Religious Studies | Towards a Jewish State: Religion & Politics in Modern Jewish Thought
R300 | 3779 | Copulsky


In the modern period, the Jewish people in the west found themselves in what has been described as a 'theological-political
predicament'.  The Jews had considered themselves a people governed by a divinely revealed law, and maintained a messianic hope of
return to their land and a reestablishment of their polity.  Could such a people participate in a modern and increasingly liberal
and democratic state?  Or was this participation sanctioned only by a prior renunciation of Judaism and of Jewish loyalties?  Did
Judaism promote a particular political option (ancient or modern), or was it a religion indifferent to politics altogether?  Would
it be possible to develop a new political theory out of the sources of Judaism, one which would allow the integration of the Jews
into modern society?  Or does authentic Jewish life ultimately rely on political autonomy, on a Jewish state?

This course explores these questions by a close examination of the various attitudes towards politics and the state developed by
modern Jewish thinkers.  It will begin with a brief survey of the problem in traditional Jewish sources.  We will then turn our
attention to the theological-political predicament Jews found themselves in the modern period, and the ways in which they dealt with
this crisis.  In particular, we will focus on Liberal Jewish thought, which argued that Judaism served as an ethical basis for the
modern state, and on the emergence and development of Zionist ideologies, which were critical of the Liberal model of Jewish
integration, and advocated the creation of a separate Jewish polity.  We will conclude by considering the debates concerning the
relationship between religion and politics in contemporary Israel.  Our aim is to think critically about the complex relation of
theology and politics in modern Judaism, and to provide a foundation for thinking about these problems in other traditions as well.

Readings will include works by Spinoza, Mendelssohn, Moses Hess, Hermann Cohen, Theodor Herzl, Franz Rosenzweig, Martin Buber, and
Leo Strauss, among others.  Requirements: In-class presentations, mid-term, and a final paper.