David Novak

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  • Born: August 19, 1941
  • Nationality: American
  • Profession: Judaic Studies Professor, Theologian

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David Novak is a Jewish theologian, ethicist, and scholar of Jewish philosophy and law (Halakha). He is an ordained Conservative rabbi and has also trained with Catholic moral theologians. Since 1997 he has taught religion and philosophy at the University of Toronto; his areas of interest are Jewish theology, ethics and biomedical ethics, political theory (with a special emphasis on natural law theory) and Jewish-Christian relations.

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A fully positive relationship between Christians and Jews is one that would elide all differences.
A religious commitment coupled with theological awareness gives Jews a much better way to answer the claims made upon us by missionaries representing other religions than do the rather weak political and cultural arguments of the secularists.
A traditional rabbi is the man to whom the community and its members turn to rule on what Jewish law requires of them, particularly in cases of doubt.
All modern secularity requires is that our public norms and the arguments for them not presuppose common acceptance of Jewish or Christian revelation, even if these public norms are consistent with a particular community's revelation and the authoritative teachings it derives from that revelation.
All the questions discussed in the Talmud and related rabbinic literature are normative questions: either they are questions of what one is to think or what one is to do. Every prescribed thought has some practical implication; every prescribed act has some theoretical implication.
Although most Christian churches advocate some sort of mission to non-Christians, no Jewish group advocates a mission to non-Jews. Proselytization seems to be foreign to Judaism.
As a practicing Jew, I have studied with Christian teachers whom I respect for who they are and what they are, including their positive concern with Jews and Judaism. Respect
As a traditional Jew, I have benefited personally from the hospitality of Chabad Hasidim on many occasions, and I marvel at how many Jews Chabad has brought back to their primordial home.
At the political level, most Jews and most Catholics have accepted the liberal idea of religious freedom. Freedom & Liberty
Because Judaism and Christianity are both covenantal religions, the relationship of the individual Jew or Christian to God is always within covenanted community. Religion & God
Christianity and Judaism are united above all in their common affirmation and implementation of the moral teaching of the Hebrew Bible, or 'Old Testament,' and the traditions of interpretation of that teaching.
Christians and Jews alike are the new exiles of the contemporary world, struggling with how to sing the Lord's song in a strange land.
Cultural synthesis is how a compromise between various opinions is worked out. But truth does not change, and truth is not arrived at by some sort of compromise. Truth
During the Middle Ages, Jews were members of a semi-independent polity within a larger polity.
Each person is responsible only for his or her own sins. Even the Christian doctrine of 'original sin' does not mean that humans are punished for the sin of the first human pair but, rather, that humans seem inevitably to copy the sin of the first human pair.
Even when God chose Israel, he did not create the people of Israel as he created its human members, as natural beings. Instead, God formed the people of Israel from individual human beings already living in the natural world, calling them into a new historical identity. Religion & God
Every individual is a person necessarily imbedded in a range of multiple relations, and therefore, no one is really independent in anything but a relative sense; no one is truly autonomous.
For those who have envisioned the State of Israel to be a democracy, which although primarily a Jewish polity for Jews is one in which non-Jews can become citizens and enjoy equal civil rights with the Jewish majority, the question of natural law is the question of human rights.
Foundational autonomy asserts instead that in the most fundamental practical sense, I am my own creator, which means that at the core, I am alone.
God chose us to live both in body and in soul, but the body functions for the sake of the soul more than the soul functions for the body. Religion & God
Historically, Jews only accept converts rather than actively seeking them.
I first came to Jewish-Catholic relations in 1963, while studying for the rabbinate at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.
If human language, with its logic, is the way God has given us to understand the world, then the Torah must be understood in that same language and with that same logic. Religion & God
In a very real sense, Jews have to believe that Christians have missed the point about how to wait for the end, and Christians have to believe something quite similar about the Jews.
In deciding among theological views, one should be something of a consequentialist: the choice of one theological position over another should be, if not actually determined, at least heavily conditioned by the fact that it implies a better ethical outcome than the alternatives.
In historical messianism, the reign of the Messiah is brought about by a Jewish ruler powerful enough to gather the Jewish exiles back to the land of Israel, reestablish a Torah government there, and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. Government
It has always been inevitable that, living as a small minority among a Christian majority, some Jews would convert to Christianity.
It seems unavoidable that history will always link the reestablishment of the State of Israel with the tragedy of the Holocaust. History
It was in the early 1960s that my late revered teacher, Professor Abraham Joshua Heschel, became the first major Jewish theologian in America to enter into dialogue with Christian theologians on a high theological level. Education, Learning, Knowledge & Training
Jewish status is defined by the divine election of Israel and his descendants. One does not become a Jew by one's own volition.
Jews have long experience with Christians who have tried to help us in putting our Judaism behind us.
Jews have not only become equal citizens in Western democracies, they have become leading citizens. And, of course, the reestablishment of the State of Israel has given Jews a political presence in the world they have not had since biblical times.
Many of us, both Jews and Christians, want the public square to be pluralistic, which is neither partisan nor naked.
Modernity has been largely shaped for Jews by three momentous experiences: the acquisition of citizenship by individual Jews in secular nation-states, the destruction of one-third of Jewry in the Holocaust, and the founding of the State of Israel.
Most Jews, like most rational persons, know that their personal identity and their ethnic identity are not one and the same.
One cannot accept Christ and still be part of the normative Jewish community; one cannot live by Torah and still be part of the Church.
Perhaps the main stumbling block to a better, and more fruitful, theological relationship with Judaism and the Jewish people has been the tendency of many Christian theologians to see the Christ event as the end of history. History
Proselytizing is only wrong if coercive or deceptive. Coercion, whether violent or not, is immoral, just as deception is immoral.
Religious traditions are in a constant state of development and renewed self-understanding.
Roots can live without branches, although truncated; branches cannot live without roots.
The common moral praxis of Jews and Christians is most definitely theologically informed by the doctrine we share in common: The human person, male and female, is created in the image of God. Religion & God
The community in which one hears the voice of God structures how one hears that voice and interprets what it says. Religion & God
The Holocaust, taken by itself, is a black hole. To look at it directly is to be swallowed up by it.
The Jewish tradition presents itself as the greatest revelation of God's truth that can be known in the world. That is why we call ourselves 'the chosen people.' It is not that we choose ourselves. It means that we have been elected by God and given the Torah. Truth ;Religion & God
The most important part of the process of mourning is regularly reciting kaddish in a synagogue. Kaddish is a doxology, which Jewish tradition has mandated children to recite daily in a synagogue during the year of mourning for a deceased parent and then on the anniversary of his or her death thereafter. Death
The one and only time I met Pope Benedict XVI was when he was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Time
The rabbi is often the regular preacher in the synagogue, the man whose sermons offer his community more general theological and moral guidance.
The relation between Judaism, Zionism, and Messianism is one that is often hard for Jews to get straight. Needless to say, it is even harder for non-Jews.
The relationship between God and his people was always the one having absolute primacy, the one that had basically to determine all human relationships, whether those within the covenanted community itself or those between the covenanted community and the outside world. Religion & God
The religious doctrine of traditional Judaism entails the acceptance of the nationhood of the Jewish people and the everlasting sanctity of the Land of Israel for them.
The right to privacy has both positive and negative connotations for those who consider themselves part of the natural law tradition.
The shortcoming of purely political discourse between Christians and Jews arises from the fact that it is largely built upon the perception of a common enemy.
The slogan 'Never Again!' that emerged after the Holocaust implies that the Holocaust has a universal moral meaning, which, if properly learned, can provide at least a theoretical prophylactic against its repetition against anyone.
The theological contacts between Jews and Christians during much of the premodern period are best characterized as disputations. Even when not engaged in face-to-face argumentation, Jews and Christians spoke about each other in essentially disputational terms.
The Vatican's recognition of the State of Israel in 1997 could not have occurred without John Paul's leadership. Leaders & Leadership
The work of man is to respond to the Covenant by obeying the commandments of the Torah, those commandments that can be obeyed here and now. Work, Workers & The Labor Force
Theological reflection takes place within history, but the history within which it takes place is an ongoing, open-ended process. History
Theology always has moral implications, and morality is always undergirded by theology.
There is no question that Israelis - indeed, all concerned Jews - have to continue to work out a Jewish public philosophy that truly justifies a Jewish state in the land of Israel. Work, Workers & The Labor Force
To be a Jew, essentially and not just accidentally, is to regard the Jewish people as one's sole primal community. Election by the unique God requires total and unconditional loyalty to one people. Religion & God
To view any individual as being independent of relationality is like viewing a point outside of a line, a line outside of a figure, a figure outside of a body.
Unlike the issue of messiahhood, which arose when Jews and Christians were members of the same religio-political community and spoke the same conceptual language, the issues of the incarnation and the Trinity divide people who are no longer members of the same community and who no longer speak the same language.
We Jews who willingly and happily confirm our covenantal status and its attendant rights and duties must take the question of mission seriously: either to accept it or reject it knowingly and with conviction.
When modern political Zionism emerged around the turn of the twentieth century, most Orthodox Jews opposed it.