[Freemanlist2] Prof. Paul Eidelberg -Facts and Fictions -Is Israel a Democracy?
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Facts and Fictions
Is Israel a Democracy?
Prof. Paul Eidelberg
The Israel-American Renaissance Institute (I-ARI)
Israel is commonly regarded as the “only democracy in the Middle East,” and so it is compared to its despotic Arab neighbors. But how does Israeli governance today stand vis-a-vis Torah governance?
The highest organ of Torah governance is the Great Sanhedrin. Consisting of seventy-one judges, this extraordinary institution combines judicial and legislative powers and may even bring the king to justice on a suit brought against him by any private citizen.
The president of the Sanhedrin excels, and is recognized as excelling, all in wisdom and understanding. He is capable of teaching the whole of the Torah and of deciding any question within its all-embracing domain.
Like other members of the Great Sanhedrin, the president must be versed in many branches of science, such as astronomy, mathematics, logic, anatomy, and medicine. He must possess knowledge of non-Torah doctrines and practices so as to be able to deal with cases requiring such knowledge.
Even in the case of three-man courts, its members must possess the following seven qualifications: wisdom, humility, fear of God, disdain of gain, love of truth, a good reputation, and love of his fellow men. The humane and rational character of the administration of Hebraic law follows as a matter of course.
Thus, unlike all other legal systems, the administration of Hebraic law is not only highly decentralized, but the autonomy of local authority coexists with the sanctions of universal principles. The rulings of a local court are binding for the particular town or community and cannot be challenged by any other court however superior its rank or area of jurisdiction.
This "federalist" administration of Hebraic law thus allows for a great deal of diversity, but diversity constrained and rendered harmonious by the Sanhedrin's knowledge of the Torah's universal, organizing principles. (By the way, Protestant and Catholic Hebraists of the seventeenth century like John Seldon (England), Petros Cunaeus (Holland), and Jacques-Benigne Bossuet (France) regarded Hebraic law as the most just and wisest system of jurisprudence. Seldon, who wrote six books on the Sanhedrin, recommended that it replace the parliament of Great Britain! (I enlarge on this theme in my just-completed book America's Unknown Hebraic Republic.)
Furthermore, when principles of Hebraic law are applied to new problems, it is not done by mere fiat. Generally speaking, before a ruling is accepted as authentic and authoritative, i.e., consistent with the Torah, it must be endorsed by a majority of the leading scholars. This thoroughly rational process of decision-making often occurs independently of any established judicial body. Such is its dedication to truth and justice that a Sanhedrin would sometimes consult and be guided by an eminent scholar residing in a distant country.
This absence of institutional rigidity is a consequence of the fact that the law is not the exclusive preserve of professional jurists or of any ecclesiastical elite, but of the people, including those of humble occupations. "You are standing this day, all of you before the Lord your God: your leaders, your tribes, your elders, and your officers ... from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water" (Deut. 29:9-10).
All the people of Israel are to be more or less learned in the laws which, after all, are to guide and elevate the conduct of their every day life. "This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate therein day and night, that you may do according to all that is written therein" (Joshua 1:8).
Because Hebraic law is rooted in ordinary experience, and because the Hebrew language is unequalled in its simplicity, brevity, and clarity, a Torah community does not require a professional class of lawyers. The people themselves are educated in the law, which is the basic reason why the rule of law and hatred of tyranny have characterized the Jewish people throughout history—or did so until recent years when Israel became a "soft despotism"—a term coined by Prof. Paul Rahe.
It would be more precise, however, to designate Israel's government as a "judicial despotism," since its unelected Supreme Court, contrary to the rule of law, regards "everything as justiciable." Hence the Court feels free to ignore or violate the abiding beliefs and values the Jewish people—and does so with impunity!
Alternatively, perhaps Israel's system of government should be called a "democratically elected dictatorship"? After all, what shall we say when its current Prime Minister arrogates to himself the power to dispose of Judea and Samaria to the PLO-Palestinian Authority—and does so without Knesset or public debate?
Yet so many pundits boast of Israel being a democracy—the "politically correct" way of endowing Israel with legitimacy and themselves with respectability.J
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