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The Contested Limits of Nature, Law, and Covenant
By David Novak
In Jewish Justice David Novak explores the continuing role of Judaism for crafting ethics, politics, and theology. Drawing on sources as diverse as the Bible, the Talmud, and ancient, medieval, and modern philosophy, Novak asserts Judaism's integral place in communal discourse of the public square.
According to Novak, biblical revelation has universal implications—that it is ultimately God's law to humanity because humans made in God’s image are capable of making intelligent moral choices. The universality of this claim, however, stands in tension with the particularities of Jewish monotheism (one God, one people, one law). Novak’s challenge is for Judaism to capitalize on the way God’s law transcends particularity without destroying difference. Thus it is as Jews that Jews are called to join communities across the faithful denominations, as well as secular ones, to engage in debates about the common good.
Jewish Justice follows a logical progression from grounded ethical quandaries to larger philosophical debates. Novak begins by considering the practical issues of capital punishment, mutilation and torture, corporate crime, the landed status of communities and nations, civil marriage, and religious marriage. He next moves to a consideration of theoretical concerns: God’s universal justice, the universal aim of particular Jewish ethics, human rights and the image of God, the relation of post-Enlightenment social contract theory to the recently enfranchised Jewish community, and the voices of Jewish citizens in secular politics and the public sphere. Novak also explores the intersection of universality and particularity by examining the practice of interfaith dialogue among Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
"With rhetorical flair and conceptual rigor, Novak offers an unapologetically Jewish theology in a manner that consistently includes non-Jewish readers and practical implications for life together in pluralist societies. It is this uniquely attractive way of inviting thinkers of all stripes into the richness of the ongoing Jewish theological and ethical conversation that makes Novak so great."
—Matthew Levering, James N. and Mary D. Perry, Jr. Chair of Theology, Mundelein Seminary
“Novak's unparalleled ability to bring philosophical perspicuity to the full range of normative legal and moral texts makes him always worth reading. One could disagree with some of his substantive views, but one always learns a good deal and feels enriched by the encounter with this consummately thoughtful master of Jewish law and ethics.”
—Alan Mittleman, Aaron Rabinowitz and Simon H. Rifkind Professor of Jewish Philosophy, The Jewish Theological Seminary
“David Novak, rabbi and professor, is singularly adept in the range of disciplines needed to speak wisely on Jewish justice: Talmudic/rabbinic jurisprudence, Jewish philosophy, Jewish ethics, and the history of rabbinic practice. A deep reader and interpreter of Greek, Latin, and German philosophic and theological traditions, Novak is singularly qualified to speak wisely to Christian as well as Jewish readers.”
—Peter Ochs, Edgar Bronfman Professor of Modern Judaic Studies, University of Virginia
David Novak is Professor of Religion and Philosophy and the J. Richard and Dorothy Shiff Chair of Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto.