Tuesday, March 07, 2006

On the value of Democracy in the Jewish State

I recently received the following e-mail from a reader of this blog:

Ze'ev, since you support Democracy please write a post about why you feel Democracy is permissible within Halacha.


I must admit that I was rather surprised to receive such e-mail. Of late, the only post that I had written on this issue was one that was highly critical of Israel's Supreme Court for acting to strengthen the State of Israel's democratic character over it's Jewish character by its branding as racist the State of Israel's desire to strengthen 500 Jewish communities throughout the State as "National Priority Zones" while only doing so for 4 Arab communities. As such I am not entirely sure what the exact inspiration for the e-mail was.

That being said, I do believe that this is an important issue to address, although I do not believe that I am qualified to offer my own thoughts on this matter from a Halachic (Jewish Law) stand point, but rather from a Jewish thought perspective.

(If there is interest in my putting together a post on the issue of democracy a system of governance in the Jewish State of Israel form a Halachic perspective, I am willing to invest some time into researching it).

It seems, that for many in the State of Israel, particularly among the ruling elites that democracy has become the (unofficial) religion of the State of Israel. Not a day goes by without a call for the State of Israel to strengthen its democratic character and institutions, while one rarely hears such calls from the ruling elites to strengthen the State of Israel as a Jewish State (short of references of the need for there to be a Jewish demographic majority within the State of Israel - generally a buzzword for the destruction of additional communities and expulsion of thousands of more Jews from their homes).

Do not misunderstand me. I have nothing against democracy per se. I believe that as far as systems of government go, democracy has been proven to be among the better forms (if not the best), and the rights and values promoted within democratic societies throughout the world can be viewed as being generally positive. However, I question whether democracy (at least as it currently exists within the State of Israel, along with the values it promotes) is the best form of government for the Jewish State.

Democracy is not a value, in and of itself. Democracy is a system of government; a means to an end. Sadly, there are many (particularly within the State of Israel) who view democracy as being a value all its own, and an end in its own right. The Jewish People did not hope, yearn, dream, pray, struggle and sustain themselves over the last 2,000 years to return to Zion merely to be "the only democracy in the Middle East".

What sustained the Jewish People throughout their long exile was their belief that one day their prayers would be answered, and that they would merit to return to their ancient Homeland - the Land of Israel, where they would be able to live as proud, strong and sovereign Jews, as "one nation in the Land" where they would be able to create an exemplary society; one that would serve as a "light unto the nations" - and thus sanctify the name of Hashem throughout the world.

Therefore, the litmus test for determining the ideal system of governance within the State of Israel, be it democracy or any other form of government, must be whether it strengthens Israel as a Jewish State. Within the Jewish State of Israel, the system of governance is itself not a value but a means to achieve a greater end, namely allowing the State of Israel to develop as a Jewish State; one that will serve as the natural conduit for the Jewish People to accomplish their unique mission and destiny in this world.

One need not look very far (geographically or historically speaking) to find proof that democracy does not always produce positive ends. One need only look at our next-door neighbor, the "Palestinians" who just recently democratically elected Hamas, an organization that calls for the destruction of the Jewish State of Israel. (If one looks a little further back, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party were democratically elected to power in the 1933 elections in Germany - and sadly, we know what followed from that election.)

As such, the oft-used phrase that describes Israel as being "a Jewish and democratic State" makes absolutely no sense. How is it possible to equate the means - in this case, democracy, with the end - namely, Israel's existence as a Jewish State?

It is this confusion - the confusion over who we are and what we are aspiring to achieve here in the Land (& State) of Israel that has led to many of the challenges that we face today. When a people is unsure of its direction or mission in this world, it loses its reason (and will) to exist, and sadly, this can be seen very clearly today, as we continue to retreat in the face of our enemies while questioning our right to the very Land to which for 2,000 years we dreamed of returning without ever doubting our moral, historic and religious right to establish a Jewish State in the Land of Israel.

(In general, if any of you have questions or suggestions for future posts, please do not hesitate to e-mail me (israel_perspectives@yahoo.com), and I will do my best to incorporate your suggestions.)



27 Comments:

Ze'ev - how true you are democracy is not an absolute value - it is a means to an end. The question is what end - for you it seems to be a Jewish State. Which is odd. I would have thought that actually statehood is also just a means to an end, is it not? Did I miss the mitzvah in which G-d said you shall establish a nation state? It seems I did. In fact the whole modern world of government is not related to in the Torah (which isn't so surprising given that it was written in a pre-modern time). The Torah does not tell us to have a monarchy, nor does it tell us how to govern. So how can the end goal be a state, whether Jewish or Fransiscan?

So in fact both democracy and statehood are a means and not a value in and of itself.

In fact, The Torah seems to view Judaism as a means as well - given that our tradition tells us that each nation is appointed an angel to watch over them and to help them communicate with G-d, meaning that people can find access to G-d in any nation's tradition, not just Judaism. And if there are 70 faces to the Torah, is not your one orthodox anti-modern, anti-progressive racist position only one of those 70 faces of the Torah - in fact your Judaism is also a means to the truth of inherent Torah.
So what do we have - all humanity created b'tselem elokim. The Torah starting with the universal creation of the world - to show the people of the world that they all have their place in serving G-d, and our place is here. So yes - you are right - Democracy is a means to an end. And in fact, so is Judaism a means to an end. In the parlance of traditional Jewishness - that end is Avodat Hashem - l'hiyot goy kadosh and mamlechet kohanim, and to be Or l'goyim.

Unfortunately not everyone is looking at the same face of Torah that you are - I look at the Torah and I see the central pasuk of the central perek of the central sefer of the Humash and I see "V'ahavta L're'echa comocha" or I see the most commonly repeated mitzvah of treating the stranger with respect. And I look at the prophets and how they understood and interpreted the main message of the torah and it shows itself in the constantly repeated golden trilogy of care - for the orphan, the widow and the stranger.

This is the end value to which both statehood and democracy should be serving - not the selfish desires of our collective to impose our rights and cause the suffering of any other group.

H

By Anonymous H, at Tue Mar 07, 01:12:00 PM GMT+2  

Haim, you are right that having a State is not an end in and of itself - I wrote in the post:

they would merit to return to their ancient Homeland - the Land of Israel, where they would be able to live as proud, strong and sovereign Jews, as "one nation in the Land" where they would be able to create an exemplary society; one that would serve as a "light unto the nations" - and thus sanctify the name of Hashem throughout the world.

By Blogger Ze'ev, at Tue Mar 07, 01:14:00 PM GMT+2  

So Ze'ev - we agree - Jewishness is meant to make us into good people.

By Anonymous H, at Tue Mar 07, 01:20:00 PM GMT+2  

I like how H picks and chooses from the massive amount of information in the Torah. When the gemara expounds "V'ahvta lereyaecha" it points out that this is the summery so to speak and the rest is commentary. This doesnt change the fact that the same Torah says to fast on Yom Kippor whether its 2448 or 5766. The Torah does tell us how to govern. There is a commandment to establish a king. Read the book of Kings. You will find that many Kings were evil in the eyes of G-d. What made them evil,. They didnt follow the faith. How do we know what they are. It is through a Mesora. So we have laws about contracts and damages and econimic stability. Its all there in Bava Kama, Bava Metzia, and Bava Basra. Codified in Shulchan Aruch, the Rambam and others.
Its important to learn midrash about each nation having its own angel and such but any one aspect of the Torah does not put the ful picture forward. And while I am ranting, you mentioned about modenr times. A great philosopher named Darth Vader said (and I paraphrase) do not be too proud of this technological machine. The power to destroy a planet is insignificant compared to the power ofthe force". The point being read historical statements of the past and you will always find someone saying wake up its 1877 we have the train we dont live like those guys in the 1300's. And they were saying the same thing in the 1300's too.
See Zeev I do read your blog.

By Anonymous leffingstn, at Tue Mar 07, 03:34:00 PM GMT+2  

Haim, I believe that hat is a very simple way of understanding "Jewishness" - that it is to make us good people.

Are you saying that non-Jews can't be good people? If so, why? Seems like a racist statement to me.

The purpose of the Torah and Mitzvot is for the Jewish People to connect ot G-d and to enact His will in this world - to sanctify the world in His name so that the whole world will recognize Hashem.

Non-Jews can also help an old lady cross the street and say please and thank you... Judaism is much more than that.

By Blogger Ze'ev, at Tue Mar 07, 03:46:00 PM GMT+2  

Ze'ev, does "sanctifying the world in His name so that the whole world will recognize Hashem" include allocating less money to educate Israeli Arab children than we allocate for Jewish children? Are we improving HaShem's image in the world when we criticize Israeli Arabs for being insufficiently grateful for being treated as second-class citizens?

By Blogger Don Radlauer, at Tue Mar 07, 04:13:00 PM GMT+2  

Don, I presume you would have had a problem, when it came time ot eating the Korban Peasach, when non-Jews could not partake of the meal... or the fact that, acc. to Jewish Law, non-Jews who live in Israel (who accept the 7 Noachide Laws) are not 100% equal with the Jewish citizens of Israel.

That being said, the Torah is very clear that any non-Jew who is willing ot accept upon himself the 7 Noachide laws, as well as forgoing their national rights is to be treated with complete respect and dignity by the Jews of Israel.

So, to answer your question, I am prepared to go out of my way to ensure that any non-Jew who resides in Israel has all of his needs taken care of, one he has renounced any national aspirations to change Israel to Palestine, and has accepted upon himself the 7 Noachide laws.

By Blogger Ze'ev, at Tue Mar 07, 04:27:00 PM GMT+2  

Ze'ev, you presume wrong - and your presumption is wrong for reasons that should be obvious to you. The Korban Pesach is a mitzvah that applies only to Jews; for non-Jews, it is simply a non-event. Matters like public services in the State of Israel, however, are very different: they are not based upon mitzvot but upon civil law; taxes are levied on non-Jews just the same as on Jews; and non-Jews are subject to the same legal restrictions as Jews are. So while it's perfectly legitimate to say that a meal resulting from a Jewish religious rite should be available only to Jews (who were also the only ones obligated to contribute to it), it's entirely illegitimate to say that government services such as education, which are funded by the generality of Israeli citizens, should be allocated unequally.

As to whether children whose parents have "national aspirations" we don't like deserve to receive as good an education as other children, it seems to me that whatever the strictly halachic position on the matter, both common sense and a reasonable understanding of basic ethics would indicate that we should allocate resources equally. Why common sense? Because by discriminating as you suggest, we'd only be making our problems worse by increasing the anti-Israel feelings of Israeli Arabs, and driving more children into fundamentalist Islamist educational streams. Why ethics? Because I, for one, see no reason to punish the children for the political beliefs of their parents.

In any case, I believe that the tendency to demand that Israeli Arabs think Zionist thoughts is more than a little racist and unrealistic. If we expect Israeli Arabs to love us, we should act a little more lovable than we do; and if we insist on treating Israeli Arabs as second-class (or even third-class) citizens, then we should at least grant them the right to resent that treatment without being further punished for not enjoying it.

By Blogger Don Radlauer, at Tue Mar 07, 05:17:00 PM GMT+2  

The law is that a non-Jew who eats a Korban Pesach is subject to the death penalty.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Mar 07, 05:26:00 PM GMT+2  

That would be a relatively major event for the non-Jew.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Mar 07, 05:27:00 PM GMT+2  

OK, so we'll say that the Korban Pesach should be a non-event for a non-Jew! (g) I think my general argument stands - and in any case, I rather doubt that a whole lot of non-Jews were ever executed because they ate the Korban.

By Blogger Don Radlauer, at Tue Mar 07, 06:09:00 PM GMT+2  

I know of one case, but that was because he got greedy and tried to get the really choice parts, at which we point he got caught.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Mar 07, 06:17:00 PM GMT+2  

Don, based on your logic - isn' the very existance of a Jewish State a source of hatred for Israeli Arabs - if weren't here, they would probably hate us less. What about the Law of Return, I am sure that makes them love us. Or how about all of the talk about demography, and the need to settle more Jews i nthe Galil and Negev, I am sure that makes the Israeli Arabs have a warm and fuzzy feeling inside...

I agree, to think that ny Arab can feel totally at home i nthe Jewish State is absurd. When (if) they sing the national anthem, how do they feel when they say the words - "the soul of a Jew yearns", or the hope of 2,000 years? none of that applied to them!

So,I do not demand that the Arbs of Israel think ionist thoughts - that would be impossible. So, we are left with two choices - you can try to sell the farm by bending over backwards to make syre that they are treated 110% equally, and remove everything connected with Jewishness or Judaism fom the State, or you can acceopt that this is a Jewish State, and say that any who accept that fact and are not working ot change it can live a decent life here - if they are looking for a place where they can run the show - there are 22 Arab / Muslim countries where they can give it a shot.

By Blogger Ze'ev, at Tue Mar 07, 06:50:00 PM GMT+2  

Rav Herschel Schachter believes there is a torah basis for a democracy (he himelf is a supporter of the modern state). He explains the collective society has a din of a shutfus (partnership) in which the majority can compel the minority according to halacha. Of course how this would interface with anti-torah laws and issues is a completely seprate issue.

By Anonymous Strong Bad, at Tue Mar 07, 07:57:00 PM GMT+2  

Ze'ev,

Your statements in this blog are accurate and effectively expressed. You should get them published where you will get paid for you knowledge.

By Anonymous Hillel, at Tue Mar 07, 08:33:00 PM GMT+2  

It was recognized early on that representative democracy could only work amoungst a moral people.

"Can the liberties of a nation be sure when we remove thier only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift of God?" Thomas Jefferson

"We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Consttution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other" John Adams

"America is great because America is good." De Toqeville

"A nation in which half the citizens believe in beating children with clubs and trampling them with horses in the n ame of 'the rule of law' is neither moral, religious or good." me

By Anonymous Scott, at Tue Mar 07, 08:52:00 PM GMT+2  

As an experienced "semi-pro" Zionist who has participated in many Zionist congresses I have heard the "Israel is a Jewish and democratic state" declaration ad nauseanum and come to the conclusion that this expression is an oxymoron of the first order. An Israel that is not a democratic Western state cannot be acceptable to truly democratic people and it does not matter whether a country is governed according to religious Islamic, Jewish or Christian principles - it will be (and in Islamic states it already is) a totalitarian state of hate and fear and therefore utterly unacceptable. Today, we know that the birthrate of Israeli Arab citizens is falling due to generally better education and economic progress, proving the old theory, that social betterment does limit hitherto unlimited birthrates - a theory that is, on the other hand, refuted by Israel orthodox and ultra-orthodox Jewish citizens that out of religious tradition, social pressure and nationalistic fervour breed up to the breaking point with all their might. So, the high Arab birthrate is the result of tradition and very low status of women in the Arab world, while on the the other hand, high Jewish birthrates (not applicable to the non-orthodox sector) seem to be a way of political activism. Sort of an irrational "Sex for Israel's survival" strategy. In the Fifties that was called "another soldier for Ben Gurion".
We Jews, more than most other and more numerous people, have helped shaping the modern democratic world and we should not allow ourselves to undo such achievements, that, after all, have brought us, after near total extinction, a modern, functioning and very democratic state.
As an afterthought: every state has it in it's own hands to steer immigration to the advantage of it's own people. Like European states (who - so I hope - have not missed the boat, of stopping medieval islamic immigration) or the USA, every state has it in it's own power to regulate it according to the democratic laws it gives itself. The overuse of the demographic scare card is deplorable. The chicken or the egg question of giving our Arab citizens the same rights (which on paper they mostly have anyway) when they take upon themselves the same obligations like the majority of the Jewish citizens (which of the two comes first?) must be solved. Jewish morals and ethics cannot be applied to Jews only. And a modern state, Jewish or not, cannot (never, ever) be ruled by religion - we would then be just another failed state myred in a medieval mentality like the rest of the states around us.

By Anonymous Uri, at Wed Mar 08, 08:52:00 AM GMT+2  

Uri, from your comments it is obvious you have no actual familiarity with Halacha. A few pointers, under Halacha there is a different status for Jews and non-Jews. The only governmental system that is permisable within Halacha is a Theocracy, get used to the idea, we are having more babies and there is nothing you can do about it.

Democracy is a horrible system that really doesnt work, once we (the Frum) are the majority Democracy is gonna go.

By Anonymous kahaneloyalist, at Thu Mar 09, 04:32:00 PM GMT+2  

Though I am not a yeshiva graduate, I did some learning while living in Lakewood, NJ. My understanding of the Torah is that our Halacha promotes a democratic way of life through the approximately half of our mitzvot that regulate man's relationships to man. These mitzvot are so important that even Hashem will not pardon our violations of them unless we first obtain forgiveness from the individual we hurt due to our violation of a mitzvah. Yes, Halacha governs our lives and will under the supervision of the Sanhedrin but within the daily lives we lead the judges are to determine right and wrong without prejudice. That is truly democratic. Therefore, I believe that the Torah fosters democracy as no other document has done.

By Anonymous Hillel, at Thu Mar 09, 08:07:00 PM GMT+2  

hillel, Democracy literally peoples rule, as in the people rule. The people decide the laws thats all it means. But the Torah does provide a form of government and it doesnt include elections. As well as the Mitzvah to force observance upon all Jews. Sefer HaChinuch Mitzvah 491

By Anonymous kahaneloyalist, at Fri Mar 10, 02:57:00 AM GMT+2  

hillel, Democracy literally means people's rule, as in the people rule, they decide the laws and have the power. Thats all it means. But the Torah does provide a form of government and it doesnt include elections. In Judaism Hashem is the ruler and he decides the law, we only enforce through a form of governmnet Hashem has decided. As well as the Mitzvah to force observance upon all Jews. Sefer HaChinuch Mitzvah 491

Ignore the first post I hit publish accidently

By Anonymous kahaneloyalist, at Fri Mar 10, 02:59:00 AM GMT+2  

Kahaneloyalist's answer to my contribution in this column has given me the shivers and for the first time in my twenty years in Israel, I felt like packing my suitcases and go back to civilization (Which we have in Israel, but is endangered by the likes of Kahaneloylist. But I quietened down quickly. It proves that as a Jew I have a lot of work to do in countering fascism, whether it appears in the guise of sharia or halacha. I take it from Rabbi Winston Churchill who once said: "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."
It is a very sad phenomenons that we Jews should do to others all that evil that throughout history has been done to us. Medievalism thought has raised it's head in the form of shihadism and now we Jews are confronted with it from within our own people.
Democracy is not only about majority rule, it is about rights, duty and equality. And also about minority rights - as a Jew of special importance.
I am, admittedly, no expert on halacha but I think that I know what is right and what it wrong. Kahaneloylist's simpleminded fundamentalism is wrong. I rather keep with his adversary Hillel, who's first characteristic was his great humanitiy and humility. He said: "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah; all the rest of it is commentary; go and learn." There is nothing more to say.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Mar 10, 09:37:00 AM GMT+2  

Mistakenly I appeared as Anonym. Here again:
Anonym hat gesagtā€¦
Kahaneloyalist's answer to my contribution in this column has given me the shivers and for the first time in my twenty years in Israel, I felt like packing my suitcases and go back to civilization (Which we have in Israel, but is endangered by the likes of Kahaneloylist. But I quietened down quickly. It proves that as a Jew I have a lot of work to do in countering fascism, whether it appears in the guise of sharia or halacha. I take it from Rabbi Winston Churchill who once said: "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."
It is a very sad phenomenons that we Jews should do to others all that evil that throughout history has been done to us. Medievalism thought has raised it's head in the form of shihadism and now we Jews are confronted with it from within our own people.
Democracy is not only about majority rule, it is about rights, duty and equality. And also about minority rights - as a Jew of special importance.
I am, admittedly, no expert on halacha but I think that I know what is right and what it wrong. Kahaneloylist's simpleminded fundamentalism is wrong. I rather keep with his adversary Hillel, who's first characteristic was his great humanitiy and humility. He said: "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah; all the rest of it is commentary; go and learn." There is nothing more to say.

By Anonymous Uri, at Fri Mar 10, 09:41:00 AM GMT+2  

Regarding democracy as being of special importance to us Jews - this is no less applicable when we Jews are the majority like in Israel or in the diaspora where we are a minority. What is different is the obligation that is inherent in each case.

By Anonymous Uri, at Fri Mar 10, 09:46:00 AM GMT+2  

uri, your right you are ignorant of Torah if you knew a little more you would know that Rebbe Akiva in Gemara Eruchin brings as Halacha that the statement of Hillel you quoted only refers to Jews. In fact all the Mitzvos of loveing others only apply to Jews.

When you say you know what is rright what that means is you invent ideas and tell yourself this is moral. That is the extent of your idea of right and wrong.

By Anonymous kahaneloyalist, at Fri Mar 10, 09:33:00 PM GMT+2  

kahaneloyalist: this is sick. I do not uncritically accept what Rebbe Akiva said about what anybody else said centuries ago. He thought his way, I dare to think by myself and dare to learn from modern sources, "even" if they are not Jewish. If loving each other only applies to Jews - what are other decent people, animals? Are they to be hated automatically, because they are not Jews? My morals and ethics are not based on arrogance, violence, hatred and sex. If what you consider is Judaism then maybe we'd be better off without it. The Jewish people has not become great due to benighted fundamentalism but by it's universal influence to all of humanity. I see zero difference between kahanism and shihadism, the first call their god of hatred "Hashem" the latter "Allah". Hatred is hatred, be it between Jews and Goyim or one among each group themselves. We have to deal with furthering our quality of life - hatred is certainly no way to achieve this. Your kind of society is afraid to think by itself and only acts according to old sayings or at best what some odd rabbi might have to say. Wake up, we Jews are not the only inhabitants in this world, whether we like it or not. I've actively fought in Israel's wars but have managed not to become bitter or hateful. Can you do that?

By Anonymous Uri, at Sat Mar 11, 12:11:00 PM GMT+2  

Uri,

Welcome to the madhouse!

H

By Anonymous H, at Sun Mar 12, 12:42:00 PM GMT+2  

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