Sunday, September 03, 2006

Judaism versus Democracry

I tend to be pragmatic. As a result when the question of how an "authentic" Jewish state should govern itself, I tend to seek "what will work" rather than possible unatainable "ideals". Whenever the question of how to get large number of individuals with dissimilar ideas and beliefs to cooperate, I tend to seek the common denominator and workable compromises. My purpose for this preamble is to state that as much as I want to live in a Jewish state, I also thouroughly believe that some form of democratic process if prefered over any other, and that there is no contradiction between democracry and Judaism.

It was of great interest to me to read an article by Rav Ezriel Ariel of the community of Ateret in last week's "B'Ahava uB'Emunah" published by Macon Meir. He explores the commandment, embodied in Parshat Shoftim, to choose a king to rule over the People of Israel. The following are some roughly translated excerpts from his article. phrases in [ ] are additions to help make the terse Hebrew sentences more understandable.

"Israel were commanded three commandments upon their entrance to the land: to appoint a king eradicate the seed of Amelek .... to built the Temple ..." thusly lists the Rambam at the beginning of the Laws of Kings.

The Torah, on the other hand, apparentrly expresses a very different meaning: "When you come into the land ... and you will say, let me appoint a king like all the other nations around me; Set above a king that HaShem your G-d has chosen ..." (Deuteronomy 17:4-5) The simple understanding of these verse is that the Jewish People are not obligated to appint a king, unless they want a king like all the other nations. In that case they must appoint a king that HaShem desires.

In the same vein writes Rav Avadiyah Sephorno that the appointing of a king is not an obligation but optional. It is clear to him (from Numbers 27:17) that HaShem wants Israel to have a leader, but a leader could be either a "Shofet" or judge but not necessarily a "melek" king. ...

The Rambam disagrees, and concludes from the gemara in the tractate of Sanhedrin that it is a commandment to appoint a king over Israel. If so the question remains unanswered, how can it be both a commandment and still require the will of the people? ...

To understand this we need the words of the Natziv of Volozin, that in his time knew the differences between a democratic state and a state governed by a king. [He explains that] ... The source of authority for the establishment of a kingdom is the people. If you force upon a people a form of government which they do not desire that country will not survive for long even if the type of government enforced is that determined by halacha. in order to appoint a king you require the concensus of the people.

Our author, Rav Ariel, points out that the Ramam agrees with the Natziv that the gemara in Sanhedrin does not obligate the appointing of a king until the people desire/agree to it. He demonstrates this from Ramam's Laws of Gezila (Chapter 5) and concludes that "a kingship draws its authority from the people. He concludes with a facinating quote from Rab Kook (Mishpat Cohen pg 337):

It appears that when there is no king ... these legal rights are returned to the national collective ... and the issues of the Laws of Kingship, that pertain/relate to the governing of all, certainly also judges (appointed by) concensus and general presidents stand in the place of a king".

My personal matra is: the governing must be accountable to the governed; those who judge must reflect the values and (social) aspirations of the judged; and the authorities which enforce Law and Order are not above the law, but every aspect of their public and private behavioue embodies the law.

As I feel there is a greater likelihood we can convince a plurality of israel's to modify the existing democratic system to reflect these values than we will convince them to adopt a sanhedrin and kingship model of government, I am always looking for opinions that explore this question: can democracry be consistent with Jewish tradition and aspirations. On at least a "default" basis, Rav Ariel's article appears to indicate that it can.

What's your opinion?

[I just noticed an interesting article by Paul Eidelberg comparing and contrasting American Democracy with the Israeli system.]

Technorati : :