THERE ARE TWO MODERN ANSWERS to what used to be called “the Jewish question.” I mean, two humane answers; we won't be talking in this volume about the other kind. The question itself might be phrased as follows: What political space is there for Jews in the modern world? The first answer points toward citizenship in inclusive democratic states; the second answer points toward sovereignty in “the land of Israel.”
Both of these answers have now been realized; the process of emancipation brought Jews into the democratic state as equal members; a vote at the United Nations and a war for independence brought Jews a state of their own. These two achievements now require the revision and renewal of Judaism generally and of Jewish legal and moral discourse (halakah) in particular. For Judaism and its halakah are essentially the products of exile and exclusion. They reflect the experience of being ruled by the “others.” They are shaped by a long and difficult adaptation to the harsh realities of homelessness. Now they must be reshaped to accommodate two different ways of being “at home” in the political world.
It is the normative system, the halakic order, that most requires revision and renewal. The resources available for this work are manifold: first of all, the long tradition of legal interpretation and controversy, and then the history of the Jews, the practice of ethical storytelling (aggadah), theological reflection, and, finally, secular philosophy. Interpretation has always been the dominant strategy of Jewish legal innovation, and many of our authors explore its uses here, but it is important to insist on the other possibilities also. In this volume, David Novak argues for the importance of theology, and Menachem Fisch for secular philosophy. As Maimonides appropriated Aristotle, so Fisch appropriates Karl Popper, it is a useful model.
The stress in all these essays is more on making the tradition usable (though some of our authors insist on the difficulties of doing that) than on learning from the tradition. There is, indeed, a lot to learn from the Jewish experience of sustaining a national identity and a common law without territory, sovereignty, citizenship, or, most of the time, coercive power. Some of that learning is visible here, but what is mostly on display in these essays is the effort to find features of Jewish experience