the time of David. The constitutional form used in this period was the covenant between the people through their tribes and the king before God. Apparently, each new ascendant to the throne had to bind himself to maintain that covenant, which was designed, among other things, to protect the Torah as constitution and the traditional liberties of the tribes.

The division of the kingdom after the death of Solomon changed the framework of the monarchic covenant but did not change its basic constitutional form, particularly since both David and Solomon actually reigned over two separate entities, Judah and Israel. The monarchic constitution continued as a dual one, as it were, existing as the organic law of two related kingdoms, with each developing its own operational variants (e.g., dynastic consistency in Judah). The Bible itself provides illustrations of how the common heritage of the Jewish people was maintained in the twin kingdoms.

The real end of the fourth epoch came with the destruction of the northern kingdom and the formal end of the tribal confederacy. In the southern kingdom, the Davidic dynasty was completely entrenched in a unitary state, whose boundaries were extended by Hezekiah and his successors to include significant portions of Israel. Hezekiah himself acted to reunify the people through a renewal of the Pesah (Passover) observance in Jerusalem, a covenantal act. The consolidation of the monarchy and the centralization of political power coincided with the rise of the prophetic tradition in its second form, as a counterweight to king, court, and temple. It was this somewhat revised prophetic tradition which was used by the prophets to review and modify the revised organic law, establishing the fifth epoch (721-440 BCE) as the period in which the Prophetic Torah took form.

The climactic event of the fifth epoch was the Josianic Reform. This important event followed on the heels of a period in which the old constitution had been persistently violated and even abandoned by the powerholders in Judah. It involved a recovenanting between the king, the people, and God under the auspices of the high priest. When the opportunity came for the restoration of the fundamental law, its restorers were able to capitalize on the chaotic situation to revise the constitution so as to include the body of prophetic doctrine that had been progressively developed under the Prophetic Torah. The account of this constitutional reform is embodied in the biblical discussion of the rediscovery of the Book of Deuteronomy. It was this Deuteronomic constitution, as interpreted by the later prophets, which formed the basis for the maintenance of Jewish national existence during the transition from a rooted nation in Judea to an exiled people in Babylonia and back to a new form of nationhood in Judea again. Constitutionally, then, the destruction of the Temple did not mark the end of the epoch. Rather, it enabled the prophets to establish their constitution more firmly without the heavy counterweights of an enthroned king and a temple. The offices of king and high priest continued to exist in exile but lost most of their real power.

It was only with the restoration of the national home in Judea under Persian rule that conditions became sufficiently different from those of the previous epoch to require another constitutional revision, particularly once it became clear that the monarchy would not be restored. Ezra and Nehemiah introduced a fourth revision of the fundamental law as embodied in the Torah and in doing so formally brought the Jewish people into a sixth historical epoch (440-145 BCE). Its founding act was the Sukkot (Tabernacles) covenant described in the Bible. The body of interpretations that had developed around the Deuteronomic Constitution to enable it to meet the new national needs was incorporated into the new framework, which was further developed through the takkanot (ordinances) of Ezra, the soferim (lit. "scribes"), and the Knesset ha-Gedolah (Great Assembly). Under the Ezra Torah, new approaches and interpretations were developed to make possible the preservation of the greatest degree of Jewish autonomy feasible under foreign imperial rule.

This constitution and its practical application were sufficient until the Seleucid oppressions that led to the Hasmonean Revolt. That event was, in great part, the result of a constitutional crisis stemming from the attempt by the Seleucids and the Hellenizing Jews to substitute the constitution of a Greek polis for traditional Jewish organic law. In the process of overthrowing Seleucid domination and reestablishing an independent Jewish commonwealth, the sixth modification of the Jewish constitution emerged, established by Simon the Nasi by covenant with the people as described in 1 Maccabees, marking the beginning of the seventh epoch in Jewish history (145 BCE-140 CE). This was the era of the Hasmoneans and the tannaim. It was marked by Hasmonean political control so long as Jewish independence continued and the rise of the several Tannaitic parties (the Hasidim, the Pharisees, etc.) to a position of power in national life and particularly in regard to the constitutional process. By the time the monarchs of the Hasmonean dynasty ceased to reign (some time after they had ceased to rule), Jewish organic law was well concentrated in the hands of the tannaim (lit. "masters of teaching"), particularly as they were constituted in the judicial-legislative body know as the Sanhedrin. The political upheavals of the epoch led to various regime changes during its course and had far-reaching constitutional implications for the Jewish people. Nevertheless, they were tied together by a coherent and continuous constitutional superstructure throughout.

In this respect, the destruction of the Second Temple may have been the climactic event of the epoch, but was not, in itself, a constitutional change. It provides a good example of how, within the general framework of every epoch, there occur historical events of the highest significance. It is only when such events and the developments surrounding them significantly alter the framework itself that constitutional revision becomes necessary and a new period can be said to replace the old one. Events such as the destruction of the Temple must be understood in that context, even if that reduces their dramatic quality somewhat.

The seventh epoch lasted until the Bar Kokhba revolt put an end to the possibility of a Jewish state, even within the framework of the Roman Empire. At that time, the interpretations of the tannaim were put into a systematic framework by R. Akiva which became the basis of the Mishnah, which was added to the corpus of Jewish constitutional law early in the eighth epoch (140-429 CE). The new epoch under the Mishnaic constitution featured rule by the Nesi'im (mistranslated Patriarchs) and the Sanhedrin. During this epoch, the Jewish community in Eretz Israel came under Byzantine control and began to decline. The Mishnaic constitution served as the basis which eased the transfer of the center of Jewish life and authority to Babylonia and whose interpretations in the process led to the compilation of the Gemara.

The abolition of the office of Nasi marked the end of the eighth epoch, while the compilation of the Gemara (c. 500 CE) ushered in the ninth (429-748 CE). During the more than three hundred years of this epoch, the definitive text of the Talmud was completed and was applied in a new way, to a diaspora-centered Jewish national life. The completion of the Talmud marked the last all-embracing textual change in the constitutional documents. Subsequent epochs are marked by the development of codes based on the Talmud that included progressively less in the way of basic constitutional modifications.

The first of these periodic codal revisions was embodied in the two codes compiled in the middle of the eighth century in Babylonia, the Halakhot Pesukot and the Halakhot Gedolot. These two codes have been overlooked as constitutional documents. Despite their modest character as codes, they mark an epochal change in the character of constitutional revision, initiating a thousand years of codes. With them, the period of debate over fundamentals seems to have ended. As the national homeland became more a memory of the past and a hope for the future only, the Jewish constitutionalists felt the need for definitive statements, not permissive discussions. They represent the first constitutional revisions based entirely on a diaspora-centered Jewry, encompassing the interpretations of the early talmudic period and preparing the way for the epoch of the Geonim and Yeshivot (c.748-1030 CE). Hence, for the first time, the laws concerning Eretz Israel are omitted while the 613 commandments first appear in that form.

European Jewry, which inherited the mantle of leadership from the Babylonian community, was the source of the next major constitutional revision, which came in the middle of the eleventh century. The first landmark of this revision, which also marked the beginnings of the middle talmudic period, was the Safer ha-Halakhot of R. Isaac Alfasi, the first comprehensive codification of Jewish law. The epoch's high point was marked by the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides and the controversy surrounding it. This eleventh epoch lasted from 1038 to 1348 CE.

This epoch brought with it the development of the kehillah and a set of constitutional devices used throughout European Jewry to provide a basis for Jewish self-government in the absence of overarching national or even regional political institutions. One of the principal constitutional devices to emerge was the rabbinical responsum as a vehicle for constitutional interpretation. Both were authentically Jewish responses to the new conditions of the High Middle Ages in which the Jews found themselves. In principle, each new kehillah was organized as a partnership with the authority of a bet din (court authorized to enact ordinances) on the basis of a local covenant which followed a standard halakhic mold.

The twelfth epoch (1348-1648 CE) began with the communal reconstitutions required in the aftermath of the dislocations generated by the Black Death (1348). The principal documentary expressions of the new constitutional epoch were the Arba'ah Turim, which established the organization used in all subsequent codifications, including the Shulhan Arukh, and the codification of communal ordinances in Spain which brought together the basic constitutional framework for Jewish self-government. The Iberian expulsions represented its climactive events. They actually infused new life into Sephardic Jewry, which created its own diaspora including the centers in Safed, Salonika, and Constantinople. By the late seventeenth century, however, the real decline did set in. From that point on, the leadership of world Jewry began to pass to the Ashkenazim.

The culminating events of the epoch revolved around the Sabbatean movement, which brought an end to medieval forms of messianism, on one hand, and opened up new avenues for the succor of individual Jews in new lands, on the other. This transition was marked by another constitutional revision, the last to take place fully within the traditional halakhic framework. It signified the beginning of the thirteenth epoch in Jewish history (1648-1948 CE), parallel to the modern epoch in world history. Though it is common to date modern Jewish history from the middle of the eighteenth century, a closer examination of the history of recent centuries strongly indicates that a more accurate reckoning will place the change in the middle of the seventeenth century, when the Jews began to enter western society. Its culmination is to be found in the Holocaust and the rise of Israel.

The completion of the Shulhan Arukh by R. Joseph Caro and the Mapah, its Ashkenazic modification, by R. Moses Isserles in the latter quarter of the sixteenth century provided the code for the new epoch, for those who remained within the fold of tradition. These twin documents also marked the culmination of significant constitutional revision in the halakhic pattern since they virtually abolished the amending process. This closed pattern was reflected in the period it served, both in the normative Judaism of the era and its challengers. One result of this was that, parallel to the continued life of the majority of Jews, Sephardim and Ashkenazim alike, within the framework of halakhah, there emerged a growing share of world Jewry who lived outside the framework of halakhah and who had to be bound to the Jewish community, if at all, by different constitutional devices and forms. Emancipation, the climactic event of this period, provided the new direction for more and more Jews. Moreover, the emancipated Jews increasingly dominated the cutting edge of Jewish life.

The rise of modern Zionism provided the basis and the actions necessary for the task. In bringing together the various currents of the nineteenth century and providing a means for reconstitution of the Jewish people in a meaningfully Jewish way to meet the challenges of the modern age, the Zionist movement initiated a constitutional revolution that is still under way. The establishment of the State of Israel marked the initiation of a new constitutional and historical epoch in Jewish life, parallel to the postmodern epoch in world history which began at the same time. For the first time since the collapse of the Second Commonwealth, the basis for inclusion in the Jewish body politic was something other than halakhah; in this case it became Jewish peoplehood.

It is not yet clear what kind of constitution will emerge from the revolution, but it is likely to take the form of a new covenant of peoplehood. It is not likely to turn on a single constituting event or written document. Rather it is developing through a series of pacts and procedures which are already becoming identifiable and are govern expression through a developing institutional framework. The results produced by the application of this new constitution already are visible in Israel and the world Jewish community. Today we are living in the early stages of the fourteenth epoch of Jewish history, a period which shows every sign of being one of great constitutional and historical change. Nevertheless, revolutionary as it may be, it involves a revision, not an abandonment, of the old constitution.

Representative Government in the Edah

Representative government in the edah subsequent to the biblical period represents, in many respects, a continuing effort to maintain ancient forms of participation in new guises, forms that have disappeared in other modern polities and are only now beginning to change for the edah. The basis of governance in the original edah (ca. 1280-1000 B.C.E.) was the assembly of all its citizens for covenanting and other fundamental constitutional questions, all adult males for deciding basic policy questions (such as declarations of constitutionally permitted wars), and the tribally selected nesi'im on an ad hoc basis for special tasks and a permanent basis for continuing ones. Governance between edah-like assemblies was in the hands of notables designated apparently by some form of consensus, based on the recognition of some families as leading ones. By the time of the institution of kingship (1000-722 B.C.E.), it was already apparent that the edah no longer attempted to assemble as a whole, although there were still assemblies of notables drawn from all the functioning tribes to play the role of the assembly of the whole. This system may have persisted in Judah after the fall of the northern kingdom (ca. 721-440 B.C.E.) -- evidence is scanty -- with assemblies of the Am Ha-aretz (literally, the people of the land), consisting of local notables replacing assemblies of tribal leaders.

When Ezra and Nehemiah reconstituted the Jewish polity (ca. 440 B.C.E), most of world Jewry continued to live outside Eretz Israel; hence assembly of the entire edah was impossible even in theory. It was then that a system of virtual representation was formally introduced through the establishment of the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah (Men of the Great Assembly), which assembled in Jerusalem. This new body was comprised of 120 members symbolically representing a minyan (quorum of ten) from each of the twelve tribes and, hence, the edah as a whole, a sign that virtual representation was the intent behind its formulation. It was really composed of people who lived in Judah plus one or two members from the communities of the exile who came to settle in Judah and could be added to the body, who spoke for the rest of the edah. The transportation technology at the time made any other system impossible.

This system of virtual representation continued through the next nine hundred years of Jewish history, even after the diaspora Jewish communities developed fully articulated governing institutions of their own. The only changes were that in some periods there was regularized representation from the diaspora in the edah's sitting decision-making body, located in Jerusalem until 70 C.E. and subsequently in other parts of Eretz Israel. It ended only with the abolition of the Nesiut (patriarchate) by the Romans, ca. 429 C.E.

The yeshivot (another synonym for assembly) in Babylonia continued this pattern when power passed to them. They became the virtual representatives of the edah in its rule-making and adjudication functions, paralleling the Rosh HaGolah (exilarch), who was the edah's chief magistrate. The yeshivot continued the tradition of bringing in people from around the Jewish world to the extent possible on a voluntary, personal choice basis, consisting of those who decided to come, study, and stay. This arrangement persisted for six hundred years, until the system was disrupted by the abolition of the office of Rosh HaGolah in 1042 C.E.

After that, the edah was unable to sustain equivalent common institutions, surviving as a communications network for halakhic decision making through correspondence rather than an assembly. Political organization was confined to local, countrywide, or, in rare cases, multicountry regions. Hence the system of virtual representation existed in principle rather than practice. The structure of the edah changed during the next nine hundred years, being expressed through a handful of notable halakhic figures whose decisions gained edah-wide acceptance or a handful of shtadlanim whose influential services were recognized edah-wide.

The problems of transportation and communication encountered by Ezra and Nehemiah in the fifth century B.C.E. remained unchanged until well into the nineteenth century C.E. At times, deterioration of conditions made the problems even greater. Not until the development of the steamboat, railroad, and telegraph did new technology make continental and intercontinental links feasible.

It was not until the World Zionist Congress (WZO) in 1897 that an effort was made to establish a body representative of the edah in modern terms: through constituency elections of delegates to a worldwide congress in which all communities were potentially if not actually to be represented. Since that time, there has been a striving to establish such institutions. The WZO was and is a membership organization. It became worldwide in scope but never embraced a majority of the edah as members. The World Jewish Congress, established in 1936, tried to overcome that problem by being based on country affiliates, the major representative bodies from each countrywide Jewish community. However, its strength was and is concentrated in Europe and Latin America with very limited presence in the world's largest Jewish communities -- the U.S., Israel, the Soviet Union, and France.

Framing organizations were established in the local and countrywide arenas by the end of the modern epoch or during the first generation of the postmodern epoch as a culmination of the modernization process. They were accompanied by a general revolution in transportation and communications based on air travel and the airwaves. Jews are now engaged in the reestablishment of effective, continuing edah-wide framing institutions, principally through the reconstitution of the Jewish Agency and the WZO. Because transportation and communication technologies now permit this, it is likely that something serious will come out of the effort. Nevertheless, this will not be the whole story, for there are structural limitations to the degree to which formal representatives of all segments of the edah can assemble on a regular basis. Thus we are returning to the situation of ancient Israel but on a worldwide scale. Leading figures representing the elements of the edah come together at regular intervals and are involved in consultations in between; but the day-to-day business is still conducted by virtual representatives, including people co-opted into the governing circles who might not be formally chosen through the standard processes because of their proximity or their wealth.

It should be noted that the effort to reconstitute the Jewish Agency as an edah-wide instrument was not initiated without a struggle. Initially, the reestablished State of Israel was viewed by many, especially Israelis, as the sole institutional embodiment of the edah. Hence the Israeli Knesset was established with 120 members in imitation of Anshei Knesset HaGedolah and with the clear intention of being the virtual representative of all world Jewry because of its constituent position as the center of authority in the Jewish state. This did not happen because the diaspora would not -- could not -- accept the Israeli legislative body as its spokesman; hence there was the need to go back to the WZO/Jewish Agency to develop a more broadly representative body, though one in which Israel would play the leading role.

Jewish Communities in the Modern World

The Jewish polity has undergone many changes since its inception somewhere in the Sinai Desert but none have been more decisive than those that have affected it in the past three centuries.25 The inauguration of the modern epoch, born out of the revolution in science, technology, politics, economics, and religion that cause the Western world to take a radical turn in the mid-seventeenth century, initiated a process of decorporatization of Jewish communal life that gained momentum for the following two centuries.26 Jewish corporate autonomy, a feature of diaspora existence in one way or another since the Babylonian settlements are all products of the modern epoch. World War I brought down the last remnants of that kind of autonomy in Europe, where it had been on the wane for two centuries. Only in certain of the Muslim countries did the old forms persist until the nationalist revolutions of the period after World War II eliminated them.

Decorporatization -- perhaps denationalization is a better term -- brought with it efforts to redefine Jewish life in Protestant religious terms in western Europe and North America and socialist secular ones in eastern Europe and, somewhat later, in Latin America. In Europe the process was promoted from within the Jewish community and without by Jews seeking wider economic and social opportunities as individuals and by newly nationalistic regimes seeking to establish the state as the primary force in the life of all residents within its boundaries. In the Americas, it came automatically as individual Jews found themselves in the same position as other migrants to the New World.

Out of decorporatization came new forms of Jewish communal organization in the countrywide and local arenas: (1) the consistoire of postrevolutionary France which spread to the other countries within the French sphere of influence in Europe and the Mediterranean basin -- an attempt to create a Jewish "church" structure parallel to that of the Catholic Church; (2) the nineteenth-century Central European kehillah or cultesgemeinde, essentially a religious and social agency chartered and regulated by the secular government to provide an official framework for all Jews parallel to the frameworks binding Christians in the state; (3) the united congregational pattern of Britain and its overseas settlements by which Jews voluntarily banded together to create a board of notables ("deputies") to represent Jewish interests to the government of the host country; (4) the radically individualistic "congregational" pattern of the United States by which individual Jews voluntarily banded together, principally in the local arena, to create whatever kinds of Jewish associations they wished without any kind of supralocal umbrella organization even for external representation and (5) separate communal associations based on the Landsmannschaft (country of origin society) principle, which became the basis for voluntary affiliation of the Jewish immigrants to Latin America. The common denominator of all these different forms was their limited scope and increasingly voluntary character.

While these organizational changes were taking place, a two-pronged demographic shift of great importance began: the live birth and survival rate among Jews rose rapidly, causing the number of Jews in the world to soar, and the Jews began to migrate at an accelerating rate to the lands of the Western world's great frontier (the Western Hemisphere, southern Africa, and Australia in particular but also in smaller numbers to East Asia), thus initiating a shift in the balance of Jewish settlement in the world (see Table 1).27

Table 1

(in thousands)
 1840 1900 1939 1982
ContinentTotal % Total % Total % Total %
Europe* 3,950 87.8 8,900 80.9 9,500 56.8 2,843 21.9
Asia 300 6.7 510 4.6 1,030 6.2 3,417 26.3
Africa 198 4.4 375 3.4 625 3.7 172 1.3
North and
South America
50 1.1 1,200 10.9 5,540 33.1 6,478 49.9
Oceana 2 - 15 0.2 33 0.2 79 0.6
Total 4,500100.0 11,000 100.0 16,728 100.0 12,989 100.0

Sources: Jacob Lestschinsky, Tfutzot Yisrael ahar haMilhamah, Tel Aviv, 1958; American Jewish Year Book, 1968 and 1984.

* Including Russia

Finally, the modern epoch saw Jewish resettlement of the Land of Israel. The first settlers to come as founders of new settlements began to arrive in the seventeenth century and continued regularly thereafter, pioneering new communities of a traditional character within the framework of the Ottoman Empire's millet system.28 They were followed by the Zionist pioneers who, beginning in the last decades of the nineteenth century, created new forms of communal life as part of the latest stage in the transformation of the Jewish people.29

Beginning a New Epoch

World War II marked the culmination of all the trends and tendencies of the modern epoch and the end of the epoch itself for all peoples. Sometime between 1946 and 1949, the postmodern epoch began. For the Jewish people, the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel provided the pair of decisive events that marked the crossing of the watershed into the postmodern world. In the process, the entire basis of the Jewish polity was radically changed, the locus of Jewish life shifted, and virtually every organized Jewish community was reconstituted in some way.

Central to the reconstitution was the reestablishment of a politically independent Jewish commonwealth in Israel. The restoration of the Jewish state added a new factor to the edah, creating a new focus of Jewish energy and concern precisely at the moment when the older foci had reached the end of their ability to attract most Jews. As the 1967 crisis demonstrated decisively, Israel was not simply another Jewish community in the constellation but the center of the world for Jews.

The Jewry that greeted the new state was no longer an expanding on that was gaining population even in the face of the attrition of intermarriage and assimilation. On the contrary, it was a decimated one (even worse, for decimated means the loss of one in ten; the Jews lost one in three); a Jewry whose very physical survival had been in grave jeopardy and whose rate of loss from defections came close to equaling its birthrate. Moreover, the traditional strongholds of Jewish communal life in Europe (which were also areas with a high Jewish reproduction rate) were those that had been wiped out.

At the end of the 1940s the centers of Jews life had shifted decisively away from Europe to Israel and North America. By then, continental Europe ranked behind Latin America, North Africa, and Great Britain, as a force in Jewish life. Its Jews were almost entirely dependent on financial and technical assistance from the United States and Israel. Except for those in the Moslem countries that were soon virtually to disappear, the major functioning Jewish communities all had acquired sufficient size to become significant factors on the Jewish scene only within the previous two generations. In many cases, the original shapers of those communities were still alive, and many were still the actual community leaders. The Jewish world had been willy-nilly thrown back to a pioneering stage.

This new epoch is still in its early years, hardly more than a single generation old; hence, its character is still in its formative stages. Nevertheless, with the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 the Jewish polity began a constitutional change of revolutionary proportions, inaugurating a new epoch in Jewish constitutional history. For the first time in almost two millennia, the Jewish people were presented with the opportunity to attain citizenship in their own state. Israel's very first law (Hok Ha-Shevut, the Law of Return) specified that every Jew had a right to settle in Israel and automatically acquire Israeli citizenship.

To date, only a fraction of the edah have taken advantage of Israel's availability. Most continue to live in the lands of the diaspora of their own free will. Hence the dominant structural characteristic of the edah continues to be the absence of a binding, all-embracing political framework, although it now has a focus. The State of Israel and its various organs have a strong claim to preeminence in fields that touch on every aspect of Jewish communal life. The Israeli leadership have argued consistently that Israel is qualitatively different from the diaspora and hence its centrality must be acknowledged. The American Jewish leadership, in particular, have taken the position that Israel is no more than first among equals. Nevertheless, the reestablishment of a Jewish state has crystallized the edah as a polity, restoring a sense of political involvement among Jews and shaping a new institutional framework in which the business of the edah in conducted.

The diffusion of authority and influence which continues to characterize the structure of the edah and its components has taken various forms in the new epoch. The keter malkhut has been transformed into a network of single and multipurpose functional authorities, most of which do not aspire to do more than serve their particular functions, but all of which acknowledge the place of the State of Israel at the fulcrum of the network. The keter kehunah has become a conglomeration of synagogue movements and their rabbinates, who are mainly responsible for ritual and pastoral functions. Each manages -- independently -- various ritual functions in a manner it deems appropriate to its own traditions, perspectives, and environment. That each of these movements has established a framework with worldwide aspirations, such as the World Union for Progressive Judaism and the World Council of Synagogues, merely underlines the new organizational character of the edah.

Sectoral segmentation is most pronounced in the keter torah. Contemporary Jews take their cues in this domain from a kaleidoscopic spectrum of authorities. Their range stretches from the Jewish professors and scholars who influence contemporary Jews' understanding of what is expected of them as Jews to the rabbinical leadership of the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform camps, who may use the traditional devices for ruling on matters of Torah but often in untraditional ways; to the heads of very traditional yeshivot and the rebbes of various emigre Hassidic communities who have reestablished themselves in the principal cities of Israel and the United States from which they have developed multicountry networks.

The fragmentation of the keter torah is both a reflection and an expression of the absence yet of a clear cut, commonly accepted constitutional basis for the entire edah. The tendency toward a wide variety of interpretations of the Torah (traditionally referred to in Hebrew as Torat Moshe, the teaching of Moses) which emerged during the modern epoch, has now become exacerbated. It is a sign of the times that if the Torah is to be included in the definition of the constitution, it has to be reinterpreted for a majority of Jews. The reality is that the norms by which Jews live their lives are interpreted through various prisms, of which the traditional prism is now only one. Still, it seems that most Jews perceive the Torah to be a constitutional referent in some way.

This fragmentation is further reflected in the multiplicity of camps and parties which exert influence on the life of the edah and its constituents. Broadly speaking, the principal camps can be termed: the Orthodox and the Masorti (traditional) who see themselves as continuing the ways of the Pharisees, the Liberal religious, and the Neo-Sadducees. The last includes Israelis seeking to express their Judaism through Israeli Jewry's emerging civil religion -- Zionists -- and those diaspora Jews who find their best means of Jewish expression in the Jewish communal institutions. These camps are separate but not mutually exclusive. Presented diagrammatically, they ought to be viewed as a triangle, a device that stresses their points of overlap as well as their distinctiveness. The Mizrahi Party, for instance, straddles the Zionist and the Orthodox camps, viewing its Zionism as one expression of its Orthodoxy. Increasingly, too, do the Conservative (Masorati) and Reform (Liberal) movements find themselves linked with Zionism. At the same time, the Neturei Karta, the secular Zionists, and the surviving classical Reform elements remain separated in their respective camps.

Whatever its form of organization, the primary fact of Jewish communal life today is its voluntary character. Although there are differences from country to country in degree of actual freedom to be Jewish or not, the virtual disappearance of the remaining legal and even social or cultural barriers to individual free choice in all but a handful of countries has made free association the dominant characteristic of Jewish life in the postmodern era. Consequently, the first task of each Jewish community is the learn to deal with this freedom. This task is a major factor in determining the direction of the reconstitution of Jewish life in this generation.

The new voluntarism also extends into the internal life of the Jewish community, generating pluralism even in previously free but relatively homogeneous or monolithic community structures. This pluralism is increased by the breakdown of the traditional reasons for being Jewish and the rise of new incentives for Jewish association. This pluralistic Jewish polity can best be described as a communications network of interacting institutions, each of which, while preserving its own structural integrity and filling its own functional role, is connected to the others in a variety of ways. The boundaries of the polity, insofar as it is bounded, are revealed only when the pattern of the network is uncovered. The pattern stands revealed only when both its components are: its institutions and organizations with their respective roles and the way in which communications are passed between them.

The pattern is inevitably dynamic. There is rarely a fixed division of authority and influence but, instead, one that varies from time to time and often from issue to issue, with different entities in the network taking on different "loadings" at different times and relative to different issues. Because the polity is voluntary, persuasion rather than compulsion, influence rather than power, are the only tools available for making and executing policies. This, too, works to strengthen its character as a communications network because the character, quality, and relevance of what is communicated and the way in which it is communicated frequently determine the extent of the authority and influence of the parties to the communication.

The reconstitution of the edah is only in its beginning stages; its final form for this epoch cannot yet be foreseen. At this writing, the Jewish people is in the buildup period of the second generation of the postmodern epoch and is actively engaged in trying to work through a new constitutional synthesis, both political and religious. It is likely that the constitution for the new epoch will find its source in the traditional Torah as understood and interpreted in traditional and nontraditional ways. The continued reliance on the Torah as a constitutional anchor could not have been forecast during the first generation of the new epoch, when the late modern trend of secularization was still alive. But it is now fair to conclude that for most Jews, the Torah continues to serve as a constitutional foundation even though they no longer feel bound by its commandments as traditionally understood.

A second element in the new constitutional framework is the commitment to Jewish unity and peoplehood as embodied in the network of institutions serving the edah. This commitment is basically founded on a people-wide consensus. However, it is also acquiring a documentary base through congeries of quasi-covenantal constitutional documents generated in the new institutions of the edah. These may develop into a comprehensive postmodern constitutional supplement to the edah's historic constitution, following the patters of earlier epochs.


1. This chapter is based on material originally presented in four publications by the author, "The Reconstitution of Jewish Communities in the Post-War Period," Jewish Journal of Sociology, vol. 11, no. 2 (December 1969), pp. 188-226; "Kinship and Consent in the Jewish Community," Tradition, vol. 14, no. 4 (Fall 1974), pp. 63-79; Covenant and Freedom in the Jewish Political Tradition, Annual Sol Feinstone Lecture, (Philadelphia: Gratz College, March 1981); and Participation and Accountability in the American Jewish Community, (New York: Council of Jewish Federations and Association of Jewish Community Organization Personnel, 1980).

2. The close connections between the theological and the political are made manifest in Jewish literature beginning with the Bible. In our time, Martin Buber has been the foremost expositor of those connections. See, in particular, his Kinship of God, trans. Richard Scheimann (London: G. Allen and Unwin, 1967). See also Hans Kohn, The Idea of Nationalism (New York: Collier Books, 1944), chap. 2; and Harold Fisch, Jerusalem and Albion (New York: Schocken Books, 1964).

3. Jews have always desired an independent territorial state, but they have desired it only as a means to a larger end and not as an end in itself.

4. Robert Pranger, The Eclipse of Civilization (following the Bible and) Aristotle, among others, provides a useful discussion of citizenship as the creation of official identity, itself a culturally created necessity for every man that enables men to become fully human. The necessity for citizenship has become universal (p. 10): "In the language of psychology, citizenship supplies an integral segment of one's 'identity pattern,' something taken as second nature." It is in this sense that the concept is used here. See also Benjamin Akzin, State and Nation. Relevant to the Jewish situation is D.F. Aberle et al., "The Functional Prerequisites of a Society," Ethics, vol. 60, no. 2 (January 1950), pp. 100-110. On the compatibility of multiple loyalties, see Morton Grodzins, The Loyal and the Disloyal (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957).

5. Pranger, The Eclipse of Civilization, following Sheldon S. Wolin in Politics and Vision (Boston: Little and Brown, 1960), defines this phenomenon as the carving out of political space, space "shaped by a dualist structure of tangible objects and subjective perceptions which arranges a system of shared political meanings among citizens and also establishes these meanings in hierarchies of valued priorities." Pranger continues, "Around a nation are drawn a number of physical and non-physical boundaries within which citizens feel at home, outside of which they are foreigners. Such a space is molded by objective factors such as geographical frontiers, an economic system, a legal system, a common political language..., and by the special governmental institutions calls offices. But one also discovers certain subjective perceptions and expectations that members share about correct political action, expectations drawn from the members' own individual needs and values and from the social symbolism attributed to boundaries, economics, language, and governments. These symbolic perceptions may not find common agreement throughout a nation. Nevertheless, there are often common relationships between more specialized perceptions which entitle an observer to speak of a 'pattern' for even the heterogeneous political life of a Switzerland or an India.... In every political situation, no matter how transient, one can locate such patterns of civic expectations." Pranger defines this as the political culture of a "national state" but with a few modifications it is useful in defining the political space and culture of the Jewish polity. Thus, for example, this concept being related to the study of Jewish political life, the tangible objects are the patterns of community organization and activity; the subjective perceptions relate to the questions of individual identity and involvement. See also Daniel J. Elazar and Joseph Zikmund, eds., The Ecology of American Political Culture: Readings (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1975), Introduction.

6. The biblical understanding of the covenant as a consensual, theopolitical act is discussed in George E. Meandenhall, The Tenth Generation; R.A.F. MacKenzie, S.J. Faith and History in the Old Testament (New York, 1963); see chap. 3, "Israel's Covenant with God."

7. The record of the reaffirmation of the covenant in the Bible is easily discernible in the text itself. Buber, Kinship of God, deals with this in his textual exegesis. See also the studies of Avraham Malamut, "Organs of Statecraft in the Israelite Monarchy," The Biblical Archaeologist vol. 28, no. 2 (1965), pp. 34-51; G.E. Mendenhall, "Covenant Forms in Israelite Tradition," The Biblical Archaeologist vol. 17, no. 3 (1954), pp. 50-76; Hayim Tadmor, "'The People' and the Kingship in Ancient Israel: The Role of Political Institutions in the Biblical Period," Journal of World History vol. 11, no. 1-2 (1968), pp. 46-68; Moshe Weinfeld, "The Transition From Tribal Republic to Monarchy in Ancient Israel and Its Impression on Jewish Political History," in Daniel J. Elazar, ed., Kinship and Consent: The Jewish Political Tradition and its Contemporary Uses (Ramat Gan: Turtledove Publishing Co., 1981), pp. 151-166.

8. Leo Baeck discusses this phenomenon in This People Israel: The Meaning of Jewish Existence (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1965). The historic evidence is mustered in Daniel J. Elazar and Stuart Cohen, The Jewish Polity (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1985).

9. See, for example, Louis Finkelstein, Jewish Self-Government in the Middle Ages, 2d ed. (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1964); and H.H. Ben-Sasson, Perakim beToldot haYehudim beYamei haBaynayim (Chapters in the History of the Jews in the Middle Ages) (Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1969).

10. Cf. Daniel J. Elazar and John Kincaid, eds., Covenant, Polity, and Constitutionalism (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America and Center for the Study of Federalism, 1982) and Daniel J. Elazar, "Covenant as the Basis of the Jewish Political Tradition," The Jewish Journal of Sociology, vol. 20, no. 1 (June 1978), pp. 5-37.

11. Daniel J. Elazar, "The Constitution, the Union, and the Liberties of the People," Publius, vol. 8, no. 3 (Summer 1973), pp. 141-75.

12. See, for example, Delbart R. Hillers, Covenant: The History of a Biblical Idea (Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 1969).

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.

15. Cf. Gordon Freeman, "Rabbinic Conceptions of Covenant," in Daniel J. Elazar, ed., Kinship and Consent: The Jewish Political Tradition and its Contemporary Uses (Jerusalem and Washington, D.C.: Center for Jewish Community Studies and University Press of America, 1983).

16. See I.A. Agus, The Heroic Age of Franco-German Jewry (New York: Yeshiva University Press, 1969); "On Power and Authority: Halachic Stame of the Tradition Community and Its Contemporary Implications," in Daniel J. Elazar, ed., Kinship and Consent: The Jewish Political Tradition and its Contemporary Uses (Ramat Gan: Turtledove Publishing Co., 1981); Gerald Blidstein, "Individual and Community in the Middle Ages,"; Daniel J. Elazar, ed., Kinship and Consent; Daniel J. Elazar and Stuart A. Cohen, The Jewish Polity: Jewish Political Organization from Biblical Times to the Present (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1985), especially Epoch XI.

17. R. Judah HaBarceloni, Sefer HaShtarot.

18. In the words of The Federalist, force, accident, or choice. See Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison, The Federalist (1788), No. 1.

19. Daniel J. Elazar and Stuart A. Cohen, The Jewish Polity: Jewish Political Organization from Biblical Times to the Present (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1985), Introduction; Robert Gordis, "Democratic Origins in ancient Israel: The Biblical Edah" in Alexander Marx Jubilee Volume (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1950); Moshe Weinfeld, "The Transition from Tribal Republic to Monarchy in Ancient Israel and Its Impression on Jewish Political History," in Daniel J. Elazar, ed., Kinship and Consent (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1983).

20. The Jewish Polity, op. cit.

21. See Stuart A. Cohen, The Concept of the Three Ketarim, Working Paper No. 18 of Workshop in the Covenant Idea and the Jewish Political Tradition (Ramat Gan and Jerusalem: Bar Ilan University Department of Political Studies and Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 1982).

22. This discussion draws heavily on the political science literature on constitutionalism. Standard works on the subject include James Bryce, Constitutions (New York: Oxford University Press, 1905); Carl J. Friedrich, Constitutional Government and Politics: Nature and Development (Boston: Ginn and Co., 1937) and "Constitutions and Constitutionalism," in David L. Sills (ed.), International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, vol. 3 (New York: MacMillan and Free Press, 1968), pp. 318-326; Charles H. McIlwain, Constitutionalism, Ancient and Modern (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1947); and M.J.C. Vile, Constitutionalism and the Separation of Powers (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967). Although otherwise problematic for a system whose origins are in a divine covenant, Hans Kelsen's constitutional theory is particularly helpful in this connection, cf. his General Theory of Law and State (New York: Russell and Russell, 1961).

23. Cf. Josephus Flavius, Antiquities of the Jews, Book IV, Chap. 8, especially paragraphs 196-198 and Philo, De Specialibus Legibus, Book IV "De Constitutione Principum." For an analysis of Philo's political thought, with frequent references to Josephus and to classical Jewish sources, see Harry Aystryn Wolfson, Philo: Foundations of Religious Philosophy in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (revised edition; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1962) vol. 2, chapter 13 "Political Theory," pp. 322-437.

24. For a more complete exposition of this thesis see Daniel J. Elazar, "The Generation Rhythm of American Politics" in American Politics Quarterly, vol. 6, no. 1 (January 1978). After developing this theory out of his work in American political history, Elaza discovered the European literature on the subject which thoroughly parallel his own conclusions. Chief proponents of the generational thesis include Aguste Comte, Karl Mannheim, Julian Marias, John Stuart Mill, and Jose Ortega y Gasset. Comte was the fist to suggest the historical process of generational succession. Mill developed Comte's idea of social generations and Ortega y Gasset added the dimension of multigenerational epochs as the macrostructure of history based on the generation as the microstructure. For an overview of their thought, see Julian Marias, "Generations: The Concept" in Sills (ed.), International Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, vol. 6, pp. 88-92, and his Generations: A Historical Method (translated by H. Raley; New York: OUP, 1970).

25. Howard M. Sachar's The Course of Modern Jewish History (New York: Dell Publishing, 1958) is a comprehensive source of the history of Jewish life in this period. The changes themselves are discussed by Jacob Katz in Tradition and Crisis (New York: Free Press of Glencoe, 1965) and Michael A. Meyer, The Origins of the Modern Jew: Jewish Identity and European Culture in Germany 1794-1824 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1967). See also Louis Finkelstein, ed., The Jews: Their History, Culture, and Religion (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1960), 3d ed., 2 vols.; Salo W. Baron, "The Modern Age" in Leo W. Schwarz, ed., Great Ages and Ideas of the Jewish People (New York: The Modern Library, 1956), pp. 315-484.

26. For a brief exposition of this definition of the modern epoch, particularly as it applies to the United States, see Daniel J. Elazar, Cities of the Prairie (New York: Basic Books, 1970), Introduction and Appendix; and, by the same author, Toward a Generational Theory of American Politics (Philadelphia: Center for the Study of Federalism, 1968). The writer has discussed this periodization of Jewish history in "A Constitutional View of Jewish History," Judaism, vol. 10, no. 3 (Summer 1961), pp. 256-64.

27. Cf. Jacob Lestichinsky, Tfutzot Yisrael Ahar haMilhamah (The Dispersions of Israel After the War) (Tel Aviv, 1958) (Hebrew); Aryeh Tartakower, HaHevrah haYehudit (Jewish Society) (Tel Aviv: Massada, 1957-59) (Hebrew).

28. Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Toldot Eretz Yisrael beTekufah haOtomanit (History of the Land of Israel in the Ottoman Period), (Jerusalem: Yad Itzhak Ben Zvi, 1955) (Hebrew); Robert Sherevsky, Avraham Katz, Yisrael Kolatt, and Hayim Barkai, Meah Shanah ve'od 20 (One Hundred Years and Another 20), (Tel Aviv: Ma'ariv 1968) (Hebrew).

29. It should be noted that most, if not all, of the first colonies were founded by covenants or articles of agreement, thus continuing the classic Jewish pattern. Cf. Daniel J. Elazar, Israel: Building a New Society (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1986).

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