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Basic Tenets of Jewish Philosophy: Statehood
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Basic Tenets of Jewish Philosophy: Statehood

Aristotle (in his essay “Politics”) defines mankind as a political animal (see the Kuzari, by Yehuda Halevi, 1:35). The need to live in a community is so essential to man that no serious philosopher ever proposed returning to the primordial state where man was completely alone without any links to some kind of society and therefore to its highest form of expression, the state.

However, it is still difficult to define a state. The attempt by Jean-Jacques Rousseau to describe a “social contract” where every individual surrenders a measure of his personal freedom in return for the desires of the community is not very clear. When was a referendum held where the people agreed to take part in this contract? It must be that political life is based on creating an imaginary entity which has no real existence in the worlds of feeling or the intellect, which can be called “the state.” The Rambam writes that political life is founded on imagination: “If [Divine] abundance would only appear to one who has an imagination, this would be relevant to those who lead the states.” [Moreh Nevuchim 2:37].

The state also has a utilitarian meaning: “If not for fear of authority, every man would swallow up his colleague alive” (see Avot 3:2).

However, the very fact that an entity exists which controls the lives of human beings creates a degree of discomfort for the Jew of faith. After all, G-d is the King, and any attempt to establish an alternative authority in the form of the state can be interpreted as a revolt against the Kingdom of G-d! The fear of such a phenomenon is the internal kernel of the approach of the Rebbe of Satmar, who viewed the establishment of the State of Israel, even if it would be religious, as a revolt against G-d.

It is true that this opinion has been rejected by the halacha, since establishing this state is a positive mitzva from the Torah (Ramban’s comments on the Sefer Hamtizvot, Positive Mitzva No. 4). But the wariness of transforming the sovereign power into a replacement for divinity is worthy of deeper study. In the same blessing of the Amidah where we ask G-d to give us back our kingdom, “Return our judges and our advisors to us as in the beginning,” we also ask at the same time, “And reign over us, G-d, all alone.” Thus, the earthly kingdom must be organized in such a way that the Divine Kingdom is reflected from within it. And for this reason government authority is not vested in a single power but is shared by four basic ruling entities: the king, the judges, the priests, and the prophets. (In Hebrew, this is – Melech, shofet, kohen, navi – which forms an acrostic of the word “Mishkan” – the Tabernacle.)

Among the other nations, the purpose of the separation of powers is to prevent one branch of the government from taking complete control, but for the nation of Yisrael the purpose of the separation of powers is to declare that the sovereign power belongs to G-d alone, and He is the only source of merciful leadership for our nation.

The task of the State of Israel is to be “the basis for the Throne of G-d in the world” [Rav Kook, Orot, page 160], and to serve as an inspiration for the entire world.

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Source: “THE ROOTS OF FAITH: Basic Tenets of Jewish Philosophy” – a biweekly column in Shabbat B’Shabbato (Zomet Institute). See: http://www.zomet.org.il/eng – Tazriya-Metzora 5777, issue 1670.

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About Rabbi Oury Cherki

Rabbi Oury Cherki
Rav Oury Cherki was born in Algeria in 1959 and grew up in France, and he made Aliyah in 1972. He studied at Merkaz Harav Yeshiva, which was founded by Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook. He performed his military service in the artillery branch of the IDF. He studied with Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, Rav Yehuda Leon Ashkenazi (Manitou), Rav Shlomo Binyamin and Achlag. Rav Cherki heads the Israeli department of Machon Meir, and he is the Director of Brit Olam - the Noahide World Center.He teaches in many places throughout Israel. Rav Cherki is the spiritual leader of the "Beth Yehuda" community in Kiryat Moshe (Jerusalem). He has written many books on Jewish thought and philosophy.

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