Should Israel be a theocracy?

Over the centuries, even without a sovereign government, Jewish law continued to operate and develop in many areas.

Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple ,

Rabbi Raymond Apple
Rabbi Raymond Apple
Larry Brandt


Q. Do you think Israel should be a theocracy?

A. If this means Israel should automatically be ruled by rabbis, then the answer is no. The art of good government requires skills that rabbis do not automatically possess.

But what I certainly do believe is that Israel should be a Torahcracy, in which "mishpat ivri", Jewish civil law, should inform, guide and regulate the legal system.

It is not widely known that over the centuries, even without a Jewish sovereign government, Jewish law continued to operate and develop in many areas such as torts, criminal law and penology, contracts, industrial law, partnership, town planning, civic government, etc.

Rav Herzog, the Ashkenazi chief rabbi when the State was established, was an authority (his two-volume work "The Main Institutions of Jewish Law" covers some of the field), and he, like some other leading figures, yearned to make "mishpat ivri" - Jewish civil law - the law of the State.

There was opposition from both religious and secular quarters and eventually what happened was that Jewish law was here and there introduced when there was a gap in the law.

One of the problems was that no-one had produced a full blue-print for a State governed by Torah law and at that time "mishpat ivri" was not a fully practical program. Nonetheless it has many advantages, both from the legal, humanistic and Jewish point of view.


HOW WISE MUST I BE?

Q. I know the Tanach says we should strive to be wise, but there doesn’t appear to be any quantification about how much wisdom one should acquire.

A. The Book of Jeremiah says (9:22), "Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches."

The Targum (the Aramaic translation), personifies the categories of wisdom, might and riches, saying, "Let not the wise Solomon, son of David, pride himself on his wisdom, nor the strong Samson, son of Mano’ach, pride himself on his strength, nor the rich Ahab, son of Omri, pride himself on his riches."

Wisdom, might and riches are good to have, but they must not be misused. Whatever degree of wisdom you possess must be used wisely.

The Talmud (Kidd. 49b) attempts to define the ideal measure of wisdom when it says, "We do not say, ‘He must be as wise as the Sages of Yavneh or like Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues’".

The amount of wisdom you have must be the amount you can attain according to your own capacity. No-one expects you to be a clone of someone else and to feel upset when you fall short of their standards.


THE UNKNOWN YOM-TOV

15 Av used to be an important day. For centuries no-one has heard of it. In the standard books on the festivals it does not even rate a mention.

Yet the Mishnah reports, "There were no happier days for Israel than 15 Av and Yom Kippur, for on them the daughters of Jerusalem used to go forth in white garments… The daughters of Jerusalem went forth to dance in the vineyards.

"What did they say? ‘Young man, lift up your eyes and see what you would choose for yourself. Set not your eyes on beauty, but set your eyes on family…'" (Ta’anit 4:8).

Leaving aside for the present the reference to Yom Kippur, it is clear that 15 Av was a midsummer moment (some translators call it the Youth Festival) when marriages were made. Not all the maidens could have been beautiful, hence the advice to look for lineage rather than looks.

In their own way the shadchanim of later centuries followed a similar approach, urging prospective bridegrooms not to think that appearance is everything.

Today there is an additional problem in that some singles find wonderful partners (without the help of shadchanut) but are reluctant to commit to marriage. They need to be reminded of the old rabbinic notion that when Adam complained that God had robbed him of his rib in order to create Eve, the Divine reply was, "But think how much more you have gained in place of your rib!"

The person who cannot commit may be afraid that they will be robbed of their independence, but think how much more they would gain if they acquired a loving, supportive partner for life and in due course a family to enrich the relationship.

Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple AO RFD is Emeritus Rabbi of the Great Synagogue, Sydney. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem, where he publishes OzTorah, a weekly email list and website with Torah insights from an Australian perspective



top