• The authors:
    Lilya A. Talalova
    Larissa N. Talalova
  • Issue: July 24-26th, 2019
  • Pages: 37-44
  • URL:
  • DOI:

Abstract. The relation of the individual Jew to the community and to the world at large has been occupying the minds of thinkers throughout the ages, from biblical to modern times. Over the centuries Jews have been variously referred to as a congregation, a nation, children of Israel or evena kingdom, all implying a connection among people. A sense of community, that always has been the defining characteristic of the Jewish identity, can be translated into a distinctive concept, which describes the feeling of belonging and commitment to the Jewish people and which serves as the primary organizing structure of Jewish life. In mainstream understanding community is “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common”. English Oxford Living Dictionaries offer several specifications to this definition, including: 1.4 “the people of a district or country considered collectively, especially in the context of social values and responsibilities; society.” (English Oxford Living Dictionaries, 2016). The Jewish community can be determined through adding the number of its distinctive features to the above-entioned notion. Some distinguished attributes can be found in this Talmudic statement: “A talmid haham [Torah scholar] is not allowed to live in a city that does not have these 10 things: a beit din that metes out
punishments; a tzedakah fund that is collected by two people and distributed by three; a synagogue; a bath house; a bathroom; a doctor; a craftsperson; a blood-letter; (some versions add: a butcher); and a teacher of children” (Sanhedrin 17b). Thus, the concept of community means that it must provide for all spiritual and physical needs of its members. Contemporary authors refer to elaboration of philosophical views on the nature of social relationships and give opinions of two Enlightenment philosophers John Locke and Thomas Hobbes. Locke estimates a human being as a rational creature, and the social contract is thus intended to maximize what people can do together. Hobbes regards a human being as vulnerable essence therefore, the social contract is intended to protect the self. Modern authors contrast their opinions with the Jewish tradition, where a human being is viewed as created “in the image of God”, thence the community’s mission is to allow people to fulfill mitzvot – obligations, which in its turn is intended to perfecting the human being and the world. The members of Jewish community are constantly reminded of their covenantal relationship with God and each other, so the essence of social relationship is the responsibility to respond, which, as Rabbi David Wolpe notes, is “the spine of Judaism”. Referring to the Torah, every Jew is commanded to participate in communal affairs and should respond to this demand with enthusiasm. They urge not to invest all of one’s efforts into business activities aimed at gaining wealth, but to spare some time for daily studying on individual and family levels. Such pursuit of knowledge, peculiar to the Jewish tradition and passed from generation to generation, results in appreciation of the invisible treasures of the mind, which is beneficial in multiple directions for: 1) the individual, as an opportunity to have an intellectually satisfying life; 2) the family, as a contribution to a warm and stimulating ambience; 3) the community, as an inspiration and enhancement of its total erudition. The view of the relationship between an individual and community is constantly evolving, and scholars are now approaching the issue of strong commitment to selfdetermination and individual freedom vs obedience to the Law within the historically covenanted community. Jewish thought seeks to achieve a balance between the needs of the individual and those of the community.
Keywords: Jewish communal life concept, autonomy, mitzvot as “the spine of Judaism”

Lilya A. Talalova1, Larissa N. Talalova2
1 Limmud FSU Europe organizing committee, London, UK,
2 State University of Management, Moscow, Russia,
ORCID ID: 0000-0003-1380-2339

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