Foundation Blog
Judaism Supreme Court/Judicial

Torah Government versus Israeli Democracy

Part I: Kingship

Although Israelis may not merit a Torah government, I will show that a Torah government, with its king and Sanhedrin, is more democratic than Israeli democracy.

The Hebrew term for king, melech, primarily implies a chief “counselor,” a president whose intellectual and moral qualities warrant his elevation and authority. The Torah basis for kingship is in Deuteronomy (17:14-15): There it is said that when the Israelites come to the land G-d is giving them, they shall appoint a king from among their brethren, but they shall not appoint a foreigner.

Back in 1948, a Knesset committee considered a draft constitution containing a clause requiring Israel’s president to be Jewish. The committee, dominated by secularists, opposed the clause. They feared it would be construed as “racist.” Fear of what gentiles would think prevented them from establishing a government of the Jews, for the Jews, and by the Jews. So, in the Jewish State of Israel a Muslim can be president or prime minister!

Anyway, what’s the function of a Jewish king? Rabbi S.R. Hirsch says that the appointment of the Jewish king is not for conquering and safeguarding the Land of Israel, and certainly not for developing an army for other purposes. It is God Who gives the Land of Israel to the Jews; it is God under Whose support they conquered this land; and it’s God on Whom they ultimately depend for retaining this land and living safely therein. Under a Torah government, no army would expel Jews from their homes as the IDF did under the so-called democratic government of Israel.

The purpose of a king of Israel, and of Israel itself, is not to seek external glory but internal perfection. In a poll taken in January 2007, 84% of Israelis regard the government as corrupt. Prime Minister Olmert seems to be despised by 97 of the public. That doesn’t prevent him from acting like a dictator. Like his predecessors, he thinks he can dispose of Jewish land as if it was his private possession.

In a Torah government, the king is a servant, not a master. He may be appointed either by the Sanhedrin, or by the people with the Sanhedrin’s approval. Under Jewish law, the Sanhedrin will not appoint a king who is not acceptable to the people. The Talmud (Berachot 55a,) declares: “We must not appoint a leader over a community without first consulting it.” On the other hand, the Sanhedrin will not confirm any popular choice not qualified for the office. This is how the Torah overcomes the perennial problem of democracy, that of reconciling wisdom and consent.

Strange as it may seem, the Torah is the source of the democratic principle of “government by the consent of the governed,” except that the Torah—echoed in the American Declaration of Independence—posits the sovereignty of the people under God. The Torah doesn’t deify the people, and it certainly doesn’t deify any king or endow him with absolute power.

The king’s paramount purpose is to win the hearts and minds of the people to the Torah by his own sterling example of a man whose every word and deed is inspired by the Law of which he is nothing more than a faithful servant. This is why Israel’s king must be Jewish—also his ministers, and of course the Sanhedrin.

Part II: The Great Sanhedrin

The Great Sanhedrin is the highest organ of Torah governance. (See Deut. 17.11.) Consisting of seventy-one judges, the Sanhedrin combines judicial and legislative powers and may even bring the king to justice on a suit brought against him by any private citizen.

When there is no king, the President of the Sanhedrin exercises the king’s powers. The President excels, and is recognized as excelling, all in wisdom and understanding. He is capable of teaching the whole of the Torah and of deciding any question within its all-embracing domain.

The President, like other members of the Sanhedrin, must be versed in many branches of science, such as astronomy, mathematics, logic, anatomy, and medicine. He must possess knowledge of non-Torah doctrines and practices to be able to deal with cases requiring such knowledge. (Nothing comparable to this will be found in Israel’s Supreme Court, which arrogates to itself the power to prescribe the morality of the Jewish people and even dictate how to defend Israel against Arab terrorists. This is Courtocracy, not democracy!)

Under the Torah, each geographic community—like each state in America—has its own governor. And unlike all other legal systems, the administration of Jewish law is decentralized. The rulings of a local court are binding for the particular community and can’t be challenged by any other court however superior its rank or area of jurisdiction. This “federalism” allows for a great deal of diversity, rendered harmonious by the court’s knowledge of the Torah’s constitutional principles.

When principles of Jewish law are applied to new problems, it’s not done by mere fiat—as is done by a handful of Israeli judges who cloak their personal preferences in the name of democracy. Before a ruling is accepted as authentic and consistent with the Torah, it must be endorsed by a majority of the leading scholars. Such is its dedication to truth and justice, a court may sometimes consult and be guided by an eminent scholar who may be residing in a distant country!

This absence of institutional rigidity is a consequence of the fact that the law is not the exclusive preserve of professional jurists or of any ecclesiastical elite, but of the people, including those of humble occupations. It says in Deuteronomy (29:9-10): “You are standing this day, all of you before the Lord your God: your leaders, your tribes, your elders, and your officers … from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water.”

Hence it’s misleading to regard Torah government as a theocracy. By the way: in reviewing my book Jewish Statesmanship for The Jerusalem Post, Michael Widlanski had the audacity to say I advocated a theocracy. Which proves he didn’t read much of my book.

Any serious scholar knows that the authority of the Kohanim—the priesthood—is confined to the Temple Mount. The Kohanim have no general authority over the people. In fact, all the people of Israel are supposed to be more or less learned in the laws which, after all, are to guide and elevate the conduct of their every day life. We read in Joshua (1:8): “This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate therein day and night, that you may do according to all that is written therein.” The Jerusalem Talmud declares: “… any legislation enacted by a court but not accepted by the majority of the public is no law” (Avoda Zara 2:8).

Because Jewish law is rooted in ordinary experience, and because the Hebrew language is unequaled in its simplicity, brevity, and clarity, a Torah community does not require a professional class of lawyers. (What a blessing!) The people themselves are educated in the law, which is the basic reason why the rule of law and hatred of tyranny have characterized the Jewish people throughout history—or did so until the rise of the pseudo-democratic state of Israel!

What is Israel’s present Supreme Court but a judicial despotism that scorns the beliefs and values of the Jewish People? What shall call Israeli prime ministers who arrogate to themselves the power to dispose of the land of the Jewish People—in the fraudulent name of democracy? Can any of these prime ministers be brought before the Supreme Court for violating Section 97 or Section 100 of the Penal Law governing treason? No way! Under Israel’s High Court of Justice treason has become legitimate! This is the logical consequence of the court’s false and anti-Semitic ruling that Judea, Samaria, and Gaza do not belong as of right and law to the Jewish people.

To call Israel democracy is a travesty of truth. I therefore conclude that although the term “democracy” is foreign to the Torah, a Torah government would be far more democratic than “the only democracy in the Middle East”!

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