Religious Diversity and Human Rights

By Irene Bloom; J. Paul Martin et al. | Go to book overview

I
THE INDIVIDUAL AND THE
COMMUNITY IN THE NORMATIVE
TRADITIONS OF JUDAISM

LENN E. GOODMAN

In 1980 the Knesset of Israel severed the last formal ties between Israeli and British law and instructed judges who found no grounds for a decision in statute, case law, or analogy to form their decisions "in the light of the principles of freedom, justice, equity and peace of Israel's heritage." A large body of British precedent and principle had been taken up as statute during the years 1922-1980, when British Mandatory law provided the requisite backdrop. In taking the historic step of severing the link to the colonial past and setting a more ancient heritage in its place, the Knesset was careful to specify that recourse to the traditional canon was for its humanity. 1 No parochial traditionalism was to be erected on the basis of this law. But the formal judicial process was reopened to a source of inspiration too long held at arm's length. The hope: to reenliven the universal human values of Jewish law. What are those values, and how can their timeless principles be disentangled from the particularities of specific epochs?

The question has been asked repeatedly in Jewish history, a fact that aids us in addressing it. For religions based on revealed scriptures characteristically regard their sacred texts not as fixed archaeological records but as timeless touchstones of inspiration, whose very ambiguities open up new and always relevant meanings. Fundamentalisms, whether minimalist or maximalist, movements of revival, renaissance, and reform, typify monotheistic cultures precisely because the mere positivity of a text or practice will never seem fully

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