Past Imperatives

Studies in the History and Theory of Jewish Ethics

By Louis E. Newman

Subjects: Philosophy Of Religion
Series: SUNY series in Jewish Philosophy
Paperback : 9780791438688, 298 pages, August 1998
Hardcover : 9780791438671, 298 pages, August 1998

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Table of contents




Part I. Ethics and Law

1. Law, Virtue, and Supererogation in the Halakha: The Problem of Lifnim Mishurat Hadin Reconsidered
2. Ethics as Law, Law as Religion: Reflections on the Problem of Law and Ethics in Judaism
3. Covenant and Contract: A Framework for the Analysis of Jewish Ethics

Part II. Ethics and Theology

4. The Quality of Mercy: On the Duty to Forgive in the Judaic Tradition
5. Jewish Theology and Bioethics
6. Nature and Torah, Creation and Revelation: On the Possibility of a Natural Law in Judaism
7. Religious Faith, Historical Relativism, and the Prospects for Modern Jewish Ethics

Part III. Methodological Issues in Contemporary Jewish Ethics

8. Woodchoppers and Respirators: The Problem of Interpretation in Contemporary Jewish Ethics
9. Text and Tradition in Contemporary Jewish Bioethics
10. Talking Ethics with Strangers: A View from Jewish Tradition

Conclusion. New Directions in the Study of the Ethics of Judaism




Explores central questions in the history and theory of Jewish ethics, namely, the relationship between ethics and law, the relationship between ethics and theology, and the problems and prospects for constructing a contemporary Jewish ethic.


Past Imperatives explores the nature and development of Jewish ethics by analyzing three important sets of issues: the relationship between Jewish law and ethics, the relationship between Jewish ethics and theology, and the problems and prospects for constructing a contemporary Jewish ethic. The penetrating and provocative essays are drawn from a number of fields, including legal theory, literary theory, and theory of religion. These studies illuminate many previously uninvestigated aspects of Jewish biomedical ethics, covenant theology, and textual interpretation in Judaism.

By exploring these issues within the larger context of historical and theoretical work in religious studies, Past Imperatives moves beyond previous work in Jewish ethics, which has largely sought to offer moral guidance from a Jewish perspective. This volume boldly confronts the fact that Judaism encompasses many, sometimes contradictory, ethical perspectives and investigates their theological underpinnings, how they have developed, and how they differ from other moral and/or religious perspectives.

Louis E. Newman is Professor of Religion and Director of the Judaic Studies Program at Carleton College. He is coeditor of Contemporary Jewish Ethics and Morality.


"…Past Imperatives [is] an exciting and profound work." — International Studies in Psychology

"This book brings a fresh and broad perspective to a whole range of important topics, which heretofore had been discussed either very dogmatically or within narrow frames of reference. Newman's perspective offers the rare combination of competent study of rabbinic texts with sound philosophical knowledge and method." — Noam Zohar, Bar Ilan University

"Past Imperatives will quickly become the most important methodological study of Jewish ethics in English." — David Novak, University of Toronto