Looking Beyond the Mercy/Justice Dichotomy: Reflections on the Complementary Roles of Mercy and Justice in Jewish Law and Tradition
Samuel J. Levine
Touro Law Center
Journal of Catholic Legal Studies, Vol. 45, No. 2, 2006
In one of his earliest encyclicals, Dives in Misericordia, Pope John Paul II explored the concepts of mercy and kindness, with a focus on notions of divine love and compassion. Building upon these observations, and drawing extensively on the work of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik and other scholars of Jewish law and philosophy, Levine considers the complementary roles of justice and mercy in Jewish tradition. Toward that end, Levine places these concepts in a broader perspective, viewing mercy as representative of attributes such as kindness, compassion, love, and peacefulness, while understanding justice in terms of more exacting principles, such as strict adherence to truth and objective logic. Levine begins with a look at the figure of Abraham, the father and founder of the Jewish nation, who embodied the characteristic of kindness, but exercised it within the context of the pursuit of justice. He then examines the role and character of communal leaders, who sometimes must resort to elements of strict justice, but at other times may also require the capacity to temper justice with mercy. Finally, Levine turns to the juridical setting, considering the possibility that an ideal form of justice might incorporate a meaningful and appropriate measure of mercy.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 17
Keywords: mercy, justice, Jewish
JEL Classification: K49Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: November 20, 2008
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