Chapter

Natural Law in Judaism

Tamar Rudavsky

in Reason, Religion, and Natural Law

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9780199767175
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199979592 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199767175.003.0003
Natural Law in Judaism

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This chapter explores whether we can locate a natural law theory in medieval Jewish philosophy. This chapter focuses primarily upon law in the works of Moses Maimonides but also consider predecessors Saadiah Gaon and Abraham Ibn Ezra, and his successor Joseph Albo, thus situating Maimonides' discussions more fully. Given the ubiquity of halakha (Jewish law, written and oral) throughout Jewish life, modern and ancient rabbis have argued over whether halakha is all-inclusive, or whether there exists an independent moral standard to which even halakha (and the giver of halakha, namely God) is beholden. If halakha is the only system of “ethical” behavior, how are we to understand natural law theory, placing the foundation of nomos on something other than God? Though full-fledged natural law theory is absent in the medieval Jewish tradition we can point to evidence of what is called here “natural law sentiments” in it. Maimonides' notion of mefursamot (generally accepted opinions), adumbrated in Saadiah Gaon's work, is critical to his conception of this fledgling natural law.

Keywords: conventionalism; halakha; law; natural law sentiments; perfection; rational commandments

Chapter.  11669 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Religion

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