The Jewish Political Tradition

RN332/ HI388
Fall 2012
Professor Simon Rabinovitch
T/R 12:30-2:00 PM

A foundational course for the study of Jewish political history. Students gain a broad understanding of central aspects of the “Jewish political tradition” from biblical times until today — in Europe, the Americas, and the modern Middle East.


Course Outline and Objectives

As a topic, simply defining “Jewish politics” can be difficult. Is it a question about how Jews historically defined their political community? Is “Jewish politics” about self-advocacy with non-Jewish authorities? Is it about participation by Jews in non-Jewish political institutions? Or is it the creation of universal political philosophies by Jews? Does “Jewish politics” encompass internal Jewish debate about Jewish society? Perhaps it refers to the politics of self-defined Jewish political ideologies, as “Jewish politics” is today most commonly understood. Is “Jewish politics” all, some, or none of the above? Fundamentally, to ask “what is Jewish politics?” is to ask “what are the Jews?” and the answer may be dramatically different depending on when and where one looks.

This course is intended as a foundational course for the study of Jewish political history. From biblical times until today – in Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East – we will seek to gain a broad understanding of the central aspects of the “Jewish political tradition.” The most important objective guiding the course is to understand how Jewish political strategies, self-definition, power, and sovereignty changed over the course of Jewish history depending upon the particular circumstances in which Jews found themselves. With this course students will gain the necessary historical context to understand the Jewish political developments of the 20th century, in particular the creation of distinctly Jewish political ideologies and the founding of Israel.

The course is divided into four sections:

  1. I. Human and Divine Kingship

We examine the religious texts and precepts defining the Jewish political community in the ancient period, and how they changed

  1. II. Community and Representation in Medieval and Early Modern Europe

We examine Jewish political autonomy and representation before the “era of emancipation”

  1. III. Politics of Emancipation

We examine the process in which Jewish political rights, responsibilities, and self-definition evolved in different states in the modern period

  1. IV. Shifting Conceptions of Jewish Politics: Universalism vs. Particularism

We examine some of the key themes of Jewish politics as they developed in the modern period