published on September 8, 2017
Yonatan Y. Brafman
Towards a Neo-Ḥaredi Political Theory
Schlesinger, Breuer, and Leibowitz between Religion and Zionism
This article explores the resources available in modern Jewish thought for overcoming the conflict between secular liberalism and religious nationalism. In addition to a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, the modern state’s claim to sovereignty demands the reconstruction of existing social formations, normative orderings, and personal identities. The primary Jewish responses to this demand have been either the privatizing of Judaism as religion or the nationalizing of Jewishness as Zionism. However, this demand was resisted by diverse thinkers, including Akiva Yosef Schlesinger, Isaac Breuer, and Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who can be described as advancing a Neo-Ḥaredi political theory. This theory has five related characteristics: (1) an affirmation of the publicity of halakhah, or Jewish law; (2) a rejection of the construction of Judaism as a “religion”; (3) a lack of aspiration to establish halakhah as state law; (4) a refusal of the identification of the state as the unitary locus of sovereignty; and (5) an ambivalent relation to Zionism, ranging from indifference, to disappointment, and opposition. Common to these reactions is a decentering of the state and its claim to sovereignty in favor of a plurality of social formations, normative orderings, and identities. It is suggested that such an approach may provide a way of avoiding the zero-sum game for control of the state that seems to plague the current politics of both the United States and Israel/Palestine.