Photo Credit: Jewish Press

This is one of the saddest words in the Torah. It is hard to fathom that people who stood at Mount Sinai had to be forced to follow the Torah! Is it really unrealistic to accordingly expect Jews not to need external coercion to do what is right? Apparently, the answer is yes.

Of course, the Torah is not saying that all Jews need this. Rather since some Jews need law enforcement, the Jewish nation will require it as a whole. If it is truly sad that many Jews lack the self-control to listen to their authorities, the bright side is that the Torah’s demand for coercive enforcement shows its realism. Yes, it would like to move Jewish society to one day be what Korach prematurely described as “kulam kedoshim (all holy).” However, G-d knew that this would take time; and that if the law was not enforced in the meantime, more people would ignore it and it would ultimately lose its power.


From such a perspective, the fact that modern states – including Israel – make coercively enforcing Jewish law unfeasible can only be seen as tragic.


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Rabbi Francis Nataf ( is a veteran Tanach educator who has written an acclaimed contemporary commentary on the Torah entitled “Redeeming Relevance.” He teaches Tanach at Midreshet Rachel v'Chaya and is Associate Editor of the Jewish Bible Quarterly. He is also Translations and Research Specialist at Sefaria, where he has authored most of Sefaria's in-house translations, including such classics as Sefer HaChinuch, Shaarei Teshuva, Derech Hashem, Chovat HaTalmidim and many others. He is a prolific writer and his articles on parsha, current events and Jewish thought appear regularly in many Jewish publications such as The Jewish Press, Tradition, Hakira, the Times of Israel, the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Action and Haaretz.