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Slavery and Liberty: Talmud and Political Theory in Dialogue

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 April 2018

Benjamin Schvarcz*
Affiliation:
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Abstract

While focusing on the concept of liberty, this article produces a dialogue between the Talmud and western political theory, and thus expands the canon of political thought. Equipped with three concepts of liberty—negative, positive, and republican—this article offers an original reading to Babylonian Talmud Giṭ 12a–13a. The talmudic passage's pivotal question—whether liberty is necessarily beneficial to a slave—enables us to reconstruct its fundamental, albeit implicit, understandings of both slavery and liberty. The talmudic approach to slavery and liberty emerges as concrete, and hence yields a thick and multi-faceted notion of liberty. Considering that a person might prefer the benefits of slavery reveals a paradox in Isaiah Berlin's negative concept of liberty. Therefore, as this article concludes, his conceptual distinction between two concepts of liberty is unsustainable and needs to be replaced by a concrete and thick notion of liberty.

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © President and Fellows of Harvard College 2018 

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