Shabbat Parashat Achare Mot- Kedoshim| 5767
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - The State in the View of the Nations and in Israel - Notes for an Address (1948) - Part I - From Harabbanut V’hamedina, pp. 277 - 280
A state’s function is to serve as a tool for the fulfillment of ideals that are at its foundation. However, there are different approaches in the past and present regarding a state’s nature. One approach is that the state should ensure each individual the freedom of conscience. This freedom finds expression in three basic areas: religion, speech, and the press. Another approach stresses the rights of a segment of the social structure. Nowadays, the most common example is the status of workers. Another approach is to safeguard the nation’s security and prosperity.
The first approach often leads toward a limiting of the state’s authority in order to leave more room for personal liberties. In contrast, the other approaches lean more in the direction of expanding the state’s authority at the expense of personal liberty in order to advance desired social goals or enhance the strength of the nation.
Within the first approach, many have noted an internal contradiction. Individual freedom allows the development of movements which, by their very nature, work against the principles of freedom that the state promulgates. Thus, the freedom helps the forces of its own undoing, as occurred in Germany, where the democratic government paved the way for the fascist regime. Nowadays, some democratic states have found difficulty acting against communist parties, whose goal is to destroy the freedom of conscience and enslave all to the ideals of a regime of workers.
All three approaches postulate that man is able to set the truths upon which he will function. They all accept the slogan: “The will of the nation will decide.” The difference is that the first sees the individual as the “end all,” whereas the latter two see the group as the focus, whether in regard to the welfare of a class or of the nation.
In Israel [ed. note- the intention is to a Torah outlook, not necessarily the developing State of Israel of the time of Rav Yisraeli’s address] the matter is different. The foundation of the state is its subservience to the authority of the Creator of the World. His truths are not up for debate and do not depend on the majority’s decisions. They are absolute, permanent truths. At the giving of the Torah, He also set the nature of the Israelite nation as a kingdom of priests, whose self-government is based on the idea of “empowering” the Creator in His world. This kingdom must be based on moral completeness. Whereas in democracy, there is no basis for curtailing the rise of destructive forces, in Israel there is a strong basis for doing so.
However, one who thinks that restricting opposing forces is curtailing freedoms is mistaken. A Torah regime bases the foundations of the social regime on unity of and equality between the people. The land is distributed on the basis of “to the many increase their portion, and to the few reduce it.” This equality is protected by the laws of yovel (jubilee year). Riches do not afford one added rights to determine society’s course. The employer cannot limit his employees’ freedoms, as halacha states: “A worker can cease to work even in the middle of the day” (Bava Metzia 10a). The native cannot oppress the newcomer (Shemot 22:20); the individual’s dignity is stressed (Devarim 25:3). Special dispensations are given to exempt the individual from elective wars if he built a new house or was a newlywed, etc. All of these show the sensitivity to the rights of the individual.
Because of the individual’s rights, the king does not have a separate set of rules, as he is obligated to follow all the rules, except when there is an issue of damaging his honor. That is because such an affront damages the honor of the whole nation. Therefore, in the face of compromising the king’s honor, it is a public, not a private matter, and the king himself cannot pass on his honor.
We will continue with the analysis next week.
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