Rabbis and politicians

There is nothing gained when a rabbi chooses politics or politicians interfere in Torah matters - in fact, there is much to lose. Op-ed.

Rabbi Baruch Efrati ,

הרב ברוך אפרתי
הרב ברוך אפרתי
צילום: עצמי

To my mind, a rabbi's mission is strenghthening the "what" and "where" of life while the mission of a politician is attempting to see to the "how". Both of these goals are significant and have much in common, but they are far from identical. The line of demarcation? One deals with lofty and eternal G-dly strategy and the other with mundane and worldy tactics.

It is not coincidental that in an ideal Torah-mandated regime there is separation of powers,,,
There is nothing to be gained when the roles are switched - in fact, there is much to lose.

It is not coincidental that in an ideal Torah-mandated regime there is separation of powers, with the Sanhedrin responsible for Torah, the Priests for the Temple, the monarch for running the country, the Commander in Chief in charge of the army, and the prophet responsible for matters of faith.

A king from the house of David who wishes to serve as a priest, errs. The head of the Sanhedrin who wishes to be a commander in chief, is making a mistake. So is a prophet who wishes to rule.

Over and over again we are witness to politicians who attempt to decide on Torah issues, resulting in serious damage.

And on the other hand, rabbis who enter the morass of political decision making also cause much harm.

That mismatching of roles has been proven to lead to disaster since the time it was attempted by Yanai the Hasmonean who would sign documents "King and High Priest," and it is the same today.

There is, nevertheless, one way the two roles can complement one another beneficially:

The rabbi's mission is to guide the public, show people in what general direction they should go, and therefore he should rightly have a voice in defining the platform of political parties, but that is limited to guidance in elucidating values, mission and ideology. It has nothing to do with the nitty-gritty of technicalities, details, and public business.

A rabbi does not - and should not - understand political wheeling and dealing and furthermore, he must not even attempt to understand it. Instead, he should formulate the end goal of the political party in general terms and warn against any Torah transgression that he sees unfolding, such as giving any of our country's territory to the enemy.

He should not be involved in political activities, but in clarifying the goals of those activities, not in tactics but in strategy, G-dly strategy. That is how Rabbi Avraham HaKohen Kook acted with regard to national institutions in pre-state days.

A rabbi should not even be seen as the authority answering the question of who to vote for. Every citizen can decide that for himself, because each individual should be able to deliberate on his own how best to fulfill the mission taught him by his rabbi in the name of the Torah.

The revered medieval sages Rashba and Rosh explained the Torah mandate to "go with the majority" to refer not only to a court's judgments, but to the decisions made by the public on how to run their lives within Torah parameters.

A rabbi must never be involved in deciding when and with whom political deals should be made, not who represents whom and when, and under what aegis. These are professional isses and the profession is politics, not the rabbinate. That is why most of our people's Torah scholars do not interfere with the tactics employed by politicians and do not take part in them..

I, for one, a rabbi, do not understand politics any better than the man in the street. I once thought I did, but soon realized my misconceptions in that regard.

Thank G-d that we have a Jewish state, a government, dedicated politicians from every sector, and rabbis to teach us Torah and its way of life. When everyone diverts his talents and energies to his own mission, we can achieve equilibrium - and when that is not the case, we suffer the opposite.

Translated from Hebrew by Rochel Sylvetsky

The writer studied in Merkaz HaRav yeshiva in Jerusalem and served as a rabbi in Efrat. He is a prolific and much-read writer on Torah issues and heads the "Derech Emunah" (Way of Torah) movement of young Israeli Orthodox rabbis.