Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Daniel Elazar Papers Index

Jewish Political Thought

The Jews' Rediscovery of the Political
and its Implications

Kinship and Consent: The Jewish Political Tradition
and Its Contemporary Uses
, Introduction

Daniel J. Elazar

At the very end of the sixteenth century, Johannes Althusius, the greatest political theorist of Reformation Protestantism, described politics in the following terms:

Politics is the art of associating (consociandi) men for the purpose of establishing, cultivating, and conserving social life among them. Whence it is called "symbiotics." The subject matter of politics is therefore association (consociatio), in which the symbiotes pledge themselves each to the other, by explicit or tacit agreement, to mutual communication of whatever is useful and necessary for the harmonious exercise of social life.

The end of political "symbiotic" man is holy, just, comfortable, and happy symbiosis, a life lacking nothing either necessary or useful.1

As a Reformed Protestant, the essential concern of Althusius was to provide a synthesis and adaptation of the biblical political experience with classic political theory, using the Bible to organize political life for his time and make it compatible with Aristotelian political science. Althusius identified himself as a political scientist in those words. His political science was designed to produce a Christian commonwealth, but in that same spirit, he could be seen to pursue the idea of a holy commonwealth for any monotheistic faith. The ancient Israelites of biblical times were his model and their commonwealth the model commonwealth.

Althusius saw the above definition as applying to all of political life. He went on in his magnum opus, Politica Methodice Digesta, to apply that definition to the politics of his ideal polity, a Reformed Protestant commonwealth, in the process making allowance for the different possibilities or necessities in political organization of the Holy Roman Empire of his time.

In the middle of the seventeenth century Althusius lost out to his contemporary competitor, Jean Bodin, the theorist of modern statism, and, except for flashes of attention paid him by an occasional dissenter from the modern state system, went into eclipse for three hundred years. He and his ideas have come to the fore once again, early in the postmodern epoch as modern statism gives way to federalism as the dominant paradigm in the world and Althusius' view of the body politic as the consociatio consociationum has once again begun to gain the attention of those who are occupied with political theory and its relation to practice.

One political tradition that always operated on the premises embodied in Althusius' thought is the Jewish political tradition, as Althusius well understood. Jews formed a consociatio consociationum from their earliest beginnings and continued to maintain their polity with its political tradition in their pre-state period, when they had an in independent state, and throughout the long years of exile. They could well understand Althusius' central principle that "politics is the communication of right in the commonwealth through citizenship and that a polity indicates that communication of right, signifies the manner of administering and regulating the commonwealth, and notes the form and constitution of the commonwealth for which all actions of the citizens are guided."2

Althusius goes on, "The symbiotes are co-workers who, by the bond of an associating and uniting agreement, communicate among themselves whatever is appropriate for a comfortable life of soul and body. In other words, they are participants or partners in a common life." Communication or communicatio for Althusius means a sharing or making in common. He goes on to state, "This mutual communication, or common enterprise, involves one things, two services, and three common rights by which the numerous and various needs of each and every symbiote are supplied, the self-sufficiency and mutuality of life in human society are achieved, and social life is established and conserved."3 All communication takes place within a certain jurisdiction.

One of the features of the paradigm shift from statism to federalism is the shift from the concern for sovereignty to the concern for jurisdiction. Whether ascribing sovereignty to God or forced to recognize the sovereignty of suzereins, the Jewish people always was preoccupied with the question of jurisdiction as a central qustion for them and indeed helped make that the central question for federal democracy everywhere, first articulating in politics the idea that authority and power were divided among different authorities, each of whom had its sphere of jurisdiction and all of which were subordinate to the people who empowered them wherever sovereignty was located.

While Althusius never discussed the matter directly, he would have understood how the exploration of the Jewish political tradition was predicated on the recognition of the Jews as a separate people, not merely a religion or a set of moral principles growing out of a religion. The exploration of the Jewish political tradition, then, is an exploration of how the Jews as a people managed to maintain their polity over centuries of independence, exile and dispersion, and how they animated that polity by communicating their own expressions of political culture and modes of political behavior.

That is the subject of this book, an effort on the part of a significant selection of the greatest scholars in Jewish studies in the first part of the post-modern epoch, whose fields range from Bible to Jewish history, from Jewish law to theology, as well as political science, to begin the exploration of the Jewish people as a polity with its own political tradition. The chapters in this book represent individual cuts into the tradition at critical points. Because not every period in Jewish history has benefitted from the kind of scholarly attention that this book emphasizes, not all are covered. Because the form of the scholarly attention depends to a significant degree on the discipline involved, not every chapter is equally rooted in the terms of political discourse. Nevertheless, together they provide us with a clear-cut introduction to Jewish political studies as a subdiscipline in Jewish studies and begins to enable us to see how it is a sub-discipline of political science.

The Jewish people and its political tradition encompass a span of at least 3300 years and perhaps 500 more. In this span of time Jews have been a tribal polity, an enslaved caste, a simple agrarian republic, a state that was also a regional power, a community in exile, an imperial province, a vassal state, a revolutionary polity, a congeries of dispersed communities bound together by a common law, a set of co-religionists, an ethnic group, and a modern state. Each of these had its own uniqueness. Nevertheless, there are certain threads that seem to run through every one of them that date back to the earliest days of separate Jewish existence. It is the exploration of these threads that is the subject of this volume.

This volume is written with the understanding that the Jews are a people and a culture which, while informed throughout by Judaism as a religion and its value system, still can and should be viewed from that perspective rather than from the more limited perspective of Judaism as a religion. This is the view that Jews have had of themselves throughout their history and which the world unambiguously shared with them until the beginning of the modern epoch. Only in the last two centuries or less have some considered Jews to be members of a religious persuasion and no more.

This latter position was first advanced as a Jewish strategy in Western Europe to achieve their emancipation from the ghettoization imposed on them by the majority Christian society, which became especially necessary as modernity brought down the divisions in the general society into estates, guilds, and other estate-oriented constructs. With the elimination of medieval society and the emergence of the nation-state which recognized individual citizens only, in theory without regard to other divisions, most Jews did not want to be left out of the new opportunities which this reclassification offered. Moreover, the Jewish communities lost their informal autonomy as well.

Hence, except for those who remained strictly Orthodox and consequently wished to continue to live in self-contained communities, the Jews as a people sought integration into the new nation-states which they could do only if they emphasized Judaism as a religious difference rather than Jewishness as a national one. This system worked partially, but in the end the Jews could not survive as a group except by recognizing their corporate character to at least some degree.

Zionism, indeed, emphasized Jewish nationhood to its fullest. The Zionist concession to modernity was to separate nationalism and religion. This, too, was a first time venture and has had mixed success for the same reasons.

Meanwhile, the Jewish political tradition has continued to accept Jewish peoplehood as a fundamental premise and in practice to make such adjustments as have proved to be necessary in Israel and the diaspora. This book speaks out of that approach which, no matter how one chooses to view it, is fundamental because neat divisions between ethnicity, culture, and religion have proved impossible to maintain in Jewish life, past or present.

The crises of the past few years have generated renewed interest, on the part of Jewish publics in Israel and the diaspora, in the character of the State of Israel as a Jewish state and in the Jewish people as a corporate entity. As a consequence, the modern Jewish search for roots and meaning has been intensified. In the twentieth century, the most practical aspects of this search have involved the restoration of Jewish political independence through the State of Israel and the revival of the sense of Jewish peoplehood throughout the diaspora. It is precisely because contemporary Jewry has moved increasingly towards self-definition in political terms that a significant part of the search for roots and meaning must take place within the political realm.

The Jewish national revival of our times led first to the restoration of Jewish political consciousness, then to the reestablishment of the Jewish polity. The next step in the process is the rediscovery of the Jewish political tradition. This book is based on the premise that there is indeed a Jewish political tradition -- with all that it implies in the way of a continuing dialogue regarding proper or acceptable modes of political behavior, institutional forms, and political cultural norms -- and is devoted to mustering and examining the evidence to that end.

To suggest that there is a Jewish political tradition is not to suggest that there is a single, uniform, monolithic "Jewish way of politics." A tradition by its very nature is multi-faceted, even dialectic in character. Like a river, it has currents within it that are united because they flow within the same banks, and, except for occasional eddies, in the same direction.

A tradition is, in fact, a continuing dialogue based upon a shared set of fundamental questions. For Jews, this dialogue began with the emergence of the Jewish people as an entity, a body politic, early in its history. It has continued ever since, at times -- particularly when the Jews have lived independently in their own land -- resonating strongly, and at other times, less so. The emancipation of the Jews in the modern era nearly brought this dialogue to an end but, precisely at its weakest moment, it was revived as the political dimension of Jewish life became clear once again. After surviving changes of constitution and regime, exile and dispersion, the Jewish political tradition has been nearly lost in our times, precisely on the threshold of renewal of full Jewish political life. Hence it needs to be recovered by systematic effort so that it may fill a vital and needed role in contemporary Jewish life -- both in Israel and in the diaspora.

The enduring foundations of the Jewish political tradition are to be found in the Bible. In one sense, this is because the foundations of all of Jewish tradition are to be found there. In many respects, however, the Jewish political tradition has been more enduringly influenced by the Bible than some other aspects of the Jewish tradition. While all of the tradition has been filtered through the Talmud, the efforts of the sages to diminish the political tradition in the wake of the disastrous Roman wars (the effort, in itself, was a political act of the first magnitude) meant that the tradition was transformed by them into an undifferentiated part of the halakhic tradition, so much so that with the revival of explicit political inquiry in the Middle Ages, Jewish thinkers and leaders who otherwise relied on the Talmud for all things went back to biblical sources for ideas with regard to proper political behavior and even institution building. Centuries later, we find an echo of that process in the way that Zionists sought to base on biblical sources their quest for renewed Jewish statehood in the land of Israel.

The revival of political concern among contemporary Jews is only right; it is a reflection -- however obscured -- of the fundamental truth that the validity of the Jewish teaching can only be fully tested in a political setting, through a polity in which Jews must assume responsibility for the effort to build the "kingdom of heaven" -- the good commonwealth -- on earth. Accordingly, it becomes vital for Jews to rediscover the Jewish political tradition in order to pursue the Jewish vision at its fullest, and so as to root their institutions, including the State of Israel, more fully within it.

The Jewish political tradition, like the political tradition of any people, is at one and the same time an integral part of the people's overall tradition and a separable expression of the people's culture or civilization. Every political tradition represents shared expectations as to what constitutes justice in public affairs, a common sense of the proper uses of power in the pursuit of political goals, a shared understanding of the reciprocal relationship between power and justice in the body politic, and a common view of the proper relationships between the governors and the governed. It is built around an enduring consensus -- a thinking together -- on the part of the members of a particular political community or body politic about common questions over generations. The answers to these questions need not be the same for all consenting members of the body politic. Were they the same, we would have a political doctrine, not a tradition, for implicit in the existence of a tradition is a dialectical dimension -- a continuing "great debate." A tradition is built around the tension that exists between its different expressions, that remain within the same dialectical framework because they share common questions.

Lest it be assumed otherwise, let it be said at the outset that a political tradition does not simply include the good qualities present in the political life of a people; it includes deficiencies and vices as well as virtues (often, the vices reflect excesses of what otherwise are virtues). While one would hope that the ideals and ends of one's own political tradition would be good (and that is not always the case, by any means), the behavioral dimension of any tradition is necessarily mixed. The way of humanity makes it ever thus. Some political traditions, indeed, are gravely deficient but, while the Jewish political tradition, too, has mixed elements, the authors in this volume argue -- explicitly or implicitly -- that it is basically a good, even an excellent one, founded on solid premises, emphasizing good ends, and encouraging sound behavior. If the less praiseworthy aspects of Jewish political behavior are underemphasized in these pages, it is not for lack of awareness of them.

What is perhaps most compelling about the need to rediscover the Jewish political tradition is the fact that Jews continue to function in the political arena, in no small measure on the basis of their political tradition, albeit without conscious awareness that they are functioning within a living tradition of their own or any tradition at all. The striking similarities in the structure of Jewish institutions in Israel and the diaspora, present and past, the continuities in the basic characteristics of Jewish political behavior, the persistence of certain fundamental beliefs and practices embedded in Jewish political culture, all attest to the persistence of a Jewish political tradition even if it remains for the most part unrecognized. Were we speaking of the creation of a tradition where none existed, it would be perhaps possible to question the validity of the effort. But since we are speaking of a living phenomenon that is simply unrecognized, the benefits that can be derived from developing a conscious understanding of it are great indeed.

Some Elements of the Jewish Political Tradition

The Jewish political tradition, like every political tradition, is concerned with power and justice; it differs from the political traditions growing out of classic Greek thought in that it begins with a concern for relationships rather than regimes. It is less concerned with determining the best form of government (in Aristotelian terms, the best constitution) than with establishing the proper relationship between the governors and the governed, power and justice, God and man. This concern for relationships is embodied in the principle of covenant that lies at the root of the Jewish political tradition and also gives the tradition its form. In the Jewish political tradition, as in the Jewish tradition as a whole -- all relationships are rooted in the Covenant.

One dimension that is implicit in this covenantal relationship, and which has been explicitly reflected in one way or another throughout Jewish history, is that the polity itself is compounded of several authoritative elements which, while bound to one another (by covenant), have their own respective integrities. In its classic form, the Jewish polity is an edah (meaning an assembly or congregation -- a coming together -- and perhaps best understood as the Hebrew equivalent of commonwealth), constituted by God and Israel through the Sinai covenant. The powers created by the establishment of this polity are shared by God, the people of Israel in their character as an edah, and those designated as governors by both (e.g., David who is anointed by Samuel in God's name but whose rule is only confirmed after he enters into covenants with the tribal elders of Judah and Israel). The powers are further divided among several governors; e.g., the civil leaders, the prophets and the priests -- reflected in the tradition as keter malkhut (the crown of kingship or rule), keter torah (the crown of Torah or Divine teaching) and keter kehunah (the crown of the priesthood) -- and, later, the householders and the rabbinical leaders.

The result of all this is a separation of powers, not in the modern sense of executive, legislative and judicial (although the Bible is cognizant of those three basic divisions, cf. Isaiah 33:22 -- "For the Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our Lawgiver, the Lord is our King; He will save us") but as an intricate set of power relationships among separate yet linked bodies. The Jewish order of prayer reflects this intricate set of relationships in several ways; in the daily morning service where the heavenly hosts grant (or acknowledge) each other's authority to praise God, and in the blessing after meals when the leader must request authority to take the lead from the others at the table (and, some suggest, from the rabbinical authorities as well), to name but two examples.

Perhaps the best example of all is to be found in the mode of delivery of the priestly blessing in the High Holy Day services. Under Jewish law, those descended from the priestly families are required by God to administer the blessing; theirs is a purely ministerial task in which they have no discretion. When they are called upon to perform this task in the synagogue, a non-priest (an "Israelite") calls them to it; they respond by asking for reshut (authority) from the congregation which, in turn, indicates that the authority is really granted by Heaven. The one who called upon them then leads them in the blessing word by word. The "script" is as follows:

Israelite: Cohanim (priests)!
Priests: B'reshut rabbotai (by the authority of our teachers in Torah, lit. masters)!
Congregation: B'reshut Shamayim (by the authority of Heaven)!
Israelite: Y'varechacha (May you be blessed)...
Priests: Y'varechacha...

This pattern of interlocking authorities is paradigmatic of the Jewish polity; no single person or body has final authority -- instead various bodies share powers.

It is in this original sense that the Jewish political tradition is federal (federal: from the Latin foedus, meaning covenant) in orientation. Fundamentally, federalism involves the coming together of separate elements to compound a common entity in such a way that their respective integrities are preserved. Appropriately, federal arrangements emphasize relationships as the key to proper structures of a lasting character. For that reason, the variety of structures animated by federal principles is substantial. Jewish history attests to that variety, since the Jewish political tradition has emphasized federal arrangements in the more conventional sense of the term as well. There has hardly been an age when the Jewish edah has not been organized on a federal basis, beginning with the tribal confederacy and including the federated kingdom of the tribes, the politeuma of the Hellenistic diaspora which stood in federal relationship to the city in which it was located, the several yeshivot of Babylonia and their respective communities, the medieval federations of communities, the Council of the Four Lands, the post-emancipation European federations of cultesgemeinden, the Latin American federations of country-of-origin communities, and the contemporary North American federations of Jewish functional agencies. And this is not an exhaustive list by any means.

The Jewish political tradition is republican in the original sense of the term -- the body politic is held to be res publica, a public thing, and not anyone's private preserve. Significantly, the Jewish political tradition in its classic expression has no idea of the state as a reified entity; there are only the varieties of political relationships that create polity. This, too, is a view closely related to federalism. Indeed, the Jewish political tradition does not recognize state sovereignty as such. No state -- a human creation -- can be sovereign. Classically, only God is sovereign and He entrusts the exercise of His sovereign powers mediated through His Torah-as-constitution to the people as a whole, His priests and prophets as provided through His covenant with Israel.

In the last analysis, the Jewish political tradition is based upon what S.D. Goitein has termed "religious democracy, "using the term religious in its original sense of "binding." At the same time, the Jewish political tradition has a strong aristocratic current, again not in the sense of aristocracy as a political structure but as a relationship whereby those who hold powers of government are trustees for both the people and the law, selected on the basis of some qualification to be trustees -- Divine sanctification, scholarship, lineage or, de facto, wealth -- the particular mix varying according to time and place.

Exploring the Jewish Political Tradition

The record of the Jewish political tradition is to be found in the Jewish people's sacred and subsidiary texts and in their collective behavior. The exploration of both dimensions is both an intellectual and a practical challenge for contemporary Jews. It is that double interest that requires serious Jews to undertake to explore the Jewish political tradition as fully as possible. On one hand, problems such as the structure of authority and power in the Jewish community, the character of political and communal leadership, political decision-making, the ideal polity, all lead to questions that are intellectually interesting and even exciting in and of themselves. At the same time, they all involve very practical challenges for Jews in the process of reconstituting their polity, both in the land of Israel and in the diaspora.

It can even be argued that the survival of a committed Jewry, at least outside of the Orthodox camp, depends in no small measure on the rediscovery of the Jewish political tradition. It is one of the ironies of the post-modern age that, just at the time when all Jews outside of Israel, over 75 percent of the world Jewish population, have lost all formal corporate political status, the political focus of Jewish identification has suddenly reemerged. The modern era -- the three hundred years from the middle of the seventeenth to the middle of the twentieth centuries -- was one in which Jews were busy shedding their corporate status and forms of corporate organization. In the process, they also shed the political links which had been part and parcel of Jewish tradition and which had held Jews together as one people even in dispersion. On the intellectual plane, Jews tried to transform those links into theological-cum-ritual ("religious") links of various kinds and, on the practical plane, into social-cum-philanthropic ones. Now, rather suddenly, these various links created by Jewish moderns as the source of Jewish identity and identification have begun to weaken for many Jews. In their place, ironically enough, there has been a rising concern with the political as the focal point of Jewish identity and interest, particularly in the past decade. This is clearly true in the State of Israel. It is also true in the diaspora where Jews are increasingly bound to one another only by formal associational ties that, while not of the old corporate kind, are political in the sense of reflecting such common interests as combatting anti-Semitism, supporting Israel, and maintaining the Jewish right to be different. Jews are suddenly confronting questions of political interest to them as Jews, particularly, but by no means exclusively, relating to Israel. As a result, the political dimension is rapidly emerging as perhaps the only unifying force which can link virtually all Jews at a time when secularization, assimilation, and movement away from tradition are rampant. This curiously ironic state of affairs brings the whole question of the Jewish political tradition into a more central position than it might otherwise have had, although it is an important and compelling question in any event.

It may be asked, why talk about a Jewish political tradition instead of an ideology or set of doctrines. I would suggest that the idea of a Jewish political tradition is particularly important because of the character of Jewish political concerns. Were Jews to derive their political ideas from philosophy (in the classical or technical sense of the term), perhaps it would be appropriate to talk about a Jewish political philosophy, or competing Jewish political philosophies, which would manifest themselves in ideologies derived from philosophies, which would manifest themselves in ideologies derived from philosophy. This is the way of European civilization and, indeed, is characteristic of many peoples who have undergone a revolutionary break with their past which they must ground ideologically. However, Jews derive their framework from midrash and halakhah, not from philosophy, and are not dependent for their existence on ideology. Hence, they cannot rely upon philosophy to provide a grounding for Jewish political life. (Jews can philosophize, i.e., use the tools of philosophy, but only by grounding them in different set of assumptions, methods, and results.)

As in the case of other peoples whose grounding is not philosophic or ideological, tradition in general has always occupied an extremely important role in Jewish life and a political tradition is almost a sine qua non. Perhaps a reference to the American example will help clarify this essential point. The Americans are another non-philosophic and non-ideological people. While Americans have, on one level, grappled with philosophic questions and have derived benefit from using the tools of philosophy, their polity was not a product of philosophy but was born out of a political persuasion that, in turn, reflected a common political experience. The persuasion and experience together created an American political tradition. Since its founding, the United States has used its political tradition, particularly as mediated through the decisions of the federal supreme court and the act political leaders, to provide the framework for considering its own political reality. Similarly, a living Jewish political tradition offers a way to maintain Jewish continuity where there is a common perspective and common experience but no central ideology. The maintenance of a political tradition, then, is the key to the political continuity, which is a necessary part of the continuity of Judaism.

A tradition persists on two levels, the formal and the subliminal. To be a fully living tradition, its bearers must be somewhat conscious that they are part of it and somewhat aware that they are expressing it in their ideas and actions.Yet even under such conditions, a tradition is like the proverbial iceberg -- the greater part of it is not a matter of conscious (of self-conscious) articulation but does influence thought and behavior unbeknownst to its bearers. Under the worst conditions, a tradition can survive on the subliminal level in more ways than most people would be likely to notice. For several generations, the Jewish political tradition has survived principally subliminally. Thus the task before Jews today is to revive the sense of the tradition even more than it is to revive the tradition itself. So the question remains -- what must be done, what can be done, to make it a more articulated tradition than it has been in the recent past.

The Covenant and the Jewish Political Tradition

A major thesis of this volume is that the Jewish political tradition is animated, to a substantial degree, by the covenant, as both idea and reality. Covenant theology has become current enough coin in Jewish circles in the last decade or two, so that the idea itself is hardly foreign even to those who were brought up in a different generation of Jewish intellectual endeavor when that vital aspect of the biblical teaching was overlooked or underemphasized. What is suggested in the following pages is that there is a strong political dimension to the covenant idea, and that covenants themselves have consistently served as the principal instruments for shaping Jewish political institutions and relationships. While not everyone represented in the following pages would accept this formulation, the reader will soon note how the covenant idea, or what the prophet Ezekiel (20:37) referred to as Masoret HaBrit -- the Covenant bond or tradition -- runs through most of the chapters like a common thread.

Like all great ideas, the covenant idea is deceptively simple. The term brit (covenant) conveys the sense of a morally grounded perpetual (or at least indeterminately lasting) compact between parties having independent but not necessarily equal status, which establishes certain mutual obligations and a commitment to undertake joint action to achieve defined ends which may be limited or comprehensive, under conditions of mutual respect and in such a way as to protect the fundamental integrity of all parties involved. A covenant is much more than a contract -- though our modern system of contracts is related to the covenant idea -- because it involves a pledge of loyalty and morally grounded obligation beyond that demanded for mutual advantage, often involving the development of community among the partners. It is also more than a compact in the sense that God is either a party to it or a witness and guarantor. In its fullest sense, a covenant creates a holy or Divinely-sanctioned partnership community based upon a firm, legally defined relationship delineating the authority, power and integrity of each of the partners but requiring more than a narrow legalistic approach to make the community a real one.

Meir Leibush (Malbim), the Bible commentator, offers us a good summary of the covenantal relationship in his commentary on the covenant between God and Abraham in Genesis 17:

This covenant will be "between Me and thee", meaning that the binding obligation rests on both parties to the covenant, because Abraham also obligated himself to be a partner with God in the act of creation by perfecting what was created and by participating in its improvement.

Meir Leibush Malbim, HaTorah VehaMitzvah, 1, 68

This covenant idea is of great importance because of what if offers in the way of building relationships. The Bible develops a whole system of relationships based upon covenants, beginning with the covenants between God and mankind, which serve as initial political acts creating the conditions under which regimes can be constituted. The Sinai covenant, for example, transformed the Jewish people from a family of tribes into a body politic which could then proceed to develop its constitution and regime. Yitro (Jethro), the Torah portion which describes the Sinai experience, provides us with a clear picture of this process. On one hand, it describes the covenant that institutionalizes the fundamental relationship between God and Israel which is necessary to actually create the new body politic in which God assumes direct rule over Israel. On the other hand, the actual institutions of the regime are portrayed as coming from distinctly non-Divine, even non-Jewish, sources, partly from the inherited tradition of tribal government and partly from Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, who suggests the way to structure one branch of the national government.

The fact that these two stories are intertwined and placed parallel to one another is of the utmost significance. It suggests that the political basis for the constitution is the covenant, which is more than a social compact. But the covenant does not dictate or establish the form of the regime. Rather, the form of the regime is taken from human sources on the basis of necessity and convenience. This is the pattern of interaction between covenant and regime throughout Jewish history. There is the continuity of the fundamental covenant and the constitution which flows from it, the Torah, with the oral Torah building the body of constitutional law. On the other hand, within the latitude established by the Torah, Jews are free to adopt the form of regime they wish.

The interaction between the two elements is a continuing one. The model of this post-Sinai interaction is to be found in the Book of Joshua, chapter 24, where a covenanting act takes place to confirm the reorganization of the tribal confederacy after the conquest of the land. Subsequent Jewish historical experience brought with it a variety of adaptations of covenantal principles, with a new one for each new era of Jewish political adjustment.

The congregational form itself is a subsidiary product of the covenant idea. Ten male Jews come together and in effect compact among themselves to create a framework (within the larger framework of the Torah) for the conduct of their religious, social and political life. Even the terminology of congregational organization reflects this orientation. Among Sephardic communities, for example, the articles of agreement that establish congregations are known as askamot (articles of agreement) -- a term that has an explicitly covenantal derivation and significance.

Significantly, the two great phenomena of twentieth-century Jewry, the reestablishment of a Jewish state in the land of Israel and the establishment of a great Jewish community in North America, represent interesting and important adaptations of the covenant idea. If one looks at the foundation of early institutions and settlements of the new yishuv in Eretz Yisrael, one finds that their basis in almost every case was covenantal. Borrowing from the established patterns of congregational askamot, they established partnerships and created associations on the basis of formal compacts and constitutional document. This continued to be the standard form of organization in the Jewish yishuv even after the British became the occupying power in the country. The yishuv was governed internally through a network of covenants and compacts until the emergence of a centralized state in 1948.

In the United States, the organization of all congregations follows the traditional form even though the congregations themselves may be untraditional in their religious practices. Similarly, the organization of social agencies and educational institutions, and their coming together in local Jewish federations or countrywide confederations, is simply another extension of what has been the standard pattern of Jewish organization for several millennia. One might be hard put to prove that, in either the Israeli or the American case, there was a conscious desire to maintain a particular political tradition. Rather, it was a consequence of the shared political culture of the Jews involved that led to the continuation of traditional patterns through new adaptations.

It is more than a little ironic that in the United States, where the government does not care how Jews organize themselves so long as they do not try to go beyond certain fundamental constitutional restrictions, the traditional covenantal pattern has been able to express itself most fully under contemporary conditions, whereas in Israel -- where the necessity was felt, as it were, to create an authoritative state on the model of the modern nation-state -- this process has run into something of a dead end, stifled by the strong inclination toward centralized control of every aspect of public life brought from their European experiences by the state's molders and shapers. That is precisely why the revival of conscious concern with the Jewish political tradition is so important.

The Contents of this Volume

Needless to say, a volume such as this can be no more than an introduction to a very large subject. We have tried to touch upon a number of vital themes that need to be addressed in the course of exploration of the Jewish political tradition and its contemporary uses. We do not even claim that we have touched upon all of them by any means, nor that we have treated those included with sufficient comprehensiveness. This is an introduction which tries to combine both breadth and depth in sufficient proportion -- a preliminary mapping of the surface coupled with some test bores to see what lies below it. Each chapter is written by a specialist in the field, usually the most renowned; and represents a summary expression of years of research on the part of the author. Hence the book represents a double synthesis.

The volume is divided into four parts. In Part One, we examine the biblical and rabbinic foundations of the Jewish political tradition. In Chapter 1, I examine the covenant as the basis of the Jewish political tradition in a broad survey from biblical times to the present, emphasizing the biblical origins of the idea and suggesting ways in which it has persisted as a factor shaping Jewish political thought and behavior in subsequent ages.

In Chapter 2, Stuart Cohen describes the structure of the standard Jewish political collective which is parallel to the concept of the Covenant and the federalist tenets derived from this concept. The structure of the Jewish political collective is characterized by a unique division of powers that is discussed in the fourth chapter of Ethics of Our Fathers.

This division, which is the basis of the Jewish political collective, reflects both the religious and civil dimensions of Jewish governance. It must be noted that this division of the three ketarim accompanies the Jewish people from its beginnings as a nation, although the term itself first appears in the Mishnaic period. According to tradition, the three ketarim derive their authority from God, through certain personalities and families. Keter torah involves relaying the divine message to the nation, through prophets in the early periods and, later on, through the sages, those who engaged in Biblical exegesis, and those who ruled in halakhic matters; keter kehunah enables the nation to reach its God through the family of Aaron and the priests and today, through certain people appointed by the community; keter malkhut involves civil issues of the nation to be dealt with by elders, judges, kings, and administrators.

In Chapter 3, Gordon Freeman explores the rabbinic dimension of the foundations of the Jewish political tradition. Freeman sees the rabbinic understanding of the covenant as emphasizing the reciprocal relationship between rulers and ruled. He suggests that this tendency toward reciprocity, which has its origins in the Bible, reaches its full fruition in rabbinic literature. In documenting his view that the covenant concept is largely a manifestation of reciprocity, he reinforces the idea that the Jewish political tradition is primarily concerned with relationships between various actors in the political arena rather than with forms of regimes. Freeman's work is the one piece included in this volume that was not produced in connection with the colloquium. Originally developed for the Workshop on the Covenant Idea and the Jewish Political Tradition sponsored by the Department of Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University and the Center for Jewish Community Studies, it fills an important gap by focusing on the talmudic sources.

The three chapters in Part Two focus on the theoretical development of the Jewish political tradition. In Chapter 4, Bernard Susser and Eliezer Don-Yehiya provide us with a prolegomenon to Jewish political theory, an exploration of the possibilities for Jewish political thought which suggests categories through which it can be explored. After cataloguing possible alternative approaches, Susser and Don-Yehiya suggest that the great issues which have been the focus of political theorizing within the Jewish political tradition include the nature of the ideal polity, the proper Jewish relationship to foreign rule, the principles of operation and organization of the autonomous Jewish community, and the issues surrounding an independent Jewish polity. They then proceed to suggest sources through which Jewish political theory can be explored, and examine the ways in which different Jewish thinkers have explored those sources.

Lawrence V. Berman, a long-time student of the political thought of Maimonides, examines the latter's view of political leadership in Chapter 5. Since Maimonides was both a preeminent leader of the Jewish community of Egypt and wrote major systematic works on political leadership, his views are particularly important. As one of the few Jewish systematic political theorists who was also a great halakhist, Maimonides is justly renowned as a point of linkage between the Jewish political tradition and systematic political thought as it is understood in the Western world. Berman sees Maimonides as a philosopher. He examines his view of political leadership as a philosophic one, suggesting that "the thrust of his thought reveals a strong emphasis on theory in relation to politics, one of the fundamental attitudes of classic political philosophy. The political leader, according to Maimonides, must be informed by a deep respect for philosophic speculation and, preferably, possess knowledge gained through use of the intellect. On the other hand, the interest in the community, and responsibility for taking part in communal life, are grounded in the first instance for a man like Maimonides on the Jewish tradition."

In the final chapter of Part Two, Chapter 6, Eliezer Schweid examines the attitude towards the state in modern Jewish thought prior to the emergence of Zionism, that is to say, from Spinoza's radical break with Jewish tradition to the end of the nineteenth century. Focusing on Spinoza, Mendelsohn, Solomon Maimon, Shaul Asher, Shmuel Hirsch, Nahman Krochmal, Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, Heinrich Graetz, Zachariah Frankel, and Shlomo Ludwig Steinheim, Schweid explores both the commonalities in these modern Jewish thinkers' understanding of the Jewish political tradition and the differences in their evaluations of the worth of that tradition as a model and guide for political life under modern conditions. In his exploration, Schweid offers strong evidence of the continuity of Jewish political thought through the era of Emancipation. More specifically, he offers a view of the spectrum of attitudes towards the Jewish people as a body politic in a period when Jewish corporate existence was first abandoned in practice and then theoretically rejected by many as well. Significantly, he traces how others came full circle from Spinoza's rejection of the Jewish vision of the polity as inadequate for the modern state to Steinheim's rejection of the modern state and his renewal of the search for a polity grounded on the traditional Jewish vision.

Schweid suggests that one of the major dilemmas of modern Jewish political thought has been the necessity to respond to the existence of the reified centralized state based upon modern principles of sovereignty which fly in the face of traditional Jewish conceptions of the polity. He points to four key questions which concerned modern Jewish political thinkers in this period: 1) What is the vision of the state in the Torah and traditional Jewish sources? 2) What are the implications of this vision for the views and ways of life of modern Jews? 3) What kind of attitude toward the ways of the modern state is made obligatory by the traditional Jewish vision of the state? 4) What are the changes which need to be and can be made in the traditional vision of the state and in the Jewish way of life, or perhaps in the modern understanding of the state, to adjust the Jewish people to the new reality without causing them to lose their separate identity. While the answers to these questions changed at least partially as a result of the rise of Zionism, the questions themselves remain with us as vital ones in the effort to keep the Jewish political tradition operational in our times.

In Part Three, we turn to an examination of the institutional dynamics of Jewish political life as a reflection of the continuing Jewish political tradition. Each of the chapters deals with a different period of political transition in Jewish history. In Chapter 7, Moshe Weinfeld examines the transition from tribal republic to monarchy in ancient Israel, revealing how the struggle between champions of the edah, the Jewish polity of the tribal confederacy, and champions of the monarchy has created a basic tension which has persisted ever since in one form or another as a factor in the Jewish political tradition. His work is built on his earlier explorations of the edah as a form of political organization and the introduction of the monarchy as a constitutional revolution.

In Chapter 8 which discusses the community, Daniel J. Elazar surveys the history of the autonomous Jewish community in the diaspora - from its beginnings in Babylonia up until the period of the Emancipation. This essay serves as an introduction to a series of articles on the constitutional framework and the political activity of the autonomous Jewish communities in the diaspora.

Shlomo Dov Goitein examines political conflict and the uses of power in the world of the Geniza in Chapter 9. The 300 years which he reviews represented a period of transition from the rule of the Gaonim over virtually all of world Jewry to the era of the separated, local Jewish communities of medieval Europe. Goitein emphasizes the degree to which the Jewish political organization in the Geniza world was that of a religious democracy. In tracing the character of that religious democracy, he suggests parallels with our own times. Goitein's emphasis on the terminology of the Geniza period is worthy of particular attention. The exploration of Jewish political terminology must necessarily occupy an important place in the study of the Jewish political tradition and Goitein's evidence as to usage of yeshiva as the equivalent of sanhedrin, and reshut (authority) as crucial to determining lines of authority is extremely valuable.

In Chapter 10, Menachem Elon focuses on authority and power in the classic kehilla, the Jewish community of the Middle Ages to examine the larger issue of authority and power in the Jewish community: the halakhic stance of the traditional community and its contemporary implications. As a foremost student of Jewish public law, he examines the great issues confronting legal decision-makers in the medieval community, particularly at the time of its foundation, and elucidates them in the perspective of the contemporary effort to restore the great chain of tradition in the realm of Jewish public law, particularly as it applies to problems of government in bodies politic. Elon's description of the fundamental tensions around which medieval Jewish communities developed provides a strong sense of the way in which a political tradition is a dialogue rather than a monolithic stream. The concrete examples that he brings from his sources in the responsa of the time are the raw material for exploring that tradition throughout much of Jewish history since the completion of the Talmud.

In Chapter 11, Gerald Blidstein turns to halakhic theory to explore the relationship between the individual and the community in the Middle Ages. Blidstein points out that, while the medieval Jewish community was a corporate body with strong organic characteristics, in law it was considered to be an association based upon consent and was so described by the rabbis. This meant that individuals had rights that were not forfeited or transferred by virtue of their association with the community (a doctrine highly reminiscent of the compact theory of the seventeenth-century English political philosophers). In a brilliant synthesis of sources, Blidstein presents thoroughly grounded in the facts. What is particularly important about his effort is that it also demonstrates the use of a methodology for examining Jewish political theory which principally grows out of rabbinical decisions with regard to concrete issues on a case-by-case basis rather than through abstract treatises. The end result of rabbinic application of theory to practice was an integrated system of rights and obligations that provided substantial protection for individuals within the context of a community based upon a combination of kinship and consent.

Peter Medding examines the patterns of political organization and leadership in contemporary Jewish communities in Chapter 12, focusing on yet another transitional period, this time our own. He begins by identifying the major issues which have confronted contemporary Jewish communities and the ideologies or persuasions which the forces within them. Medding then describes some of the conflicts which have animated modern Jewish communities, including the conflict between established and patrician elements, on the one hand, and the masses of immigrants on the other, which was a recurring phenomenon of the communities of immigration: the struggle between the leftist oriented forces and others in the community; the conflicts between religious and non-religious elements; and, of course, the struggle over Zionism -- properly treating these as fundamental political issues. He then turns to the structure of leadership in the community and the dilemmas of representation in a voluntary setting. Medding concludes with an examination of the way in which these issues have been handled through the different organizational frameworks which evolved under modern conditions.

Part Four explores some of the implications of the Jewish political tradition for contemporary Jewish life. In Chapter 13, Ella Belfer discusses the duplication that exists in the Jewish political conception, while following the continuity of the convergence of the theos as a supreme system of absolute values, with the kratos as the independent entity of the political system.

In Chapter 14, Dan Segre looks at the importance of the Jewish political tradition as a vehicle for Jewish auto-emancipation in Israel. He suggests that part of Israel's contemporary moral dilemma is the fact that Zionism drifted too far from Jewish sources and hence became Jewishly unauthentic, leaving the current generation of Israelis cut off from the only tradition that can ground them in the Jewish consciousness that Zionism sought to revive.

In his chapter, he investigates "some of the factors which have so far hampered the development of a Jewish political thought" in Israel and speculates" on the chances that such a thought might be elaborated in a modern Jewish polity not in opposition to but as a possible link between tradition and modernism." In building his argument, Segre essentially reviews the subjects covered in the first three parts and then seeks to apply them to the contemporary conditions of the Jewish state.

In Chapter 15, Peter Medding addresses himself to the Jewish people as a whole and seeks to develop a general theory of Jewish political interests and behavior that will explain why modern Jews have behaved politically the way they have and in what direction contemporary Jewish political interests are likely to go. In his analysis, he examines the relationship between the Jews and the liberal-left, and then seeks to define standing Jewish political interests and how they have been expressed in both non-liberal and liberal regimes in the twentieth century. Medding concludes by speculating on the likely impact of Israel on diaspora Jewry's perception of Jewish interests and likely diaspora behavior in response to that perception.

In Chapter 16, Charles Liebman looks at the politics of Israel-diaspora relations, focusing on the moral and symbolic elements which he sees as animating that politics. Liebman suggests that "Israel and the diaspora confront and interrelate as two significantly different entities," and hence "the symbolic status and moral claims of each on the other are of particular importance in determining the politics of their relationships." He seeks to examine Israel's moral and symbolic claims on the diaspora, including its claim to moral superiority by virtue of being Zion. He then turns to the diaspora perspective and how it responds to those claims in political terms. Finally, Liebman examines the impact of the foregoing political relationships on the internal communal structure of diaspora Jewry.

Dan Segre strongly emphasized the positive role of halakhah in giving shape to the restored Jewish polity in Chapter 14. In Chapter 17, David Hartman extends that argument by examining halakhah as a ground upon which to create a shared political dialogue among contemporary Jews. Hartman begins with Zionism as the source of the now extant framework for Jewish political activism. He then turns to Joseph Ber Soloveichik's idea of the double covenant which links all Jews -- the brit goral, or covenant of destiny, and the brit ye'ud, of the covenant idea, Hartman suggests a political theory of Jewish education which should lead to the revival of the political dimension of halakhah, which in turn will make possible a dialogue among contemporary Jews. Hartman's effort to move education in halakhah away from the Kitsur Shulhan Aruch approach toward that of a larger political concern offers, for him, the possibility of reforging a halakhically rooted Jewish people who, in their responses to halakhah, will continue the great chain of the Jewish political tradition.

Finally, in an afterword, this writer attempts to suggest some future directions for the exploration and renewed development of the tradition, both for Jews and humanity as a whole. While the emphasis is on the intellectual and scholarly dimensions, they are designed to lead to practical applications. If it is as yet too early to detail those applications, this book is designed to be at least a modest first step.


1. The Politics of Johannes Althusius, translated by Frederick S. Carney (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964), p. 12.

2. Politics, ch. 1.

3. Ibid.

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