Tanach and Politics

God’s Politics | Foreign Affairs.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is, atop his many other virtues, one of the great social philosophers of our time. In a world seemingly intent on either building walls between the religious or the secular – or on delegitimizing one or the other – Sachs builds bridges without attempting to invade. 

His review of political philosopher Michael Walzer’s “In God’s Shadow” is a supreme example of his calm balance. In it, Sacks offers illuminating glimpses at Walzer’s thinking without injecting judgment. Regardless of their philosophical differences (and having read both men I am aware that those differences are not insubstantial,) Sacks draws out the commonalities in their thinking. Walzer notes that in the full analysis the Tanach spells out no coherent political ethos. Sacks, unsurprised if not delighted by the conclusion, agrees. It is not politics, after all, with which the Hebrew Bible concerns itself, and Jewish ethics (most notably the Pirkei Avot) almost compels Jews to eschew politics.

The takeaway is compelling: even though the Hebrew bible espouses no single political ethos, it is a a useful, indeed indispensable, guide for civil society and non-political virtues. Walzer and Sacks together spin a conclusion unlikely to please the “Christian Nation” crowd in the US or the Haredim in Israel: the implicit political message of the Tanach is that faith and politics rule over separate realms.

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