inallrespectsthesameasthevaluesofbiblicalandrabbinicalJudaism.Toputitvery brieﬂy, Thomas Jefferson stands for religious freedom; traditional Judaismdoes not. Jefferson was a proponent of the separation of church and state; tra-ditional Judaism gives rise to no such idea. This does not mean, of course, that Judaism is Meir Kahane. There is very little warrant in Jewish tradition for hisextreme xenophobia, and there are plenty of texts that militate against it. Still,Kahane’s general odiousness does not vitiate the accuracy of his insight.Thomas Jefferson and traditional Judaism are poles apart.Far from being in essential harmony with liberal democracy, traditional Judaism is inherently theocratic. Indeed, the term
itself stems fromthe pen of a Jewish writer, the historian Josephus, who used it to describethe regime prevailing in ancient Israel, where, in his words, “all sovereigntyand all authority were in the hands of God.”
From the days of Josephus tomodern times, the Jews lacked a state of their own, and their theocracywas, therefore, more theoretical than real. It existed mostly in blueprints—the most elaborate of which are found in Maimonides’ legal compilation,the
Nevertheless, throughout the ages when the Jews didnot live in a polity governed in accordance with what they took to be God’slaws, they never ceased to pray for its reestablishment.Maimonides himself explained in his
Guide for the Perplexed
how these lawssurpassed all others and were uniquely suited to advance people along theroad to human perfection.
Less philosophically minded Jews attributedother virtues to them. But they were all united in their longing for historyto end with the restoration of Israel to its former condition. The ﬁrst Jewishthinker to abandon any such hopes was Baruch or Benedict Spinoza, wholived in Amsterdam in the seventeenth century. In his
, he expressed qualiﬁed approval for the ancient Jewish theocracy asa regime appropriate for a rather low-level populace, but he also consideredit to be altogether defunct, along with the rest of Judaism. In the same book,he expressed strong support for the idea of religious freedom and set forthone of the earliest arguments in favor of liberal democracy.
See Michael Walzer, Menachem Lorberbaum, and Noam. J. Zohar, eds.,
The JewishPolitical Tradition
, vol. 1 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 190, for the textfrom “Against Apion.” See also Clifford Orwin’s commentary on this passage on thefollowing page: “The very term ‘theocracy’ (Greek
), which Josephus eitherdevised himself or borrowed from an unknown source (2:165), represents anattempt to subsume the Jewish tradition under a non-Jewish category.”
See Abraham Hershman, trans., “The Code of Maimonides,”
The Book of Judges
, book 14, Yale Judaica Series, vol. 3, The Code of Maimonides, Book XIV, The Bookof Judges, trans. Abraham Hershman (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1949).
See Howard Kreisel,
Maimonides’ Political Thought: Studies in Ethics, Law, and theHuman Ideal
(Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999).
See Steven B. Smith,
Spinoza, Liberalism, and the Question of Jewish Identity
(NewHaven: Yale University Press, 1997).
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