26 Pages

"Ideal" and "Real" in Classical Jewish Political Theory

From the Talmud to Abrabanel
ByGerald J. Blidstein

Rabbi Nissim has developed the distinction between the real and the ideal about as far as it will go in Jewish political theory. Curiously, his work is a focus of attention in today's Israel, as it offers religous legitimacy to a state that orders its society by norms that do not always dovetail with classic Jewish law. Yet, we may feel uneasy about the potential of this doctrine, which can so easily be used to justify virtually any abuse of centralized power; and Rabbi Nissim was aware of this sinister potential. Detachment of the real from the idea is a dangerous step; people almost sense Machiavelli waiting in the wings. It is a presupposition of Jewish social life that this society will be self-governing. This assumption is one of the bases of Jewish communal life in premodern times, and it most likely informed the Jew's consciousness as an individual relating to his fellows.