The Jewish Social Contract: An Essay in Political Theology

By David Novak | Go to book overview
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Chapter Eight
The Jewish Social Contract in Secular Public Policy

Jews, Judaism, and Public Policy

The idea of the Jewish social contract, as it has been formulated from within the Jewish tradition, has important public policy implications, especially for North American Jews living in the United States or Canada, countries in which the idea of a social contract in general has played an important role in political discourse. Hence the idea of the Jewish social contract can be readily intelligible here.

Before proposing a Jewish public policy stand on any specific issue like religion-state relations (often called “church-state” relations), one should have some clear understanding of why Jews as Jews should propose any public policy at all in a non-Jewish, secular society like the United States or Canada.1 By “public policy proposal,” I mean what a particular group, like the Jews, proposes for the larger secular society in which it is a full and active participant. By a “secular society,” I mean a society that does not look to any singular revelation of God in history as its founding event, thus allowing members of any or no religious tradition to be equal participants in its founding.

Without serious consideration of this question, a “Jewish” stand on any public policy issue is likely to be ineffective insofar as its justification has not been sufficiently put forth. Without such justification, the initial reaction of the society at large, to whom such a Jewish public stand on any specific issue, like church-state relations, is addressed, is likely to be: “Who are the Jews to be telling us what they think we should do?” Indeed, lack of a clear understanding has prevented some Christian groups (who have far more experience than the Jews in taking such stands on public policy issues) from being as politically persuasive as they could be. Jews, who are relative newcomers to the proposal of public policy issues in a secular society (other than for their own immediate self-interest in combating antiSemitism and promoting the security of the State of Israel), should take

1 For the use of the term “church” to connote any religious community in a secular setting, see 167 above.

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