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David Novak

David Novak
Born David Novak
Chicago, Illinois
Nationality American
Occupation Judaic studies professor, theologian
Notable work Covenantal Rights: A Study in Jewish Political Theory (Princeton University Press, 2000)
Dabru Emet
Spouse(s) Melva Ziman
Children 2
Theological work
Language English
Main interests Jewish theology, Jewish ethics, political theory, Jewish-Christian relations

David Novak (born 1941 in Chicago, Illinois) is a Jewish theologian, ethicist, and scholar of Jewish philosophy and law (Halakha). He is an ordained Conservative rabbi and has also trained with Catholic moral theologians. Since 1997 he has taught religion and philosophy at the University of Toronto; his areas of interest are Jewish theology, ethics and biomedical ethics, political theory (with a special emphasis on natural law theory) and Jewish-Christian relations.[1]

Novak has authored 16 books and more than 200 articles in scholarly journals. His book Covenantal Rights: A Study in Jewish Political Theory (Princeton University Press, 2000) was named best book in constructive religious thought by the American Academy of Religion in 2000.[2] He is a regular contributor to ABC News' Religion and Ethics Portal.[3] He frequently addresses interfaith conferences[4][5] and contributes to books and journals published by Christian theologians.[6]


  • Early life and education 1
  • Rabbinic career 2
  • Academic career 3
  • Contributions 4
    • Ethics 4.1
    • Interfaith 4.2
  • Other activities 5
  • Published works 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Early life and education

Novak was born in 1941 in Chicago, Illinois. He received his bachelor's degree from the Catholic university.[7]) He received rabbinical ordination in 1966 from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America,[2] where he studied under Abraham Joshua Heschel.[5][8]

He married Melva Ziman in 1963. They have two children and five grandchildren.[2]

Rabbinic career

Novak was a pulpit rabbi in several US communities from 1966 to 1989. He also served as a Jewish chaplain at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, National Institute of Mental Health, Washington, D.C., from 1966 to 1969.[2]

Academic career

In 1989 he moved to the University of Virginia as Edgar M. Bronfman Professor of Modern Judaic Studies, a position he held until 1997. Since 1997 he has held the J. Richard and Dorothy Shiff Chair of Jewish Studies as Professor of the Study of Religion and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto. He is also a member of the Joint Centre for Bioethics. From 1997 to 2002 he also directed the Jewish Studies Programme.[2]

In 1992–93 he was a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, D.C. He also lectured at Oxford University, Lancaster University and Drew University, and was a visiting scholar at Princeton University in 2004 and 2006.[2]



Novak has contributed to Jewish ethics by advocating a Jewish social ethics drawn from both the natural law tradition and Halakha. To this end, he interprets the rabbinic approach to Noahide laws as a useful grounding for cross-cultural moral reasoning. His expertise includes Maimonides, John Courtney Murray, and Paul Tillich. In his theology, he combines Jewish rabbinical tradition and logic with Christian teachings.[9]

His specific normative claims in Jewish ethics include a mix of liberal and right-wing positions. An ordained rabbi, Novak had been affiliated with the Conservative movement in Judaism and then shifted to the Union for Traditional Judaism.


Novak, together with Peter Ochs, Tikva Frymer-Kensky, and Michael Signer, drafted a full-page advertisement which appeared in the Sunday, 10 September 2000 edition of The New York Times under the title "Dabru Emet (Speak Truth): A Jewish statement on Christians and Christianity".[10][11][12] Among the eight theological statements which the advertisement briefly laid out were: "Nazism is not a Christian phenomenon"; "Humanly irreconcilable differences between Jews and Christians will not be settled until God redeems the entire world as promised in Scripture"; and the statement which generated the most controversy in Jewish circles, "Jews and Christians worship the same God".[8] The advertisement was signed by 160 rabbis, including many leading Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative thinkers and a handful of Orthodox rabbis known for their interfaith work.[13] Explaining his rationale for publishing the document, Novak told Jweekly: "I want Jewish readers to clearly realize that Christians are not necessarily our enemies. Quite the contrary, they can be very good friends to Jews and Judaism".[14] The document was subsequently translated into eight languages.[8]

While some modern Jews are offended by the traditional Christian belief in supersessionism,[15] Rabbi and Jewish theologian David Novak has stated that "Christian supersessionism need not denigrate Judaism. Christian supersessionism can still affirm that God has not annulled his everlasting covenant with the Jewish people, neither past nor present nor future."[16]

Novak suggests that there are three options:[17]

  1. The new covenant is an extension of the old covenant.
  2. The new covenant is an addition to the old covenant.
  3. The new covenant is a replacement for the old covenant.

He observes, "In the early Church, it seems, the new covenant presented by the Apostolic Writings (better known as diatheke ekaine or novum testamentum) was either taken to be an addition to the old covenant (the religion of the Torah and Jewish Pharisaic tradition), or it was taken to be a replacement for the old covenant.”[18]

Novak considers both understandings to be supersessionist. He designates the first as "soft supersessionism" and the second as "hard supersessionism." The former "does not assert that God terminated the covenant of Exodus-Sinai with the Jewish people. Rather, it asserts that Jesus came to fulfill the promise of the old covenant, first for those Jews already initiated into the covenant, who then accepted his messiahhood as that covenant's fulfillment. And, it asserts that Jesus came to both initiate and fulfill the promise of the covenant for those Gentiles whose sole connection to the covenant is through him. Hence, in this kind of supersessionism, those Jews who do not accept Jesus' messiahhood are still part of the covenant in the sense of 'what God has put together let no man put asunder' [emphasis original]."[17] See also Dual-covenant theology.

Hard supersessionism, on the other hand, asserts that "[t]he old covenant is dead. The Jews by their sins, most prominently their sin of rejecting Jesus as the Messiah, have forfeited any covenantal status."[17] The hard supersessionists base their views on the bible passages found in Matthew 21:42-46 and Romans 9:1-7. This classification provides mutually exclusive options. Hard supersessionism implies both punitive and economic supersessionism; soft supersessionism does not fall into any of the three classes recognized as supersessionist by Christian theologians; instead it is associated with Jewish Christianity.[19]

Other activities

He is a founder, vice-president, and coordinator of the Jewish Law Panel of the Union for Traditional Judaism, and a faculty member[20] and vice-president of the Union for Traditional Judaism in Teaneck, New Jersey.[21] He is a faculty member of the Department of Talmud and Halakha at the Canadian Yeshiva & Rabbinical School, Toronto.[22] He also serves as a Visitor of Ralston College.[23]

In the mid-1980s he was invited to join the Institute on Religion and Public Life by its founder, Richard John Neuhaus,[24] and became a member of the editorial board of the institute's journal, First Things.[25] He is also a member of the advisory board of The G.K. Chesterton Institute for Faith & Culture at Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey.[26]

In 2006[27] he was appointed as a board member of Assisted Human Reproduction Canada.[28]

Published works

  • Law and Theology in Judaism (Volumes I and II). New York: Ktav Publishing House. 1974.  (Vol. 1 foreword by Louis Finkelstein)
  • Suicide and Morality: The theories of Plato, Aquinas, and Kant and their relevance for suicidology. Scholars Studies Press. 1975. 
  • The Image of the Non-Jew in Judaism: A historical and constructive study of the Noahide Laws. New York: E. Mellen Press. 1983. 
  • Halakhah in a Theological Dimension. Scholars Press. 1985. .
  • Jewish-Christian Dialogue: A Jewish justification. Oxford University Press. 1989.  
  • The Theology of Nahmanides Systematically Presented. Scholars Press. 1992.  
  • Jewish Social Ethics. Oxford University Press. 1992.  
  • The Election of Israel: The idea of the Chosen People. New York: Cambridge University Press. 1995.  
  • Leo Strauss and Judaism: Jerusalem and Athens critically revisited. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 1996.  
  • Natural Law in Judaism. New York: Cambridge University Press. 1998.  
  • Covenantal Rights: A study in Jewish political theory. Princeton University Press. 2000.  
  • The Jewish Social Contract: An essay in political theology. Princeton University Press. 2005.  
  • Talking With Christians: Musings of a Jewish theologian. Wm. B. Eerdsman Publishing Co. 2005.  
  • The Sanctity of Human Life. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press. 2007.  
  • Tradition in the Public Square: A David Novak Reader. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 2008.  
  • In Defense of Religious Liberty. ISI Books. 2009.  
Selected articles
  • Jewish-Christian Relations in a Secular Age. The Swig Judaic Studies Program at the University of San Francisco. 1998. 
  • Maimonides on Judaism and Other Religions. Hebrew Union College Press. 
  • After Twenty-Five Years: Jewish-Christian relations since the Second Vatican Council's Nostra aetate, "On the relation of the church to non-Christian religions" : Symposium papers. St. Michael's College. 1990.  (with John Pawlikowski and Paul Matthews Van Buren)
  • "A Jewish Argument for Socialized Medicine". Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 13 (4): 313–328. December 2003.  
  • Homosexuality: A Case Study in Jewish Ethics (with Elliot N. Dorff and Aaron L. Mackler). Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics 28 (2008): 225-35.
  • Shorter articles in Sh'ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility include:
    • Concerning Physician Assisted Suicide, Vol.21/no.420 1991
    • Jew, Yes; Gentile, Yes; Quasi-Jew, No, Vol.18/no.346 1988
    • Yes to Halakhah Means No to Women Rabbis, Vol.9/no.166 1979
    • Full list


  1. ^ "David Novak". University of Toronto – Department for the Study of Religion. 2011. Retrieved 5 April 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "David Novak".  
  3. ^ "Featured website – ABC religion and ethics portal". CathNews. 13 July 2010. Retrieved 5 April 2011. 
  4. ^ "International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee – 17th Meeting, April 30–May 4, 2001".  
  5. ^ a b "2000 Annual CCJU Lecture: Rabbi David Novak".  
  6. ^ "Trinity, Time, and Church: A Response to the Theology of Robert W. Jenson". BNet. 2010. Retrieved 5 April 2011. 
  7. ^ "The Catholic Intellectual Tradition: What is it? Why should I care? (note 8)". College of Saint Benedict – Saint John's University. 20 August 2003. Retrieved 5 April 2011. 
  8. ^ a b c Pope, Jim (26 January 2006). "Healing a 2000-year-old rift". mercatornet. Retrieved 5 April 2011. 
  9. ^ Cooper, Noel (30 January 2008). "A Jewish Take on Sanctity of Life".  
  10. ^ Steinfels, Peter (23 September 2000). "Beliefs; Ten carefully worded paragraphs encourage Jews to consider a thoughtful response to changes in the relationship between Christianity and Judaism".  
  11. ^ Brownfeld, Allan (September–October 2000). "Jews Are Called Upon To Reassess Their Views of Christianity, Recognizing We Worship The Same God".  
  12. ^ Nahshon, Gad. "After Years of Study: Historic Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity".  
  13. ^ "DABRU EMET: A Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity". National Jewish Scholars Project. Retrieved 18 May 2011. 
  14. ^ Rubin, Neil (15 September 2000). "Rabbis, Scholars Publish ‘Jewish view’ of Christianity".  
  15. ^ Rabbi Dow Marmur, Lecture at Regis College, Toronto, January 21, 1998, see at [1] June 28, 2008
  16. ^
  17. ^ a b c David Novak, 'The Covenant in Rabbinic Thought', in Eugene B. Korn (ed.), Two Faiths, One Covenant?: Jewish and Christian Identity in the Presence of the Other, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004), pp. 65–80.
  18. ^ David Novak, 'The Covenant in Rabbinic Thought', in Eugene B. Korn (ed.), Two Faiths, One Covenant?: Jewish and Christian Identity in the Presence of the Other, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004), pp. 66.
  19. ^ Novak. "The Covenant in Rabbinic Thought." "Two Faiths, One Covenant?: Jewish and Christian Identity in the Presence of ...." Ed. Eugene B. Korn and John Pawlikowski. Google Books. 27 June 2014.
  20. ^ "New Rabbis Ordained – ITJ Chag Hasemikhah (Semikhah Celebration)".  
  21. ^ "What is the UTJ?". Union for Traditional Judaism. Retrieved 5 April 2011. 
  22. ^ "Faculty, School of Hebrew Letters". Canadian Yeshiva & Rabbinical School. Retrieved 5 April 2011. 
  23. ^
  24. ^ Novak, David (12 January 2009). "RJN & the Jews".  
  25. ^ "About Us". First Things. Retrieved 5 April 2011. 
  26. ^ "The G.K. Chesterton Institute for Faith & Culture".  
  27. ^ "The Sanctity of Human Life". Georgetown University Press. 2011. Retrieved 5 April 2011. 
  28. ^ "Members of the Board of Directors".  

External links

  • Professor David Novak Views "Nostra Aetate" and "Dabru Emet"
  • by David NovakSuicide is Not a Private Choice
  • by David NovakAbortion
  • by David NovakAn Eye for an Eye: Judaism on punishment and torture
  • by David NovakNo Right to Marriage for Same-Sex Couples
  • Appearances on C-SPAN
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