Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2018


From the biblical era through the present day, the conception of Israel as a people devoted to ethical ends has been a core Jewish value. But how is such a model to be implemented? This essay suggests two basic ways of thinking about ethical peoplehood, namely, that one can begin with a people and try to transform it into an ethical people ("from tribe to ethics") or that one can begin with ethical norms and through those norms attempt to build a people ("from ethics to tribe"). Part I of this essay begins by sketching these two modalities in Jewish thought. Part II turns to some applications. Specifically, this distinction has ramifications ranging from understanding how Judaism is expressed among different groups of Jews (e.g., Orthodox vs. non-Orthodox, Israeli vs. American) to understanding many contemporary debates on specific matters, such as intermarriage and the nature of Israel's democracy, in which tensions between the pulls of ethics and of tribe can be felt.