web analytics
July 28, 2014 / 1 Av, 5774
Israel at War: Operation Protective Edge
 
 
At a Glance
Judaism
Sponsored Post
IDC Advocacy Room IDC Fights War on Another Front

Student Union opens ‘hasbara’ room in effort to fill public diplomacy vacuum.



Home » Judaism » Parsha »

The Politics Of Freedom


If you betray your unique destiny, if you worship the gods of the surrounding nations, then you will become like them. You will suffer the fate of all small nations in an age of superpowers. Don’t blame others or chance or ill fortune for your defeat. The choice is yours, the responsibility yours alone.

Second, we are collectively responsible. The phrase “All Israel are sureties for one another” is rabbinic but the idea is already present in the Torah. This too is radical. There is no “great man” theory of history in Judaism, nothing of what Carlyle called “heroes and hero-worship.” The fate of Israel depends on the response of Israel, all Israel, from “the heads of your tribes, your elders and officers” to your “hewers of wood and drawers of water.” This is the origin of the American phrase (which has no counterpart in the vocabulary of British politics), “We, the people.”

Unlike all other nations in the ancient world and most today, the people of the covenant did not believe that their destiny was determined by kings, emperors, a royal court or a governing elite. It is determined by each of us as moral agents, conjointly responsible for the common good. This is what Michael Walzer means when, in his book In God’s Shadow: Politics in the Hebrew Bible, he calls biblical Israel an “almost democracy.”

Third, it is a God-centered politics. As there was no word for this in the ancient world, Josephus had to coin one. He called it “theocracy.” However, this word has been much abused and taken to mean what it does not, namely rule by clerics, priests. That is not what Israel was. Again an American phrase comes to mind. Israel was “one nation under God.” If any single word does justice to the vision of Deuteronomy it is not theocracy but nomocracy, “the rule of laws, not men.”

Biblical Israel is the first example in history of an attempt to create a free society. Not free in the modern sense of liberty of conscience. That concept was born in the seventeenth century in a Europe that had been scarred for a century by religious wars between Catholics and Protestants. Liberty of conscience is the attempt to solve the problem of how people with markedly different religious beliefs (all of them Christians, as it happened) can live peaceably with one another. That is not the problem to which biblical Israel is an answer.

Instead it was an answer to this question: how can freedom and responsibility be shared equally by all? How can limits be placed on the power of rulers to turn the mass of people into slaves – not necessarily slaves in a literal sense but as a labor force to be used to build monumental buildings or engage in empire-building wars? It was the great nineteenth century historian Lord Acton who rightly saw that freedom in this sense was born in biblical Israel:

Acton’s words: “The government of the Israelites was a Federation, held together by no political authority, but by the unity of race and faith, and founded, not on physical force, but on a voluntary covenant … The throne was erected on a compact, and the king was deprived of the right of legislation among the people that recognized no lawgiver but God … The inspired men who rose in unfailing succession to prophesy against the usurper and the tyrant, constantly proclaimed that the laws, which were divine, were paramount over sinful rulers … Thus the example of the Hebrew nation laid down the parallel lines on which all freedom has been won.”

It is a beautiful, powerful, challenging idea. If God is our only sovereign, then all human power is delegated, limited, and subject to moral constraints. Jews were the first to believe that an entire nation could govern itself in freedom and equal dignity. This has nothing to do with political structures (monarchy, oligarchy, democracy; Jews have tried them all), and everything to do with collective moral responsibility.

Jews never quite achieved the vision, but never ceased to be inspired by it. Moses’s words still challenge us today. God has given us freedom. Let us use it to create a just, generous, gracious society. God does not do it for us but He has taught us how it is done. As Moses said: the choice is ours.

About the Author: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

Please use the Facebook Tab below to leave your comment:

One Response to “The Politics Of Freedom”

  1. "Jews were the first to believe that an entire nation could govern itself in freedom and equal dignity." Collective moral responsibility, do you think we really still have it?

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Loading Facebook Comments ...
Loading Disqus Comments ...
Current Top Story
IDF map of Gaza City launcher sites centered among high schools.
Israeli Cabinet Cowed Back Into ‘Tit-for-Tat’ by Obama?
Latest Judaism Stories
Weiss-072514

Just as the moon waxes, wanes and renews itself, so has the nation of Israel renewed itself through the millennia.

126_masei_web

Parshat Masei: Rabbi Fohrman addresses the age-old question, are we our brother’s keeper?

Hertzberg-072514

When Germany invaded neutral Belgium on August 4, England declared war on Germany. Thus, by the end of the first week of August all the major powers of Europe were at war.

Winiarz-072514

The Talmud teaches that the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because of baseless hatred.

When taking any major step in life it is a good idea to carefully re-evaluate one’s past.

Ours is a small and intensely vulnerable people. Inspired, we rise to greatness. Uninspired, we fall

The enormity of Hiram’s accomplishments crazed him and deluded him into self-deification.

When Hashem first thought (if it could be) about creating the world, the middah of din was in operation.

Hallel On Purim?
“Its Reading Is Its Praise”
(Megillah 14a)

If the only person available to perform the milah on the eighth day is a person who is not an observant Jew, the milah should be postponed until a devout mohel is available.

It is apparent from the Maharsha that he does not see galus as atoning for killing accidentally; otherwise, this Gemara would not bother him.

It was found to be a giant deer tick living in her head – with its claws in her scalp.

While daydreaming about finding the perfect job, I never expected to be rewarded in spades for my aforementioned experience.

We are all entrusted with the mission of protecting our fellow Jews

Today, we remain Hashem’s nachal.

More Articles from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Rabbi Sacks

Ours is a small and intensely vulnerable people. Inspired, we rise to greatness. Uninspired, we fall

Rabbi Sacks

The negotiation between Moses and the tribes of Reuven and Gad is a model of conflict resolution.

God’s “name” is therefore His standing in the world. Do people acknowledge Him, respect Him, honor Him?

The very act of learning in rabbinic Judaism is conceived as active debate, a kind of gladiatorial contest of the mind.

In Judaism, to be without questions is a sign not of faith, but of lack of depth.

You perpetuate a transformative event by turning it into a ritual.

There is much in this episode that is hard to understand, much that has to do with the concept of holiness and the powerful energies it released that, like nuclear power today, could be deadly dangerous if not properly used. But there is also a more human story about two approaches to leadership that still resonates with us today.

Nasi is the generic word for a leader: a ruler, king, judge, elder, or prince. Usually it refers to the holder of political power.

    Latest Poll

    Do you think the FAA ban on US flights to Israel is political?






    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/the-politics-of-freedom/2012/08/15/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: