ABSTRACT

This conversation brings together contributors from the fields of Jewish and Christian thought to explore ways of understanding law as a blessing rather than a burden—as an expression of a community's own commitments, for instance, rather than a coercive imposition by an external authority. I recover a legal theory that addresses such concerns, focusing on a neglected text by a figure who is frequently cited yet too little understood: Moses Mendelssohn. Exploring a little-known essay on Jewish property law, I argue that Mendelssohn emphasizes the role of human communities in authorizing divine norms and the role of such norms in promoting freedom, and I suggest that his position continues to possess relevance for twenty-first century readers. Covertly appropriating Maimonides, Mendelssohn casts Jewish law as capable of producing a certain type of civic subject—as a communally authorized means of forming adherents into individuals who contribute to the preservation of freedom.

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