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Natural Law in Judaism Paperback – 21 Jan 2008


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'I have known Professor Novak for several decades. I have not ceased to be astonished by his versatility, by his thorough familiarity with the full range of classical Jewish literature, and by his talent for finding matching analogies in general world literature. He combines both the traditional scholar's facility in conceptual analysis with the critical scholar's insistence upon exactitude and accuracy. Only Professor Novak with his profound knowledge of Judaica and his acumen in philosophy could have written such a sensible and reliable book on Natural Law in Judaism which embraces also law, philosophy and ethics. The manner in which he integrates these subjects is a scholarly feat, the intellect at its best.' David Weiss Halivni, Columbia University

'While the phrase 'natural law' is not common among Jewish thinkers, who tent to polarise between those who insist on the utter particularity of the Torah and those who settle for a secular human rights agenda, David Novak shows how the reality is presupposed for there to be a people addressed by Torah: natural law is the cardinal presupposition of Sinai! Novak's critical retrieval of classical sources of Maimonides and Nachmanides is coupled with a clear insistence that without an effective natural law the universal significance of the genocide at Auschwitz will inevitably be diverted into a monopolizing claim to victimhood. In short, Judaism needs natural law not just to find common space with others, but to be its authentic self.' David Burrell, University of Notre Dame

'In this remarkable book David Novak has provided the most compelling account and defense of natural law we have had in modernity. His book hopefully will be read as eagerly by Christians as Jews. We all have much to learn from Novak not only as a philosopher but particularly as a theologian.' Stanley Hauerwas, Duke University

'[Novak's] book will be of value not only to participants in the current debate about natural law but to anyone interested in contemporary intellectual and social implications of biblical interpretation.' Society for Old Testament Study

' … Novak's argument … addresses the dilemmas of Jewish modernity determined by three momentous experiences: civil emancipation, the Holocaust, and the establishment of the State of Israel. His book will be of value not only to participants in the current debate about natural law but to anyone interested in contemporary intellectual and social implications of biblical interpretation.' Journal for the Study of the Old Testament

Book Description

Natural law is the idea that our basic moral principles are universal. Most people have assumed that an idea like natural law must be foreign to Judaism because of its specific historical revelation and tradition. This 1998 book shows that natural law is part of Judaism, and that it is consistent with this specific revelation and tradition.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The Noahide codes are a form of Jewish natural law. Maimonides is the recognized Jewish authority. 27 Jan. 2014
By Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Morality is part of every human life and society. Many scholars hold the assumption that Judaism has no natural law. This is simply wrong. It is interesting that Congress recently recognized the Seven Noahided Laws as the bedrock of society. “These ethical values and principals have been the bedrock of society from the dawn of civilization when they were known as the Seven Noahide Laws…” (H.J Res. 104 - One hundred second Congress - 3/20/1991) Natural Law in Judaism included a discusses the Noahide Laws.

The Torah is particular as well as universal. God revealed six commandments(categories of law) through Adam. After the flood a seventh was added. These commandments to Noah are repeated in Torah. The “oral law” using reason (natural law) expands and explains the details. Maimonides is the recognized Jewish authority. There is extensive discussion of Maimonides in Novak's book.

Aquinas influenced by Maimonides, developed what became known as natural law theory, the assumption being that the teachings of the holy books, combined with the reflections of a wise person would discover God’s law. Natural law became the basis or part of the argument for individual rights and limited government.

Hugo Grotius’ (1583-1645) natural law theory is the basis for international law. A Christian he said natural law would exist and bind us even based on pure reason. Grotius opened the gates for later liberal natural rights theories. Argument was often framed as law binding on Noah. The U.S. declaration of independence incorporates John Lock’s (1632-1704) natural law theory. Congress has recognized Noahide Law (H.J Res. 104 - One hundred second Congress)

Jews today live as citizens within secular societies. This text presents a case for utilizing natural law theory in order to deal with current theological and philosophical questions in Judaism's ongoing reflection on its own meaning and its meaning and its meaning in the modern world. It also contributes to the secular vs religious debate going on in the United States today.

It is well written and very pertinent not only for Jews but for Gentiles who desire to understand their own heritage. For this reason I give it five stars.
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