Novak- Social Contract Part II of III parts

Novak- Social Contract Part II of III parts

OK – I have learned that if I am out of town as a scholar in residence or at a conference, then I should put up a note. Well I am back from a combined Scholar-in residence gig and delivering a conference paper.

To continue with Novak-Social Contract from below.

11] Novak considers the Reform and Conservative movements as having applied Occam’s razor to Mendelssohn. Since Mendelssohn said that we need God and Torah to survive, they reduce  it down to the bare minimum needed. For Novak, Bible and Talmud as a cultural element is not enough. It has to be elective and mandate.

Novak says there are only four choices to Jewish identity in the modern era: conversion, secularism, antinomianism, or the natural law mandate.

He considers Conservative Judaism as antinomianism since it, according to Novak, it denies God, Torah and redemption. He states that since liberal Judaism forges- “no consistent connection to the historical Jewish traditions”- therefore they cannot make powerful claims on civil society. (But his treating shituf a social contract of trust, he considers as a strong connection to the Jewish tradition.)

For him, any connection to the land of Israel and the state of Israel only from a sense of the people chosen to bring the Noahide laws into the public sphere.
So any discussion of Israel without discussing the noahite laws is just tribalism

12] One of Nova k’s consistent themes is the need for a sense of Jewish election. A theological basis of election that is greater than the parochial interest in mizvot. Mendelssohn did not have a strong enough idea of election.
A similar idea to Novak’s was presented several decades ago by Arthur A Cohen, is his book Natural- Supernatural Jew, which was subjected to a critique by Walter Wurzburgerbecause one cannot have supernatural destiny without halakhah
But at least Arthur A Cohen left the idea of election as a positive metaphysical concept that said Jewish history is not just an aggregate of contingent events, there is a mystery that holds the Jewish people together. (In his later work, The Tremendum, it becomes a post-Holocaust negative identity.) But Novak makes it a zero-sum approach in which there has to be some special secret plan only done by the Jews and not those liberals.

13] Novak writes that our only friends on the social and political levels used to be the liberal Protestants so we did not support our natural theological allies, the conservative covenantal Christians. Jews have striking similarities to Christian political theology..

14] He wants Jewish identity to be their status as a chosen people, this should be considered before race, class, gender, democracy, liberalism, or politics. But he does not think this will lead to just provincialism and parochialism. He is against Rawls. We need to decide everything from within our Jewish condition

15] Novak considers that revelation is in the world but not of part of it. The revelation comes from the divine mandate.
In the case of the four dialectic thinkers discussed by Sagi, they each see a need to affirm the halakhah as the expression of faith and belief.
For Novak, the affirmed faith is the mandate for natural law and a sense of election.
But if it is natural law, then it is hard to claim that revelation is not part of the world. Let us see in his other book on Natural law if he resolves this.

16] Novak thinks that a Jew should be anti abortion as a value even if there are halakhic grounds to permit it. Meaning the halakhah is not what defines Judaism but the grundnorms on which it is bases. This seems to be Zechariah Frankel’s positive historical Judiasm but from a neo-con perspectives. There is an essence greater than the manifestation in the Oral Law.

17] Novak considers Judaism as a public language – not what does the tradition say but what does the Torah require us to do? It is not the texts but a an internalized sense that God wants you to change the public sphere. A mitzvah is the sense of God commanding what to do (cf. the ecstatic position his teacher Heschel who considers mizvot a connection to God; a prayer in the form of a deed, or the approach of Hirsch in which mizvot are uplifting in our own lives )
Novak wants to be able to speak in the first person about what Judaism requires and thinks that anyone who cannot speak for the first person has no business saying anything.

18] Novak criticizes Rabbi JD Bleich’s position on Noahite laws as halakhah to be decided by rabbis as irrational and undemocratic.Why would non-Jews want to come under Jewish scrutiny and Jewish moral authority as second class citizens?Novak finds the Orthodox version of social theory and bioethics- politically ineffectual and philosophic inadequate. No one is waiting to be declared a ger toshav- resident alien.
He also rejects Nathan Lewin’s sectarianism in always fighting only for particularistic self-interest.
He characterizes Orthodox provincialism and parochialism as the following (In sharp contrast to his own p & p) “People living in a democratic polity in such bad faith prevents them from exercising true moral influence on it, and thus makes them far more subject to the moral agendas of the enemies of Judaism.”
Any Jewish understanding of the Noahite laws has to come from our commitment to natural law. The Noahide laws are universal normative categories based on God given rationalism.

4 responses to “Novak- Social Contract Part II of III parts

  1. Is Novak really as bad as you are presenting him?

    If so, what is his appeal other than speaking to the “converted”, who already adopt a social conservative position and who read Commentary and First Things?

    Of is his role to present a “Jewish” position to accompany the “Christian” and “secular” positions in the Neo-Conservative circles?

    Perhaps Novak is appealing because of the lack of alternative Jewish political theories & theorists. There are source books, such as Waltzer, et al., but not complete worldviews.

    Or perhaps because many feel uncomfortable with Orthodox Judaisms Jewish particularism or Pan-Halakhicism.

    Perhaps he is useful as a stand-in figure. One could present him on the right, someone else on the left and one could then teach a class on 21st Century American Jewish political theory.

    • I myself want to know what there is in his thought. Right now he is “in” and read and I want to find the attraction. I asked the person who drove me home last night about Novak and he reminded me of when Martha Nussbaum tore him apart at an academic conference. He was treated as interfaith and traditionalism by those whom read theology. But now he has a half a dozen works from important presses and is a key player in the Tikvah -Witherspoon events. He is getting reviewed in all the major publications. The stack of reviews on my table are all negative but I can blame that on the liberalism of the authors. I tried to be fair in my presentation- so what is the attraction?

  2. I could guess that the attraction could be to those who are themselves not scholars of Judaism who do not know how he is butchering the sources.

    Additionally, as I noted above, there are very few “Jewish” political theories and theorists today. Having one available, even if he gets things wrong, gives publications fodder to discuss these issues.

    Lastly, as I noted, he provides a counterbalance to the Jewish political left with more substance than people like Norman Podhoretz or David Klinghoffer.

    According to numerous articles over the last decade, the Jewish political/social rightwing is on the acendancy and is a political force to be reckoned with. However, there is no political theorist to give a clear explanation of their beliefs. Perhaps, people are turning to Novak as a way of explaining the Jewish Right.

  3. Pingback: Two Months « The Book of Doctrines and Opinions: notes on Jewish theology and spirituality

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