In his newest book, On Sacrifice, Moshe Halbertal, Gruss Professor of Law, develops a theory of sacrifice as an offering and considers sacrifice’s complex religious, ethical, and political dimensions. In religion, Halbertal suggests, sacrifice can be torn between grateful expression and a means of exchange. And in moral and political terms, it can both enable self-transcendence and justify brutality.
At the beginning of the book, Halbertal enumerates three different but related meanings of the Hebrew word for sacrifice: a gift or offering to God; the act of giving up a vital interest for the greater good; and a more modern meaning that denotes both an offering and a crime victim, implying a relationship between sacrifice and violence.
The book is divided into two sections, “Sacrificing to” and “Sacrificing for.” Halbertal first explores the difference between a gift and an offering in order to clarify what the practice of sacrifice really means in terms of ritual and violence. He then examines the implications of self-sacrifice in the moral and political spheres. The two halves of the book, Halbertal writes, “touch on two very different fields of inquiry that can stand independent of one another. Yet in following the ways in which various languages have extended the use from one realm to another, we might discover some shared deep structures that encompass rich and diverse realms of human life.”
Halbertal originally presented parts of the book in NYU Law’s Colloquium in Legal, Political and Social Philosophy, led by Frank Henry Sommer Professor of Law Ronald Dworkin and University Professor Thomas Nagel.