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David Novak holds the J. Richard and Dorothy Shiff Chair in Jewish Studies as Professor of Religion and Philosophy in the University of Toronto. He has recently been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. His latest book is In Defense of Religious Liberty (ISI Books 2010). David Novak, 170 St. George Street, Room 330, Toronto ON, Canada M5R 2M8,


In his 2001 book, With the Grain of the Universe, Stanley Hauerwas has made an extended case for Karl Barth as the model for how to do Christian ethics, and for Reinhold Niebuhr as the model for how not to do it. Though Barth's closer and deeper theological connection to the Christian tradition appeals to a Jewish traditionalist by analogy, nevertheless, Niebuhr's approach to social ethics, based as it is on a version of natural law, is of greater appeal. That is because it is more philosophically arguable in a secular society and culture, and because it is more politically effective there. It is what made Niebuhr a more effective opponent of Nazism than was Barth. Also, Niebuhr's version of natural law is not a christianized version of Stoic natural law teaching but, rather, a profound use of the biblical prohibition of idolatry, having heretofore unnoticed affinities with rabbinic developments of that prohibition.