The Political Theology of Maharam of Rothenburg

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Abstract: This article treats the political theory of the preeminent legal authority at the end of the High Middle Ages, Maharam of Rothenburg. Maharam’s political philosophy is concerned with one of the central issues challenging every system of jurisprudence: the tension between individual rights and the public good. His effort to resolve this tension begins with his definition of the community as a political entity. In his view, the community is a partnership arising from the proprietary rights of the individual and common economic interest. Yet Maharam goes beyond characterizing the community politically, defining it also as a holy congregation united around a theological vision, where the community’s right to exist as a political organization derives from the fact that it is a union created for the purpose of serving God. For Maharam, complete interaction with God is possible only in the public sphere, as only a united community can attain a full conception of God. This important theological principle places the community above the individual, justifying the existence of a God-serving community and even the denial of certain individual rights when this is necessary in order to consolidate the community. The uniqueness of Maharam’s theory lies in the balance it strikes between individual rights and the public good, and the placement of these in a theological hierarchy.

Biography: Joseph Isaac Lifshitz is a senior fellow at the Institute for Philosophy, Politics, and Religion at the Shalem Center. He received his rabbinical ordination from Rabbis Yitzhak Kulitz and David Nesher. He holds an MA in Jewish history from Touro College and is pursuing a PhD in Jewish thought from Tel Aviv University. His areas of research include Talmud, Jewish law, Jewish history, and political theory. He is also the principal of the Rabbi Yitzhak Yechiel Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

Volume 1, Number 4 (Summer 2006) pp. 383-412