Justice in the City: An Argument from the Sources of Rabbinic Judaism

Justice in the City: An Argument from the Sources of Rabbinic Judaism

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Aryeh Cohen

Series: New Perspectives in Post-Rabbinic Judaism
ISBN: 9781936235643 (hardcover) / 9781618112965 (paper)
Pages: 174 pp.
Publication Date: January 2012

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Justice in the City argues, based on the rabbinic textual tradition, especially the Babylonian Talmud, and utilizing French Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas’ framework of interpersonal ethics, that a just city should be a community of obligation. That is, in a community thus conceived, the privilege of citizenship is the assumption of the obligations of the city towards Others who are not always in view—workers, the poor, the homeless. These Others form a constitutive part of the city. The second part of the book is a close analysis of homelessness, labor, and restorative justice from within the theory that was developed. This title will be useful for scholars and students in Jewish studies, especially rabbinic literature and Jewish thought, but also for those interested in contemporary urban issues.


Aryeh Cohen (PhD Brandeis University) is an associate professor of Rabbinic Literature at American Jewish University.  His previous book is Rereading Talmud: Gender, Law and the Poetics of Sugyot (Brown University, 1998).


This is an extremely important, interesting and creative project. Nothing like it really exists. Here is someone who combines erudition in the classical literature of Judaism (especially the Baylonian Talmud) with his passion for social justice, both as an activist and as someone who thinks in highly sophisticated terms about the tradition of political philosophy and of social theory inspired by religious traditions.
— Charlotte Fonrobert, Taube Center for Jewish Studies, Stanford University
Ours is an age that aches for justice. Growing disparities of wealth, continuing marginalization of people by ethnicity, faith, gender, and ability, propensity to use violence and power to impose control—these and other blights assault our ability to thrive as human beings on this planet. Fortunately, we have a consummate academic, passionate prophet, and wise sage in Aryeh Cohen, who musters the resources of Jewish tradition as tools for clearer analysis and effective engagement. This is a great book by a master scholar and community activist.
— Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University
In a deft exegetical stroke, Cohen turns the rabbis’ idea of ‘accompaniment’ into a metaphor for civic obligation—the space between, on the one hand, the coercive power of the state, and, on the other, the callousness of inconsiderate (and illusory) individualism. In this conception, justice in the city is the accompaniment of strangers.
— Yehudah Mirsky, Jewish Ideas Daily
Rabbi Aryeh Cohen’s book Justice in the City is a. . .compelling, easy-to-read discussion of how rabbinic texts, primarily the Babylonian Talmud, lay out a vision of justice. . . . Every interaction that we have is part of a network of interactions. . . .Cohen continues to expand these interactions and define them, ultimately leaving us with a balanced, coherent, and workable way to view our ties to others and to develop our notions of community in the framework of a world where we will never meet many or most of its inhabitants, and yet must feel some responsibility for them nevertheless.
— Rabbi Alama Suskin MyJewishLearning.com
Voluntary giving and voluntary organizations are great. But. . .what if charity—giving out of love or noblesse oblige or religious commitment—doesn’t go far enough? To understand what’s wrong with the voluntary model, I suggest reading the recent book Justice in the City by the scholar and activist Aryeh Cohen.
— Gershom Gorenberg, Daily Beast