The James Wilson Foundation on Natural Rights and the American Founding

“Judaism, Natural Law, and the Achievement of David Novak” –Daniel Mark in Public Discourse

In an article for Public Discourse titled “Judaism, Natural Law, and the Achievement of David Novak”, JWI affiliated scholar Daniel Mark praises professor David Novak for popularizing natural law theory within the Jewish faith tradition.  Mark identifies the competing strands of today’s Jewish thought, criticizing Reform Judaism for embracing too much of the modern world and Conservative Judaism for shunning it altogether.  In search of a middle ground, Mark introduces University of Toronto professor David Novak.  Novak’s brand of Judaism uniquely synthesizes reason and tradition, rescuing Jewish ritual from a reform movement eager to jettison all that appears arbitrary.  Modern Orthodox Judaism preserves as central tradition’s place in the Jewish faith, rejecting Reform Judaism’s wayward drift into modernity.  But unlike Conservative Judaism, Modern Orthodoxy asserts authority by citing natural law, not by resting on the unpersuasive claim that “this is how we have always done things.”  In this detailed tribute, Daniel Mark credits David Novak for leading the march down this new middle road.

Some excerpts from the article:

“[W]ithin Judaism, Modern Orthodoxy is uniquely situated with respect to the challenges that modern society presents to religious believers. Unlike Conservative and Reform Judaism, Modern Orthodoxy stands athwart the secularizing, progressive trends in favor of the Jewish tradition. And, unlike Ultra-Orthodoxy, Modern Orthodoxy is deeply engaged in the world that is grappling with those issues.”

“I think it is fair to say that, among Orthodox, or traditional, Jews, very few know what natural law is. Neither the phrase nor the concept is part of a standard Jewish education. Among those who have heard of natural law, very few know what it has to do with Judaism, and among those who do think of the relationship between Judaism and natural law, most of those deny that it does have anything to do with Judaism.”

“If I am right that David Novak is the only person—I think literally the only one—who provides the framework and the resources for meeting this challenge, then the future of Modern Orthodoxy—that is, of faithful and worldly, engaged Judaism—depends on building on what he has begun. And that, to me, makes his work terribly important.”

Read the whole article here.

Law and liberty cannot rationally become the objects of our love, unless they first become the objects of our knowledge.
— James Wilson, Lectures on Law, 1790