In 1953, Yale theologian H. Richard Niebuhr was asked, “To what extent did religious and specifically Christian convictions influence the development of American democracy; and, to what extent can that democracy be maintained in America, or be reproduced elsewhere, without the aid of such convictions?” In response, Niebuhr put forward a theory of America as a “covenantal community” – a model built on trust and the unspoken voluntary promise on the part of each member of the covenant that every decision one makes will be in the interests of enhancing the commonweal.
Recently Daniel Friedman reflected on the trajectory of Niebuhr’s “covenant” idea and how it influenced the thought of the late R. Jonathan Sacks. Friedman did this as part of our “Rabbi Sacks Bookshelves Project,” a weekly column exploring some of the great writings in western philosophy, history, literature, social science, and more, which left their mark on R. Sacks’ writing.
Friedman’s essay was authored and slated for publication weeks ago, but the production schedule meant it was coincidentally, perhaps fortuitously, published in the days following the recent unfortunate and unprecedented events in Washington, DC. In light of those events we thought it would be informative to chat with him about civil discourse, and the critical importance in binding the wounds of our society. He recently spoke with TRADITION’s Associate Editor, R. Chaim Strauchler. Together they consider practical applications for the concepts advanced by Niebuhr and R. Sacks in not “othering” our neighbors.
Rabbi Daniel Friedman, senior rabbi of Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue, London, is completing a doctorate on American Christian attitudes to Israel.