Thursday, 24 January 2013

The Conflict of Judaism and Democracy

I saw a recent article on Arutz Sheva, entitled "Op-Ed: Israel's Political Left: Between Judaism and Democracy" (available  at in which the author describes a growing rift, in Israel, between those he terms the leftists who favour Western values, articulated under the catch-all phrase of democracy, and the more traditional population who favour, as the author terms it, Judaism. The fact is that this conflict was actually fully existent at the very inception of the State and is clearly articulated in the, what we must term, contradictory language of Israel's Declaration of Independence. The further problem is, though, that while this tension and rift does clearly exist -- now and then -- this articulation of the problem as a conflict between Democracy and Judaism only adds to the difficulty. On the surface, this would seem to be the challenging stira that can only be solved by choosing one over the other. What must be recognized, though, is that the ultimate answer will only be found in actually not choosing but answering this stira, this contradiction.

This is actually the very theme of a new series of shiurim that, as they are presented, will be available on Koshertube. The latest shiur (second in the series) is now available at Behind the idea of the shiurim is that, given how we, the Jewish People have benefited from these Western Values (Rav Moshe does refer to the U.S. as a medina shel chesed) and there is a concept within Torah of values derived from sechel, thought, which would seem to mirror the concept of natural morality, it is not so simple to just dismiss these values. This is not to say that they triumph over clear Torah values chas v'shalom but they are clearly to be present in our minds as we look at the Torah. Maybe the conflict we perceive is only because we are not fully understanding of the Torah directive? Maybe we have to learn more? Maybe the Torah is informing us of a weakness in this reasoned concept that our minds, left alone, would have missed?

I am not challenging that there is a conflict right now and .have to act pursuant to Torah as we understand it now. The answer may be, though, to work on this understanding.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

The first in my present series of shiurim is available at
On this same theme, I would also recommend another recent shiur of mine on differing value systems within Torah at

1 comment:

micha berger said...

The advantage of a Constitutional Democracy is that the founders decide that certain features of the country are defining ones, and can't be modified through the same simple vote as other laws. It is a compromise in the democratic nature of the government in order to provide certain guarantees. In the US, this is to guarantee rights to citizens and rights (read: a certain degree of autonomy) to states.

But in Israel, it would be a way out of the "Jewish Democracy" impasse. What it means for the the state to be Jewish would be hammered out during the writing process, and would be subject to only rare changes through the amendment process.

The problem is that neither side wants to walk away from the chance to have a slippery slope of legislation go there way. Chareidim and many Religious Zionists would be thrilled to add ever more laws mandating halachic observance, and there are chilonim who wouldn't give up the chance to add ever more liberties.

A side issue is defnining "democracy". I think technically it refers to the voting process alone. And since in both the US and Isreal one votes for legislators, not on the laws themselves, they are republican democracies, not pure democracies. (Although California puts so many motions on the ballot, it sometimes seems otherwise. But those too are a small list of exceptions.)

But "democracy" has come to imply only a gov't that guarantee certain rights.

So, what is the conflict between: Being a Jewish State and yet granting non-posqim votes? Or between halakhah and personal liberty and their roles in the State?