From the Editors

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As we begin our third volume and look to the future, we are delighted and honored to welcome Professor Suzanne Last Stone to the editorial board of Hebraic Political Studies. Professor Stone is a distinguished member of the faculty of the Benjamin M. Cardozo School of Law of Yeshiva University in New York City and director of its Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization. A specialist in Jewish legal thought and its relationships to contemporary legal theory, she will bring a new and vital addition to our enterprise.

Political and legal theory, like politics and law, are inseparable. Law, in some form or other, has long been part of the identity of the political order and the principal means by which the polity interacts with, speaks to, and ultimately controls its members. Legal theory, traditionally, has sought to explain the nature, the sources, and, often, the very being of law; one of its concerns has been the philosophic articulation and justification of the standards by which law is judged. Law, we might say, looks outward from its own existence and functions to principles that are presumed to contain and constrain it. Political theory, on the other hand, tends to present itself as beginning from these outer, constraining, and justifying principles and therefore presumes to look inward to the law, on which it is necessarily dependent. The interdependence of politics and law is nowhere more evident than in Jewish textual tradition, beginning with the Hebrew Bible itself. This has been recognized by political thinkers throughout the ages who found valuable ideas about law and politics in Jewish sources, as well as connections between the two. It has been our intention since the founding of the journal to increase our coverage of legal and juridical issues in Jewish political thought broadly conceived. To that end, we are pleased to note that both keynote speakers at our conference in Princeton, New Jersey, next September 7–9, Michael Walzer and Moshe Halbertal, have made substantial contributions to our knowledge in these areas.

The start of this new volume of Hebraic Political Studies also provides an opportunity to look back over our first two years of publication. We are pleased by what we have accomplished, both in the subjects covered and in the quality of what we have been able to publish, and are optimistic about the future.

Hebraic Political Studies was launched following the August 2004 conference “Political Hebraism: Jewish  Sources in Early Modern Political Thought,” to expand and develop the discussions initiated then. Early modernity, as well as a critical era in Western history, was also a golden age for political Hebraism, for it was during this period that the Hebrew Bible and its Jewish exegeses began to be regularly employed as sources of ideas by Europe’s leading political thinkers. Prior to the inception of Hebraic Political Studies, however, this political attention to Judaic sources and its implications had gone largely unnoticed. We have published studies of Hobbes, Spinoza, and Locke along with those of such lesser-known political Hebraists as Guillaume Postel and Carlo Sigonio, revealing the deeply Hebraic context in which early modern theorists wrote. Similarly, we are beginning to uncover interest in Hebraic texts and doctrines at various crucial moments in antiquity, in the Middle Ages, and in the Labor Zionist movement.

And this is only the beginning. Beyond exploring these contexts and dependence on Jewish texts by political thinkers throughout history, we have published articles that raise such underlying questions as whether the Bible has a political teaching and if there is a distinct and identifiable body of Jewish political thought. Our goals have been to mine the Jewish textual tradition for its political ideas and to highlight the uses of Jewish sources in the history of political thought itself, from the political interpretations of the Hebrew Bible in antiquity, through the development of Jewish political ideas in the Middle Ages and their interaction with Christian and Muslim doctrines, to early modernity, the Enlightenment, and beyond.

In pursuing these objectives, we have revealed fragments of a new story that spans centuries and forms an integral part of the history of Western thought. The premise of this story is that the Bible and other Jewish texts are fundamentally political and were even, in some cases, written to advance political ideas. These texts became available to Jews and non-Jews throughout history, entering the Greek and Roman worlds in the time of Philo and Josephus and continuing into the Middle Ages through the Church fathers’ familiarity with the reading of these sources. In the early Middle Ages, when the writings of Plato and Aristotle were largely lost to the Western world, conceptions of politics drawn from the Hebrew Bible and other Judaic works contributed to understandings of the relationships between religious and secular authorities. In the later  Middle Ages, theologians and rabbis including Aquinas and Maimonides once again faced the challenging task of reconciling the Bible with Greek philosophy or, alternatively, of developing distinctly Jewish or Christian political doctrines that could provide answers to political questions as fundamental as those dealt with in classic Greek and Roman philosophy.  In early modernity, as we have already noted, Jewish sources—including those by Hellenistic  Jewish authors, rabbinic, talmudic, Kabbalistic, and others—played central roles in the construction of post-Reformation politics. But even in early modernity, Hebraism was not a uniquely Protestant preserve, and references to the Hebrew Bible can be found with increasing frequency in Roman Catholic political thought, especially Scholastic natural law theory, a subject on which we also invite submissions. Hebraic Political Studies is equally eager to extend its reach beyond the Jewish and Christian Hebraism we have so far treated, and we look forward to including examinations of the biblical and rabbinic impact on early Islam in coming issues.

Political Hebraism, which examines the Jewish textual tradition itself as well as the ways it has been read throughout history, has begun to alter the readings of thinkers and movements conventionally treated as part of the Jewish tradition. Maimonides, for instance, was long regarded as the quintessential Jewish thinker and scholar of the medieval period, but he is usually analyzed as a textual and theological scholar whose contributions to political understanding were tangential to his religious teachings. Rarely have discussions of his work begun with his important contributions to the Judaic understanding of the political world. Publications in Hebraic Political Studies are demonstrating that he was a major architect of that worldview, and his complex political conceptions and arguments were echoed by the generations of theorists and scholars who followed him, down to our own times.

Closer to our own age, Zionist thought, in all its variations, is equally relevant to the Hebraic political tradition, and some of our articles and reviews have highlighted an awareness of Jewish sources and their import for political thought among the intellectual founders and early leaders of Israel. The long tradition of Judaic law, its importance to the founding of Israel, and its role in providing historical and theoretical continuity has often been explored by legal scholars, and we now hope to bring that jurisprudential scholarship into a wider philosophic and political context.

We anticipate that our journal will encourage new scholarship in all these areas as well as those we have not yet explored. We recognize that what has so far been revealed in the pages of the journal is only a small part of a much larger story on which there are multiple perspectives and to which there will be numerous tangents and  side-stories. We continue, therefore, to invite submissions that address rabbinic and nonrabbinic Jewish political thought, such as that of the Agada, the Talmud, Maimonides, Philo, and Josephus, and the uses of these writings in later years.

Another of our hopes is to motivate research on the reading of the Hebrew Bible in the eighteenth century with the aim of exploring the presumed decline of political Hebraism and looking more deeply into the reasons for that change. By the same token, we encourage submissions that deal with the Reformation and Renaissance sources of early modern Hebraism. Luther, Calvin, and their followers had much to say about their Old Testament and took many political lessons from it—lessons that contributed to the ways that part of the Bible and Judaism itself were received by subsequent generations.

Works that actually attempt to construct political theories from the Hebrew Bible—as contrasted with analyzing the theories of others—are still notably absent from our pages. Attention to law and jurisprudence, once again, may be among the bridges to such theories that move among texts, history, and philosophy. Thus, as we enter our third year, we look back with satisfaction to what we have accomplished and forward with renewed excitement to the future, knowing more clearly than we did when we set out on this adventure how much there is left for us and our readers. And, as we did two years ago, we invite our readers not simply to remain with us but  actively to join us and contribute to this voyage of discovery.


The Editors, Winter 2008

Volume 3, Number 1 (Winter 2008) pp. 1 - 4