Law, Politics, and Morality in Judaism

By Michael Walzer | Go to book overview
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Contested Boundaries: Visions of a Shared World


THE TASK of producing, from within the Jewish tradition, significant responses to a specific set of questions regarding territorial boundaries calls for extensive reexamination—and sometimes, imaginative extension—of traditional sources. Because of the character of Judaism as a religious tradition focused on one particular people, the analysis often appears to deal exclusively with Jewish or Israeli experience. But my intent, paralleling that of David Novak in the preceding chapter, is to draw insights from this experience that may be applied to a more general context. My remarks below—even where they take issue with Novak's position—are deeply indebted to his original analyses and insights.

Broadly speaking, I endorse the view expressed by Novak, which accords priority to the definition of communal boundaries over the definition of territorial boundaries. In terms of the Jewish tradition, however, I wish to emphasize the contrasting vision of a world shared by all humanity together, contesting the rigidity of political boundaries, territorial and communal alike.

Territorial Boundaries and World Community

Novak begins by positing that “human life is inconceivable outside of a finite community”; then in the next sentence, he speaks of a defined community” (emphases added). But “defined” need not be “finite,” at least not in Novak's sense of a community which is one of many into which the human race is divided. Why not a world community? This question is raised in the next paragraph, which cites a “version of the Jewish messianic vision that sees one world polity as the goal of all human history.” But I find Novak's answer to this insufficient, for he only stresses that even the future world polity is seen as “oriented around Zion as the axis mundi.”

What is the nature of this “orientation”? It might be spiritual, akin to the Catholic Church's orientation around Rome; this does not require maintaining territorial boundaries between communities worldwide.


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