Friday, 25 July 2008

Jewish resources of tolerance

Susan Last Stone is Professor of Law at Cardozo School of Law and Director of Yeshiva University's Centre for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilisation at Cardozo and Visiting Professor of Religion at Princeton University.

These are just some of the notes that I jotted down during the lecture, not all in order but gives an idea of some of the tension and debates.

Susan Last Stone prefers to use the term pluralism as opposed to tolerance. Judaism is a particularist religion, in her view. This means that only Jews are bound to follow the tenets of the faith. Jews do not proselytise their religion. This begs the question what is the salvation of the religious ‘other’ if only Jews are the chosen ones. In the bible, genesis, what we see is a drama with the creation of humanity. Each person is created in the bible in the image of God. People are divided into collectivities and this leads Jews to believe everyone as one is not a good idea. One does aspire to universal social peace and harmony but this is not the same as universal oneness. The bible gives two different pictures about the religious other. One gives the pictures that there are a chosen people and the rest are idolaters, morally corrupted. This is an all or nothing picture. The other picture is that the chosen people are just an intensified form of humanity. There is another aspect of the bible that is important and this is the ideal civil life in Israel that has all sorts of people who are living in the land. The Mishna is an edited written collection from the 2nd century and it contains a collection of the oral law given by God on Sinai. Groups of Rabbis settle in Israel and create academies and they create the Talmud. The Halakha is a collective body of Jewish religious law. The Mishna and the Talmud became the primary authority over the time. Judaism is made up of many different discourses, mystical etc but they come and go but what remains is the legal tradition.

The central tension is between the particular and universal aspects of Judaism. On one hand you have the idea that Sinai is important. Who are the idolaters? Maimonides did not believe that Muslims were idolaters because he was influenced by Islam during his time. Hulme says that polytheists are more accommodating that monotheists.

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