Covenantal Rights: A Study in Jewish Political Theory

Overview

Covenantal Rights is a groundbreaking work of political theory: a comprehensive, philosophically sophisticated attempt to bring insights from the Jewish political tradition into current political and legal debates about rights and to bring rights discourse more fully into Jewish thought. David Novak pursues these aims by presenting a theory of rights founded on the covenant between God and the Jewish people as that covenant is constituted by Scripture and the rabbinic tradition. In doing so, he presents a ...

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Overview

Covenantal Rights is a groundbreaking work of political theory: a comprehensive, philosophically sophisticated attempt to bring insights from the Jewish political tradition into current political and legal debates about rights and to bring rights discourse more fully into Jewish thought. David Novak pursues these aims by presenting a theory of rights founded on the covenant between God and the Jewish people as that covenant is constituted by Scripture and the rabbinic tradition. In doing so, he presents a powerful challenge to prevailing liberal and conservative positions on rights and duties and opens a new chapter in contemporary Jewish political thinking.

For Novak, "covenantal rights" are rooted in God's primary rights as creator of the universe and as the elector of a particular community whose members relate to this God as their sovereign. The subsequent rights of individuals and communities flow from God's covenantal promises, which function as irrevocable entitlements. This presents a sharp contrast to the liberal tradition, in which rights flow above all from individuals. It also challenges the conservative idea that duties can take precedence over rights, since Novak argues that there are no covenantal duties that are not backed by correlative rights. Novak explains carefully and clearly how this theory of covenantal rights fits into Jewish tradition and applies to the relationships among God, the covenanted community, and individuals. This work is a profound and provocative contribution to contemporary religious and political theory.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Co-Winner of the Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in Constructive-Reflective Studies, American Academy of Religion
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691144375
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 11/2/2009
  • Series: New Forum Books Series
  • Pages: 245
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

David Novak holds the J. Richard and Dorothy Shiff Chair of Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto. His previous books include "Natural Law in Judaism, The Election of Israel", and "Jewish Social Ethics".

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Table of Contents

Preface ix
Abbreviations Used in Text xiii

Introduction 3
Individuals and Societies: Rights and Duties 3
Autonomy and Personal Claims 12
The Political Dilemma of Modern Jews 25
Haim Cohn and the Secularization of Jewish Law 32

Chapter I. God and Human Persons 36
God's Absolute Power 36
Power as a Right 40
Negative Commandments 44
Positive Commandments 50

Chapter II. Human Persons and God 56
Dependence as the Primary Human Claim on God 56
Prayer: Cognitive or Emotive? 60
God's Commandments as Human Rights 65
The Human Right to God's Justice 71

Chapter III. God and Covenanted Community 77
The Immediacy of the Community 77
Election and Covenant 84
General Covenantal Claims on the Community: Justice 86
Specific Covenantal Claims on the Community: Compassion 90
Specific Covenantal Claims on the Community: Public Worship 94
The Most Specific Covenantal Claim on the Community: Martyrdom 96

Chapter IV. Covenanted Community and God 99
Covenantal Faithfulness 99
Specific Jewish Covenantal Claims 105
Legal Authority as a Communal Right 108

Chapter V. Between Human Persons 117
Personal Mutuality 117
What Is Hateful to You 119
Retaliation 121
Self-Interest and Self-Love 122
Rights and Self-Interest Alone 131
The Love of Neighbor 142
Who Is Your Neighbor? 147

Chapter VI. Covenanted Community and Human Persons 153
The Covenanted Community 153
Community and Normative Generality 158
Familial Duty 166
According to Nature 172
Exceptions to the Norm of Procreation 176
The Lethal Claims of the Community 179

Chapter VII. Human Persons and Covenanted Community 187
The Contemporary Importance of Individual Rights 187
The Right to Protection from Harm 187
The Right to Public Assistance 192
The Right to Social Inclusion 196
Individual Rights against Society 204
Naboth's Vineyard 205
The Right of Eminent Domain 209
The Issue of Public Violence 214

Bibliography 219
Index 233

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Recipe

"This will be a reference point for all those seeking a profound Jewish consideration of issues in political theory for years to come. It will be read with profit not only by those interested in the Jewish political tradition, but also by moral philosophers, students of Jewish theology, and anyone concerned with the contemporary debate on religion and public affairs."—Alan Mittleman, Muhlenberg College

"In preparing this book, Novak has had the insight, grace, and fortune to construct one of those concepts that reorganize and recenter academic debates in a given field. Here it is the concept of 'covenantal rights,' which he offers as an alternative to both liberal natural rights theory and neo-conservative communitarianism The book reflects the depth and breadth of Novak's research and thinking both inside and outside the Jewish tradition."—Peter W. Ochs, University of Virginia

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