Edited transcript of the Eidelberg Report, Israel National Radio, January 28, 2008.
Let us first define statesmanship. Statesmanship is the application of philosophy to action. Jewish statesmanship is simply the application of Jewish philosophy to action. Jewish philosophy is grounded in the rationality and ethics of Jewish law.
Second, let us define the Jewish statesman. The Jewish statesman is first and foremost an educator whose power is less political than intellectual and moral. The Jewish statesman must therefore be well educated in the heritage and history of the Jewish People. This is a formidable task, since the knowledge Jews have accumulated during the past four millennia is vast and unsurpassed.
Jews have excelled in virtually every discipline, especially in the domain of law. Consider Jewish law (Halakha) only so far as concerns the relations between man and man (in contradistinction to the relation between man and God). That we should discuss Jewish law is appropriate if only because Jewish law is the one thing that has preserved the Jewish people and their national identity.
Like other legal systems, Jewish law has various branches, for example, civil and criminal law, public and administrative law. Preserved records of Jewish legal knowledge includes 7,000 volumes or 300,000 instances of case law dealing primarily with the social and economic problems of Jewish communities dispersed throughout Europe and North Africa. This repository of legal knowledge is available to statesmen. It can teach him important principles of Jewish governance.
First, Jewish law will teach him that no one is above the law; indeed, that God Himself is bound to observe the laws of the Torah (Jerusalem Talmud, Rosh Hashana 1:3a). The Jewish statesman will therefore reject the Latin maxim Princeps legibus solutus est—the ruler is not bound by the law. A relic of this maxim was adopted by the Knesset in a 1949 ordinance which declares that “No act of legislation shall diminish the rights of the State, or impose upon it any obligation, unless explicitly stated.” (Interpretation of Ordinance, Section 42.)
This assertion of the supremacy of the State conforms to fascist doctrine. It is the basic shortcoming of Theodor Herzl’s book The Jewish State, which constitutes the ideological foundation of the present State of Israel.
All honor to Herzl, but he was not fully aware of the ramifications of his secular Zionism. According to secular Zionism, the land of Israel belongs to the State. This is the operating principle of the Likud Party no matter what its constitution says about the Land of Israel. God has decreed that the Land of Israel belongs exclusively to the Jewish People, to the Nation of Israel, and no party that betrays this truth is worthy of any support, direct or indirect.
The State is nothing more than a trustee of the Nation. The State or its government has no right to give away any part of the Land of Israel. To deny this is to advocate the evil doctrine of Statism. Western civilization rejects this doctrine; it recognizes a law higher than the laws of the State, as we see in the American Declaration of Independence.
To its credit, the New Jewish Congress inaugurated in Jerusalem in November 2007 wants to correct the fundamental error on which the present State of Israel is based. A government headed by a truly Jewish statesman will be committed to the correction of this fatal error. He will recognize that Jewish law precludes this fatal error.
Second, Jewish law will teach our statesman that the individual must never be sacrificed for the sake of the state. He will therefore reject the policy of self-restraint against Arab terrorists.
Third, Jewish law will teach him how to promote justice and the common good. He will not tolerate the denial of civil rights so common in present day Israel—a democratically elected despotism that expels Jews from their homes. Both secular and religious parties were complicit in this vicious crime—even more reason for the New Jewish Congress to shun politicians who fail to emphasize the need to change Israel’s system of governance on every public forum.
Fourth, since our Jewish statesman will be learned in Jewish history, he will know that Jewish law is not static but dynamic, that Judaism reconciles permanence and change. He will know that Jews survived the vicissitudes of the past because, thanks to their great Rabbis, they learned how to adapt to changing circumstances and still adhere to the Torah, mankind’s first written Constitution. Our Sages were Torah men, not small party pragmatists.
Fifth, our Jewish statesman will know that only the Torah can unite the Jewish People, and not simply because of the Torah’s world-inspiring wisdom. The Torah’s many-faceted system of law can harmonize the social and economic relations of Jews who have diverse ethnic backgrounds by providing them with proven and venerable methods of resolving their differences.
As Professor Menachem Elon, former Vice-President of Israel’s Supreme Court, has written: “it is precisely in all the branches of Jewish law … that it is possible … to arrive at a common language and understanding among various elements of the people who differ in their religious and social outlook.” Since a vital objective of Jewish statesmanship is to promote national unity, our statesman must be sensitive to the potentially unifying influence of Jewish law.
Sixth, Jewish law provides a rational and ethical foundation for representative government. However, to avoid the tendency of doctrinaire democrats who, like Judge Aharon Bark, would assimilate Judaism to democracy, the Jewish statesman will assimilate democracy to Judaism. Accordingly, he will derive freedom and equality, democracy’s two cardinal principles, from the Torah’s conception of man’s creation in the image of God. This will provide these two indiscriminate principles of democracy with ethical and rational constraints.
Finally, although our statesman, educated in Jewish wisdom, will have learned from such masters of Jewish law as Maimonides and the Vilna Gaon that thorough knowledge of the Torah requires scientific knowledge such as mathematics and physics. It follows that “Jewish identity” is not a sufficient condition for Jewish statesmanship. Israel’s religious parties have “Jewish identity.” However, because of their long dependence on secular parties, they lack the breadth of vision and spiritedness required for Jewish statesmanship.
Regrettably, the narrowness and timidity of Israeli politics have infected the religious parties. Without denying their important accomplishments, the religious parties often use Torah for politics rather than politics for Torah. The Jewish People require statesmen who strive for the unity of thought and action prescribed in the Torah. Exemplary personal character, however, is not a sufficient prerequisite for Jewish statesmanship. Also required are well-designed political and judicial institutions—a subject I have spoken of many times. Here I will emphasize two points.
Since the Land of Israel belongs to the Nation, to the Jewish People, Israel’s system of government must empower the People and foster National Unity. To empower the people, those who make the laws must be individually elected by and accountable to voters in constituency elections. This means we must abolish the electoral system that compels citizens to vote for fixed party slates, which effectively disenfranchises the people; and we must eliminate proportional representation, which fragments the Nation.
To promote national unity we must abolish the divisive and corrupt system of coalition party government and replace it with a Unitary Executive or Presidential system of government. Hence, it is would be a serious error to support a politician who does not emphasize the necessity of these reforms on public forums.
To have genuine Jewish leadership, we must not only have wise and courageous leaders. We must also have well-designed political and judicial institutions based on the principle that the Land of Israel belongs to the Nation, not to the State. This is what the Foundation for Constitutional Democracy has been talking about for many years. I’m happy to report that the New Jewish Congress agrees with this assessment. It deserves your support.