The Jewish Roots of Western Freedom

45 Pages Posted: 8 Nov 2006 Last revised: 9 Apr 2010

See all articles by Fania Oz-Salzberger

Fania Oz-Salzberger

Faculty of Law, University of Haifa; Princeton University, Center for Human Values; Monash University

Date Written: 2002


Seventeenth-century political and juridical thinkers mined the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud, and rabbinic literature for ideas, examples and full-fledged political systems, aiming to apply them to modern Europe. This essay examines several political Hebraists of the seventeenth century, notably Petrus Cuneaus, John Selden, James Harrington and his fellow English republicans, and John Locke. The "Hebrew republic," the polity idealized by early modern Hebraists, is significant above all as a political and juridical model. The essay discerns three clusters of ideas reaped exclusively, or mainly, from Hebraic sources, and interwoven into modern political thought: (1)The importance of the rule of law within fixed borders: a concept of international borders underpinning a novel, natural-law-based theory of the state, law, and rights; (2) the idea of a federal republic, transformed from the tribal Israelite society to Dutch political thinking; and (3) the moral economy of republican social justice. Finally, the essay explains why jurists and political thinkers ceased to read the Bible as a historical and political text in the eighteenth century, and why the earlier legacy of political Hebraism could become valuable again today, both historically and politically.

Keywords: Seventeenth-century, political Hebraists, law, rights, republican social justice, economy

JEL Classification: K00, K10, K19, K20, K29, K30, K39, K33, K49

Suggested Citation

Oz-Salzberger, Fania, The Jewish Roots of Western Freedom (2002). Azure, Vol. 13, pp. 88-132, Summer 2002; University of Haifa Faculty of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 941631. Available at SSRN:

Fania Oz-Salzberger (Contact Author)

Faculty of Law, University of Haifa ( email )

Mount Carmel
Haifa, 31905

Princeton University, Center for Human Values ( email )

22 Chambers Street
Princeton, NJ 08544-0708
United States

Monash University ( email )

23 Innovation Walk
Wellington Road
Clayton, Victoria 3800

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