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Friday, August 23, 2019

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My friend and colleague Rabbi Moshe Taragin writes a characteristically learned and eloquent exposition of why democracy is the worst of all systems from a religious perspective, except for all the others (“Torah Thoughts for July 4: Democracy’s Demons,” July 3, 2019). He very responsibly notes that the Orthodox Jewish community should offer “unqualified support” for democracy, “the most elegant and equitable form of governance that human beings have crafted.” Whether or not one agrees with every element of his critique, its overall thrust is admirable and its quality superb.

I have only one caveat to the above. Rabbi Taragin’s last sentence can leave the impression that the Messianic kingship for which we pray stands in contrast to the democratic systems we advocate in pre-Messsianic days. This is not necessarily so. The 19th-century rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Chajes argued compellingly that halacha relates to the Messianic king as purely a symbolic sovereign. The Jewish people may choose voluntarily and democratically to invest their Messianic monarch with power and authority over them; or they may choose to give power and authority only to democratically elected officials. Rabbi Chajes’ position was independently arrived at by the great Religious Zionist authority Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli.

I suggest that the core issue is this. Governments are set up to contain bad people; without governments, “each man would swallow his friend alive.” Nachmanides held that human nature will change in the Messianic era, so that pre-Messianic political structures will become irrelevant. Maimonides, by contrast, held that human nature will remain constant. It follows that democracy will likely remain the best of all systems for constructing society.

Rabbi Aryeh Klapper
Dean, Center for Modern Torah Leadership