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What Is A Jewish State?

Before one can talk intelligently about a Jewish state, we need to define the modern concept of the “state” as well as the term “Jewish.”

A. Definitions

1. The modern concept of the state originates with Machiavelli. The state is solely a product of human will. It is the supreme source of power, the power to make and execute the laws governing men. Hence the idea of the sovereign state excludes any authority above the state. But then the idea of a Jewish state is a contradiction in terms, for in Judaism God is the ultimate source of authority.

2. Judaism rejects the notion of the sovereign state. The Seven Noahide Laws of Universal Morality are higher than the laws of any state. The great gentile philosopher-scientist Alfred North Whitehead said that the Jews were the first people to reject worship of the state.

3. The highest purpose of the state—if it is democratic—is simply to maximize comfort and security. This, needless to say, is not the quintessential purpose of Judaism. The purpose of Judaism is built into its very name, Yehuda, which means to praise God. This is evident throughout the Tanach, especially in the Psalms of Kind David, and of course in every siddur. To praise God means to teach about His Torah, His ways, His infinite wisdom, power, and graciousness in every domain of existence. The Nation of Israel was created for this purpose.

4. Some people reject this idea. They prefer the conceptual confusion that reigns in Israel so that they can live as they please. Meanwhile, Jews are being murdered almost every day, and primarily because of this conceptual confusion. They think they live in a Jewish state. Let’s examine this state.

B. Is Israel a Jewish State?

1. According to Knesset law, “No act of legislation shall diminish the rights of the State, or impose upon it any obligation, unless explicitly stated” (Law and Administration Ordinance, 1948, Section 42, Explanatory Note). We see here that Israel is a state like any other state—sovereign. And yet Israel does not act like a sovereign state: it acts more like an American dependency. Let’s probe a little deeper.

a. Israel’s Knesset is all powerful—in theory. In fact, however, it is subservient to the Government. Some 40 members of the Knesset are ministers or deputy ministers in the cabinet. The ministers are party leaders who more or less determine the ranking of MKs on their party’s list. This is enough to make Knesset members subservient to the cabinet.

b. So weak is the Knesset that it has allowed the Government as well as the Supreme Court to ignore various Knesset laws. Here are some examples:

  • All Government agreements with the PLO—Oslo (1993) and the Hebron and Wye Memoranda (1998)—are illegal, since the PLO is still listed in Israel’s Penal Law as a terrorist organization. Also illegal is the Sharm e-Sheikh Agreement (1999), which yielded eastern Jerusalem to the PLO despite the Knesset’s 1980 law declaring united Jerusalem Israel’s capital.
  • The Supreme Court ordered the Interior Ministry to recognize homosexual adoptions performed overseas, even though Israeli law does not recognize such adoptions; declared parental spanking a criminal offense, despite Knesset consensus to the contrary; nullified a law permitting the Film Censorship Board to ban pornographic movies by ruling that one man’s pornography is another man’s art.

2. What we see here is not the rule of law but the arbitrary rule of men. This is very different from the Torah. The Torah is a covenant to which G-d, as a party to this covenant, subordinates Himself. In other words, G-d subordinates Himself to the law of which He is the creator.

3. So what are we to say about the State of Israel? It is called a “Jewish state,” but this is a myth! Consider again its governing institutions:

a. The mode of electing the Knesset is not Jewish. The parliamentary electoral law makes the entire country a single district. Hence there are no multi-district or regional elections. Yet the idea of regional elections comes from the Torah. (See Deut. 1:13.)

b. Multi-party cabinet government is not Jewish. Jewish law requires that there be a single chief executive—a King or a President. (See Deut. 31:7 and Sanhedrin 8a.)

c. The Supreme Court is a self-perpetuating oligarchy that scorns the Jewish heritage by disregarding the Foundations of Law Act 1980, which was intended to make Jewish law “first among equals” vis-à-vis the various systems of jurisprudence employed by the court.

4. No one is happy with the present State of Israel. An April 2001 poll commissioned by Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg revealed that 88% of the public regards the Knesset as a mere haven for job-seekers. (To gain a more secure place on party lists, 29 MKs hopped over to rival parties before the 1999 Knesset elections!) Such a Knesset can hardly cultivate virtue and civic mindedness among Israel’s citizens.

5. The State of Israel is a state of confusion. This is why it can’t solve Israel’s basic problems. As presently constituted and as construed by its Supreme Court, Israel is a multicultural society in which all ethnics groups are equal. This is why citizens of the State of Israel—­Jews as well as non-Jews­—are called “Israelis.” Indeed, Jews in this country are developing a split personality. Having been indoctrinated to believe that they, along with non-Jews, comprise the “Israeli people,” they have been psychologically deprived of the “Jewish” state. The State of Israel can only belong to the Jewish people when it derives its identity, its way of life, from the Torah. We must therefore jettison the modern concept of the state as something supreme. Logic and intellectual integrity requires us to define a Jewish state as one whose way of life is consistent with Jewish law and Jewish ethics.

C. Would a Jewish State Be a Theocracy?

1. This is more a semantic than a substantive issue. If “theocracy” means a regime ruled by a church or by priests, Judaism is not theocratic. There is no church in Judaism, neither theologically, since there is no mediation between God and the individual Jew, nor institutionally, since there is no ecclesiastical hierarchy. If, however, the word “theocracy” is construed literally as the “rule of God,” then Judaism is theocratic, for God is the ultimate source of law and authority. But what does this mean operationally?

2. In Judaism no priesthood but only publicly tested scholarship can lay claim to any validity regarding the laws of the Torah. This means that the Torah belongs to every Jew, whether he is a Kohane, Levite, or Israelite. The Kohanim—the term is better translated as educators than as “priests”—never exercised any authority outside the domain of the Temple. There is no ruling class in Judaism. Who rules is based, first and foremost, on intellectual and moral qualifications: those who are most learned in the Torah and the sciences receive the highest honors.

3. Moreover, in Torah Judaism education is open to, and even required of, all members of the community. Thus, thousands of years before any democracy thought of providing education for all its citizens, all the people of Israel were being highly educated as a matter of course. (No less than Nietzsche said that the Jews brought reason to mankind.)

4. In a mature Jewish community the center of gravity lies not in any ruling class but in the body of the people. Only it must be understood that the people, as Jews, have willingly subordinated themselves to the Torah, i.e., the laws of G-d. This is what is meant by a “kingdom of educators, and a holy nation” (Exod. 19:6)—a people wholly animated by the teachings of the Torah.

5. Because the Torah belongs to the people as a whole, no hierarchical power can impose any laws or policies or officials on a Jewish community without first obtaining its consent.

6. This should dispel the prejudice that a truly Jewish state would be a “theocracy,” a nation ruled by a priestly caste. In Judaism there is no “clergy” and no “laity.” Indeed, the most authentic form of Jewish leadership is that of the teacher, whose power is not political but intellectual and moral.

D. What Would an Authentic Jewish State Look Like?

1. Ethnicity

a. Today 25% of Israel’s Jewish population is orthodox and 55% is traditional. It should also be emphasized that that most “secularists” observe some of the national holidays. Nevertheless, it will take a generation of sound Jewish education—relating the Torah to all the sciences—before a majority of the Jews in Israel will be “religious.” By then, however, the term “religious” will be obsolete. Only in the galut is Judaism a religion.

In Israel, in another generation or two, Judaism will again be an all-embracing civilization. The Haredim—the ultra-Orthodox who have been unjustly maligned by ultra-secularists, the Hareidim who serve in hospitals that have gone on strike, the Hareidim who are the first to arrive at the bloody scene of suicide bombers to help the wounded and to collect body parts, the Hareidim, who have preserved the Jewish heritage during 2000 years of Jewish dispersion and who are now beginning to serve in the IDF—these denigrated ultra-Orthodox Jews are undergoing significant change and will be indistinguishable from other Jews in the near future. Even now a large percentage of our physicists, biologists, mathematicians, doctors, are observant Jews. However, Israel faces serious demographic dangers.

b. Only 72% of Israel’s present population is Jewish, and the Arab birthrate is twice that of Jews. Of every 100 immigrants, 75% is openly non-Jewish and many prefer to be registered as Christians. 30% of Russian Jewish immigrants marry non-Jewish Russian immigrants. At this rate, there won’t be a Jewish state in 20 years. Hence we must deal with the Arab demographic issue, which the Foundation of Constitutional Democracy has done in a separate policy paper.

c. It should be obvious that a Jewish state must have an overwhelming majority of Jews. (How this may be accomplished was set forth in another Foundation paper.) Here we must ask what is a Jew if he doesn’t believe in God and doesn’t live according to the laws of the Torah? Contrary to widespread prejudice, 80% of Jewish law is civil and criminal law. As shown in my book Jewish Statesmanship, Jewish civil and criminal law is more rational and more humane than British, American, and Roman law. Here it should be pointed out that, in 1918, the Jewish Law Society, founded and run by secularists, advocated the adoption of Jewish law. These secular Jews understood that a state can’t be Jewish if its laws are not Jewish.

d. Many nations have adopted various Jewish laws: severance pay; prompt payments of salaries to workers; prohibitions against slander; right to privacy laws; and the very notion of the rule of law. But these laws, in Israel, have been secularized, that is, they derive their rationale and authority not from the Torah and Talmud but from the decisions of men. In other words, G-d has been eclipsed in the supposed-to-be-Jewish state of Israel.

2. Religious Versus Secular Coercion

a. All laws involve coercion: tax laws, commercial regulations, and of course laws requiring public education till some specified age. The basic issue for thoughtful Jews is whether, in obeying these laws, they are obeying the will of men or the will of G-d.

b. If Israel is to be a Jewish state, all public officials will be required to take an oath of loyalty not to the State, as is currently done, but to Israel as a Jewish state.

c. In a Jewish “state,” yeshivot would not be compulsory, but the public school curriculum would include the basic sources of the Jewish heritage—the Torah and the Talmud—as well as Jewish history and Zionism. This would not be just another course or two in the curriculum. Judaism must be of central significance, else how can one cultivate among citizens and future leaders a sense of Jewish national pride and purpose? Youth need role models. Who can be better role models than the great men and women of the Tanach?

d. Depending on the level of education, the Torah will be related to the sciences—to astronomy, biology, anatomy, sociology, psychology, economics, government, etc., as is now being done by various scholars. For example, American physicists Nathan Aviezer (In the Beginning) and Gerald Shroeder (Genesis and the Big Bang) interface Torah and astronomy. Both teach in Israel. Also teaching in Israel, the South African physician, Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz (Living Inspired) applies Torah concepts to an understanding of human life. The American scholar, Nosson Slifkin (Seasons of Life), reveals an incredible harmony between the Jewish calendar and the natural cycle of the seasons and the lives of plants and animals.

e. Meanwhile, Jewish Statesmanship interfaces Torah and classical political science. It shows how to make Israel more democratic by means of Jewish principles, and how to make Israel more Jewish by means of democratic principles! But it must be understood that Israel is first and foremost a Jewish state, not a democracy. In a Jewish state the democratic principles of freedom and equality will not be normless or morally neutral, as they are in secular democratic states. Freedom and equality will be derived from the idea of man being created in the image of God as stated in Genesis. These two principles will then have rational and ethical constraints, which they lack in secular democracies.

3. The Structure of Government

a. Parliament. It will be bicameral. To preserve the Jewish character of the state, those who make the laws must be Jews. (The Japanese would understand this very well, for one must be an ethnic Japanese to elect and be elected to Japan’s democratic parliament.) Accordingly, the upper branch of Israel’s parliament, the Senate, will be elected by, and consist solely of, Jews. They will make the laws, which will be consistent with Jewish law adapted, as in the past, to contemporary economic and social conditions. The lower branch, the House of Representatives, will be open to Jews and non-Jews. It will exercise the function of administrative oversight, that is, it will have all the powers of the State Comptroller and will see that the laws are efficiently and honestly administered—something the present Knesset does not do. There will be no more fixed party lists, which allow MKs to ignore public opinion with impunity. Members of parliament will be individually elected by, and personally accountable to, the voters in constituency elections.

b. The Executive. A presidential system will replace multi-party cabinet government. No member of parliament will be in the cabinet.

c. The Judiciary. Judges of the Supreme Court will be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Consistent with the 1980 Foundations of Law Act, Jewish law will gradually become the law of the land. In the process the judges will become increasingly skilled in Jewish law. Eventually, there will be no need of rabbinical courts.

d. Public Administration. To promote efficient public administration, the role of cabinet ministries will be redefined. The government will give up functions better served by the private sector. Bureaucratic intrusion into the lives of citizens will be minimized, and the rights of citizens to hold administration accountable for mischief will be reinforced. Professionalism in the public service sector will be improved; high-quality staff will be added to the cabinet so that decisions can be made on the basis of research and analysis. The bureaucracy will be depoliticized. A national college will be established to train high-level managers.

4. Jewish Economy

a. The Jewish state will acknowledge that man, endowed with reason and free will, has the right to private ownership of external goods. Accordingly, the State guarantees to pass no law attempting to abolish the right of private ownership or the general right to transfer, bequeath, and inherit property.

b. A Jewish State will recognize, however, that the right to private ownership ought to be regulated by the principles of Jewish ethics (such as that concerning honest weights and measures). Also, to protect the public, the State may limit by law the use one makes of private ownership (such as laws against monopolistic restraints on trade).

c. Just as a Jewish state diffuses political power (via a system of institutional checks and balances), so it will promote the diffusion of economic power. Today, the Government along with the Histadrut owns or controls roughly 90% of the country’s resources and assets. The worker in this statist or socialist economy is merely a wage-earner, as he is under a capitalist economy. Whether he will derive from his labor a “living wage” depends primarily on others. He can no more influence the decisions of the economic elite than of the political elite.

d. To diffuse economic power “privatization” is not enough. The predominant method of privatization today is first to select state-owned enterprises and then seek out existing investors, whether foreign or domestic, who can afford to purchase assets or shares of these enterprises. However, most people have little or no savings to invest. Privatization automatically channels most of the future ownership of divested state-owned enterprises to economically privileged groups or foreign interests. Privatization may thus replace one set of elites with another.

e. Unless privatization is properly orchestrated, most people will still have to rely for their subsistence exclusively on wages and on other people’s income redistributed by government taxation. It so happens, however, that technological advances and the mobility of capital in an increasingly globalized economy can play havoc not only with wage-earners, but with corporations and even nations.

f. “Labor saving” technology together with lower wage markets (for example, Asia) are diminishing the relative economic value of human labor vis-à-vis capital or the means of production. Thinking computers are replacing people and millions of jobs in many industries and offices. More people are finding it difficult to gain an adequate income from wages or welfare. (One consequence of this trend, that is, of a “wage-based” economy, is that more and more mothers will have to find work outside the home to make ends meet. This is intolerable in a Jewish state.)

g. Simply raising the worker’s wages is often not only impractical, but can be unjust as well. It may force a company to downsize, relocate its operations, or go out of business. To prevent the worsening gap between the rich and the poor, Israel will need to reform some of its basic economic institutions (e.g. capital credit, banking, and taxation) to promote economic empowerment and sustainable growth through broad-based capital ownership.

h. To this end the Foundation recommends the adoption, in carefully orchestrated stages, of Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs). By democratizing access to capital credit (to be repaid by future savings and company profits), workers could acquire ownership of income-producing assets in new or expanding or in the divestiture of state-owned or Histadrut-owned enterprises and land. Property income could then supplement income from wages. Also, faster rates of growth linked to expanded capital ownership would serve to overcome the resistance of Histadrut workers who fear that privatization will result in loss of job security, subsidized wages, and other benefits with little or nothing in exchange.

5. Personal Rights

a. The Jewish State guarantees the right of the citizens to express freely their convictions and opinions. However, the education of public opinion being a matter of such grave import to the common good, the State shall endeavor to ensure that organs of public opinion, such as television, radio, the press, the cinema, while preserving their rightful liberty of expression, including criticism of Government policy, shall not be used to undermine public order or morality or the authority of the Jewish state.

b. The Jewish state shall guarantee the right of citizens to form associations and unions. Laws, however, may be enacted to regulate the exercise of this right in the public interest.

6. The Family

a. The Family is the heart of Judaism. It is the primary and fundamental unit group of the Jewish Nation, and as a moral institution possesses inalienable rights antecedent and superior to all positive law. The State, therefore, guarantees to protect the Family in its constitution and authority, as the necessary basis of social order and as indispensable to the welfare of the Nation.

b. The mother is the moral mainstay of the family. The State shall, therefore, endeavor to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labor to the neglect of the family.

c. The family is the primary and natural educator of the child. The State therefore guarantees to respect the inalienable right and duty of parents to provide, according to their means, for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children.

d. Parents shall be free to provide this education in their homes or in private schools or in schools recognized or established by the State.

e. The State shall not oblige parents in violation of their conscience and lawful preference to send their children to schools established by the State, or to any particular type of school designated by the State. The State shall, however, as guardian of the Nation, require, in view of actual conditions, that children receive a certain minimum Jewish education—moral, intellectual, social, and scientific.

f. The State shall provide for free primary education and shall endeavor to supplement and give reasonable aid to private and corporate educational initiative, and, when the public good requires it, provide other educational facilities or institutions with due regard, however, for the rights of parents, especially in the matter of religious and moral formation.

Conclusion

Needless to say, the preceding discussion is little more than a snapshot of a Jewish state. Such subjects as Jewish law and Jewish education require elaboration, for which purpose one may consult the author’s books on Jewish philosophy mentioned on the cover page. A basic purpose of these books is to reveal the greatness of the Jewish heritage and thereby elevate Jewish national pride, a precondition of Israel’s survival as a Jewish state.

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