Volume 47 Number 18
                    Produced: Wed Mar  9 22:46:28 EST 2005

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Government of Israel
         [Warren Burstein]
Government of Israel (was: Is the Great Divide upon us?)
         [Shoshana Ziskind]
Is Biblical Government Monarchy vs Democracy (2)
         [Elazar M. Teitz, Frank Silbermann]
         [Nathan Lamm]
Religious Freedom in the US
         [Nathan Lamm]
Undesirability of Monarchy (2)
         [Leah S. Gordon, Avi Feldblum]


From: Warren Burstein <warren@...>
Date: Sun, 06 Mar 2005 23:47:02 +0200
Subject: Re: Government of Israel

Akiva Miller would like to live under a Torah monarchy.  I would vote
against replacing Israel's democracy with a monarchy (I am already a
citizen), and if someone declared himself king without benefit of
legislation, I would volunteer for the army to defend against the
usurper.  I will not live under a system where anyone has the right to
impose the death penalty for an offense, even the most trivial, ex post
facto (after the crime was committed).  Were a monarchy to be instituted
despite my efforts, I would head directly to the airport and board the
first flight out of the country, before the king decided to enforce the
halacha that forbids leaving the Land of Israel except for specified

This is not rhetoric, either.

A court of rabbis overseeing the king would not reduce my opposition to
a proposed monarchy.  Even were they all wise, all understanding,
knowledgeable in political theory (and as Rashi points out, when Moshe
looked for wise and understanding judges, he had to compromise on the
latter), let alone rabbis who would oversee a modern society of which
they are not themselves members.

If this is against the Torah, all the more reason for me not to want to
be subject to someone who is obligated to compel Torah observance.  It
might even be a capital offense to express such an opinion under a

Russel Hendel argues that "majority rule was introduced by the Bible
(See Rambam Courts Chapter 8:1 who lists this as a positive
commandment)."  I'm not positive to which section he refers - there is
no section of Mishneh Torah named "Hilchot Batei Din" or "Hilchot Batei
Mishpat", and unlike the books of Tanach, I'm not aware of any standard
way of rendering the names of the chapters of MT in English, but there
is a "Hilchot Sanhedrin Vehaonshin Hamesurin Lahem" (laws of the
Sanhedrin and the laws they administer), 8:1 of which describes majority
rule FOR MEMBERS OF THE COURT.  That there would be balance of power
between two unelected institutions doesn't mean my rights would be
protected, it means that there would be power struggles, fought on the
backs of the helpless subjects.

That the people can override a decree by ignoring it does not mollify
me, either.  The court's activity isn't limited to decrees, and most
people simply do as they are told.  Also, what's to stop the king from
executing the first few people who violate the decree, and that's the
end of opposition to the decree?

That the king is allowed to do as he pleases, but is subject to have a
prophet criticize him afterwards is not a balance of power.  There is
also no guarantee that restoring the monarchy would lead to the
restoration of prophecy.

There is only one law of the monarchy I would insist on, it's Hilchot
Melachim 1:4 that requires a Sanhedrin and prophet to appoint a king.
Could we agree to discuss this again when a universally recognized
Sanhedrin (has anyone heard more about last year's effort in this
direction?) has been re-established and prophecy has returned?

From: Shoshana Ziskind <shosh@...>
Date: Mon, 7 Mar 2005 11:03:43 -0500
Subject: Re: Government of Israel (was: Is the Great Divide upon us?)

On Mar 1, 2005, at 6:50 AM, Bernard Raab <beraab@...> wrote:
>> From: Shoshana Ziskind :
>> I thought though that if Israel was run according to Torah Israel
>> would NOT be a democratic state. After all, and correct me please if
>> I am wrong, I thought that according to Torah non Jews could only
>> live in Israel if they followed the Noachide laws.  So maybe in this
>> case a "theocracy" is not like a Jewish Saudi Arabia but a world
>> driven by Torah law.  The problem is, that before Moshiach comes
>> there's so much divergence of opinion with what that means but
>> certainly a lot of it is explained fairly straight forwardly in
>> Tanach or Gemora.  (Not that I've read Gemora much to know but it
>> seems reasonable)

> The type of government described in Tanach and discussed in Talmud is
> a monarchy, the only form of government known in the ancient
> world. And of course it is supposed to be a monarchy driven by Torah
> Law.  But the Tanach is testimony to the violent and corrupt nature of
> this form of government in practice, even before David and Solomon,
> the most revered of kings, have passed from the scene. And the Jewish
> kings who followed were far less interested in Torah and more and more
> devoted to survival and succession, the natural obsession of all
> monarchs.
> In fact it is not very different from Saudi Arabia today which is
> ruled by a monarchy and presumably by Islamic law. Is there anybody
> out there who would really like to try a Jewish version of this today?
> I ask again: Have they thought it out in any depth?  Who was it who
> said: "Democracy is not the best form of goverment, except for the
> alternatives"?

Although people have already responded I figure I should respond as
well.  I understand arguments that without Moshiach we can't have a
government based on Torah law.  I can sort of understand because in
golus its hard to have this; you run the risk of a lot of corruption and
there are many interpretations on what this government would be as I
wrote in my post. We really need Moshiach to bring a true Torah
government about.  To say, however, that Torah law is inherently flawed
doesn't make sense to me.  I thought Torah law was from Hashem and that
the Torah and HaKodesh Baruch Hu are one to translate a well known
Aramaic expression.  I imagine you're not meaning to say this but it
comes across that you're saying that Hashem gave us Torah law that was
flawed. If He gave us law that was flawed why would anything else not be
flawed?  Why should we then follow the laws of Shabbos or Mila which
make no logical sense whatsoever if what G-d does (Chas V'Shalom)

Also, shouldn't we want to have Moshiach, the Geulah Shleimah and a
government which is higher than Democracy which is government based
completely on Torah?  I certainly do. Democracy is probably the best
option that we have now but should we be content with this? I don't
think so.  In other words, a theocracy isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Another major change between Torah law and a democracy as it stands in
most counties I think is women voting. Yes, in most countries women
didn't used to have voting power but for the most part now they do and
according to Torah, women do not vote nor are they able to be witnesses.
This is major discrimination, hardly democratic but its Torah.

Shoshana Ziskind


From: Elazar M. Teitz <remt@...>
Date: Mon, 7 Mar 2005 04:25:17 GMT
Subject: Re: Is Biblical Government Monarchy vs Democracy

< In American one needs a 2/3 majority rule to override a presidential
veto. Jewish law knows nothing of a monarchial veto. In short Biblical
law is based on the Majority of scholars in the Supreme court---the so
called King has no rights.>

     WADR to the learned author of this remark, it is totally unfounded. 

The "Supreme Court" -- the Sanhedrin Hagadol -- is the final authority
in matters of Torah law in all areas of life.  However, it is the king,
and the king alone, who decides all non-halachic matters. Thus, taxation
is completely the prerogative of the king.  He can conscript whomever he
desires into his service.  He can confiscate fields to feed his soldiers
during combat (though he must reimburse the owner). He can declare war
without asking anyone, if its purpose is to conquer any part of Eretz
Yisrael.  In general, so long as it is not against Halacha, he may
promulgate any law he desires. He can command any individual to do
something, and violation of such a command subjects the violator to the
death penalty and the confiscation of his property if the king so
desires. Does this sound like a "so-called king [who] has no rights"?
(For details, see Rambam, Laws of Kings and Their Wars, Chapters 3 and


From: Frank Silbermann <fs@...>
Date: Mon, 7 Mar 2005 10:00:12 -0600 (CST)
Subject: Is Biblical Government Monarchy vs Democracy

Russell J Hendel <rjhendel@...> V47 N15:

> Quite interestingly Biblical government was "more" democratic than say
> America: ...
> Prohibition had to be repealed by Congress because the people
> had already vested their rights in the republican representatives and
> thereby lost their rights!!!)
> Not so in Jewish law. The Great Sanhedrin ordained Purim a holiday AND
> forbade work. The people simply did not listen to the work prohibition.
> The result: in Jewish law an enactment that was not accepted is
> automatically repealed---that is, the people retain power.

The difference is not as great as it might seem; the right to trial by
jury was instituted in part so that the American people could reject
laws via jury nullification. 

The American Founders did indeed draw as much inspiration from Jerusalem
as from Athens.

Frank Silbermann	New Orleans, Louisiana		<fs@...>


From: Nathan Lamm <nelamm18@...>
Date: Sun, 6 Mar 2005 14:48:54 -0800 (PST)
Subject: Monarchy

In response to Akiva Miller:

The period of the prophets comes after, not before, the judges, and
overlaps the period of the kings. As for the judges, their amount of
authority varied widely. Some were virtual kings (say, Gideon and his
son, who actually declared himself king), some loners with no following
(Shimshon, at least at the beginning), and the rest somewhere in
between. In any event, they tended to require popular support of one
kind or another to effectively rule.

As to your point of "let's judge the monarchy by what it ought to be,
not by how many kings failed at it," I think we can legitimately
consider whether the very institution lends itself to
failure. Certainly, that seems to be the point of view of Shmuel HaNavi,
and remember that many neviim who followed him were at odds rather than
allies with the kings. Of course, they tended to try to reform the
monarchy, not end it, and, indeed, many kings, even in the North, were
of the better type.

Nachum Lamm


From: Nathan Lamm <nelamm18@...>
Date: Sun, 6 Mar 2005 14:56:40 -0800 (PST)
Subject: Religious Freedom in the US

I'd like to add my two cents, if I may: Leaving aside all questions of
the purpose of the First Amendment, of the thoughts of the Founding
Fathers, and so on.  (Although to put it simply, non-Christian religion
was so small as to not be considered by most people.  Freedom of various
Christian groups was foremost in people's minds. Adams and Jefferson had
nothing to do with writing the US Constitution, both being overseas as
ambassadors at the time. Another small point, Washington sent a letter
to the various synagogues; he didn't visit them. Finally, many
Christians to this day don't consider Mormons to be Christians. It's a
complicated theological point.)

Anyway, to the point: By "Christian nation," I believe many simply are
pointing out that something like 90% of Americans are Christians, and
many of those are quite religious. I don't think you can have numbers
like that without it reflecting on a nation's character in many ways. Is
it reflected legally?  Perhaps only in an indirect (and positive)
way. Does it at all impact on how Jews live, practice their religion,
and participate in the body politic? Not at all, or, if so, perhaps only
(ironically) in a positive sense. I'm not sure why the phrase has to be
denigrated and/or feared.

Nachum Lamm


From: Leah S. Gordon <leah@...>
Date: Mon, 07 Mar 2005 11:49:34 -0800
Subject: Undesirability of Monarchy

<<< Is there anybody out there who would really like to try a Jewish
version of this today? I ask again: Have they thought it out in any
depth? >>>
>Yes, and yes.
>Akiva Miller

I was reading today about Iraq, and its treatment of women under various
regimes.  Suppose that I live in the suggested future-Jewish-monarchy,
and I don't want to cover my hair after marriage, or even Gd forbid, I
decide to violate the shabbat in public.  Would I get stoned at the will
of the religious king?  No thank you.  I would rather have my government
allow for individual freedom, voting, due process, and other democratic
things.  Let Gd punish me as necessary for religious violations.

Can anyone point to a religious monarchy that is run with any kind of
respect for individual rights?  It seems almost an absurd idea to prefer
such a government.  I was under the impression that it is a hallmark of
Judaism that people have free will and that this gives great value and
significance to the choice to do what is right by the Torah.  I believe
there is a source in Tanakh itself where the Jewish people are chastised
for desiring a King, because of all of the pitfalls.

I agree with Bernard Raab's quote that "Democracy is the worst form of
government, except for all the other forms."

--Leah S. R. Gordon

p.s. I would be very annoyed with a Constitutional Monarchy as Russell
Hendel suggests, with the Sanhedrin as Parliament--is the implication
that only males would have any voice in civil government?

From: Avi Feldblum <feldblum@...>
Date: Mon, 07 Mar 2005
Subject: Undesirability of Monarchy

While I can understand Leah's feelings above, they are not, to the best
of my understanding, consistant with Halachik Judaism. Yes, it is a
hallmark of Judaism that people have free will, but free will does not
mean that there are no consequences to your exercise of that free
will. If you choose to violate a halacha for which there is a punishment
defined for human courts to impose (e.g. lashes or the death penalty),
then the court is obligated to judge the case and impose the penalty if
the person is found guilty. It has nothing to do with "the will
of the religious king". It has to do with the imposition of a legal and
judicial system. Today, we do not have the halachik court system in
existance, but if one prays using the tradition texts of the prayers,
then we pray daily for a restoration of the Temple and with it the
restoration of the judges and the Sanhedrin system.



End of Volume 47 Issue 18