Given the Western world’s emphasis on the need to spread Democracy throughout the world and the importance it places on this goal, it is necessary to discuss how and if Democracy is Jewish. Afterall some of the Jewish world’s past and present political leaders fully accept the principal that Democracy is not only just, but Jewish.
Let’s take Wikipedia’s following definition of democracy:
“Democracy is a form of government based upon four elements: 1) The citizens choose and replace the government through free and fair elections; 2) There is active participation of the citizens in politics and civic life; 3) There is protection of the human rights of all citizens; and 4) There is rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens. Eligible citizens are able to: 1) vote for the passing/rejecting of laws or run for office during elections, 2) join political parties, sit on boards or committees, and criticize or protest, 3) feel that some of their rights are protected, and 4) receive a fair trial if accused of breaking the countries laws. Politicians represent their constituents in the proposal, development and establishment of the laws by which their society is run.”
There are many forms of governing according to the above, but let’s take the most well known, which is the American version. What makes America’s form of Democracy or at least the intended form at the time of the enactment of the constitution was that the founding fathers of the USA had an affinity to Jewish sources such as the Talmud and Bible.
Separation of Powers and the Three Crowns
Perhaps one of the greatest contributions to modern statecraft is the idea of separation of powers. This means that all three branches of governement are equal, this preventing dictatorial take over. We can see the same idea within the Jewish version of government.
Perkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers) states that there are three crowns: the Crown of the Priests, Crown of the Torah, and the Crown of the King. One only has to take a cursory glance in the Rambam’s Mishne Torah to understand that these three crowns are expressed in the halacha (rules) of state craft. There are the Priests of the Temple, the Sanhedrin or assemby of wise men who legislate the laws for the Nation, and the King.
It does not take much to see the parallels:
The priests can be analagous to the Supreme Court, the Sanhedrin to the Congress, and the King to the Executive branch.
A King is Not Democratic
Of course and what is important to understand is the comparison above is really where Democracy and Judaism start and finish. It is true that Judaism places a tremndous emphasis on respecting one’s fellow Tzelem Elokim, but this should never be construed as a rights based ideology, which Democracy espouses. There is now voting on a National scale in Judaism. One does not vote for the King, the Priest, nor the members of the Sanhedrin. It is true there are local councils and in many ways one can find similar expressions in the colonial days of the USA, but those are long gone.
There are other instances of similarities to the early days of the American Republic and a pure Jewish governship, such as an electoral college or that voting be reserved to Land owners, but in today’s narrative of Democracy equalling one vote per citizen, the Torah and Judaism do not agree.
One can argue that American Democracy as we see it today more closely resembles that which grew out of the French Revolution of 1789 rather than the Founding Fathers which intended a Republic closer to a Jewish model, but that narrative never played out.
Essentially when one looks at the National construct represented in Judaism, the idea of a King no matter how restrained he is, puts the system at odds with Democracy.