Religious liberty and economic freedom in the heart of … Israel? In September, the foundational message of the Acton Institute was featured at “Judaism, Christianity, and the West: Building and Preserving the Institutions of Freedom,” a conference that brought together Jewish and Christian scholars in Jerusalem.
One featured speaker was Professor Daniel Mark, an Orthodox Jew and an assistant professor of political science at Villanova University, Pennsylvania’s oldest Catholic university. Mark is also a visiting fellow in the Department of Politics at Princeton University. His lecture argued that the Jewish community needs to restore and promote religious freedoms based on the centrality of Jewish obligations, or “commandments.” Mark stressed the difference between “obligations” and personal “rights.”
The Torah doesn’t have a word for “rights,” Mark tells JNS.org. Judaism instead thinks in terms of obligations.
“We can defend the idea of [religious] rights by defending the idea of obligations. The reason we have to respect people’s rights to religious freedoms is because we have to respect their rights to religious obligations,” he says.
Mark explains that hypothetically, “If the government were to make one’s religious practices illegal, they would in actuality be withholding your obligations, not your rights or preferences.”
Also presenting was Rev. Professor Martin Schlag, academic director of the Markets, Culture, and Ethics Research Center at the Pontifical University of the Cross.
Schlag says that while he has defended free-market economies, there is “an inevitable communication problem” that causes some to misunderstand that concept, causing them to believe that the goal of free markets is to exploit the poor.
Elucidating what he calls the “Jewish-Christian notions of heroic charity,” Schlag describes a society in which Judeo-Christian values allow for an ideal and harmonious community where there is no need for extremists or “heroes” trying to help those in need. He explains that this scenario can backfire if a vacuum is formed in which young people from Western societies become misguided—hence the phenomenon of young Westerners joining terror groups like Islamic State. The bottom line, says Schlag, is that “you can serve others without going to the extremes.”