Thursday, June 19, 2008

Religion as foundation of democracy - Israel is not unique

Jun. 18, 2008
Haviv Rettig , Jerusalem Post

"The Jewish-Israeli case is often said to be unique," begins an article by Dr. Alexander Yakobson, a senior lecturer in Roman history at Hebrew University, in the summer 2008 edition of Israel Studies, an academic journal on Israeli society.

The country's strangeness comes from the "'extra-territorial' character of the Jewish people, Israel's ties with the Jewish Diaspora and the strong connection between the Jewish religion and the prevalent notion of Jewish peoplehood," explains the author. Some celebrate this uniqueness, "pointing to the uniqueness of Jewish history and culture," and some are critical of it as "inconsistent with modern civic democracy," but rarely is the "underlining premise of uniqueness" questioned, Yakobson believes.

Now he's out to change that, with an argument that examines the constitutions of other democracies to show that Israel is neither officially nor in practice alone in its, well, uniqueness.

"There are numerous other cases where national identity and religion are officially connected in some way, and where there are official bonds between a nation-state and an ethnocultural Diaspora," he writes.

The Greek constitution, for example, makes some surprising provisions. Though it promises, to quote from article 13, that "every known religion is free and the forms of worship thereof shall be practiced without any hindrance by the State and under protection of the law," its preamble nevertheless begins with: "In the name of the Holy and Consubstantial and Indivisible Trinity." In the constitution itself, article 3 asserts that "the prevailing religion in Greece is that of the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ" and takes pains to note that this church, "acknowledging as its head Our Lord Jesus Christ is indissolubly united in doctrine with the Great Church of Constantinople and every other Church of Christ of the same doctrine."

Yakobson's article, titled "Jewish Peoplehood and the Jewish State, How Unique? - A Comparative Survey," summarizes more extensive findings of a book he co-authored with Israeli constitutional thinker Amnon Rubinstein titled Israel Among the Nations. The idea presented in the book, and the newly-published article, is an important contribution to the international discussion surrounding the Jewish state.

It isn't merely that an Israeli scholar has located another freakish case - Greece - among contemporary democracies, but that religion-based ethnocultural identity is the social glue of a broad swath of the free West.

The preamble to the Irish constitution begins: "In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred." Norway's constitution decrees that "the Evangelical-Lutheran religion shall remain the official religion of the State," that "more than half the number of the Members of the Council of State shall profess the official religion of the State," and even that "the inhabitants professing it are bound to bring up their children in the same." Poland, Bulgaria, Armenia, Georgia and much of Scandinavia, but also the United States and Britain, all are revealed to be more committed to their cultural uniqueness - through religion - than one might think.

But the most fascinating and unexpected example cited in Yakobson's argument is not, in fact, Western: "The Tibetan Constitution adopted by the Assembly of Tibetan People's Deputies in 1991 begins, 'Whereas His Holiness the Dalai lama has offered a democratic system to Tibetans, in order that the Tibetan People in-Exile be able to preserve their ancient traditions of spiritual and temporal life, unique to the Tibetans…' It states that the '…future Tibetan polity shall uphold the principle of non-violence and shall endeavor to
be a Free Social Welfare State with its politics guided by the Dharma, a Federal Democratic Republic…' At the same time, the Dalai Lama is proclaimed as 'chief executive of the Tibetan people' and given considerable powers," Yakobson writes.


These examples, Yakobson notes, are hardly outmoded anachronisms, but real, resonant questions in the modern politics of living societies. The Greek state doesn't view Orthodox Christianity as an artifact of its past, but as an education program that serves to define national identity. When a Muslim parent in Italy petitioned a court in 2002 against the obligatory crucifixes present in every classroom in the largely secular country, he briefly won the court's agreement. But the decision was quickly overturned, and the episode solicited an outcry from Italy's public figures. In the words of the country's president, "the crucifix has always been considered not only as a distinctive sign of a particular religious credo, but above all as a symbol of the values that are at the base of our Italian identity."

What does his study mean for Israel? Yakobson explains: "There is nothing extraordinary about a nation-state of a people whose history and culture strongly connect it to a certain religion. This connection, apart from being a fact of cultural and social life, can also be enshrined in a country's constitution and embodied in its national symbols" - even, he adds, if the people who describe themselves by that identity do not, in fact, follow the

He relates the story of a visiting foreign professor who was asked, "Do you think that the Jewish people are unique?"

"Of course you are unique," he replied, "but you are not unique in being unique."


  1. If religion is the foundation of Israel's democracy, then we must ask "whose religion?".

    Israeli declaration of independence says: "THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles."

    In what religion does the "Ingathering of the Exiles" precede the coming of the Messiah? [hint - it's not Judaism]

    Next sentence states : "it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel;"

    What religion bases its concepts freedom, justice and peace on the prophets of Israel (but NOT on the Rabbinic Law)? [hint - it's not Judaism]

    Next sentence: " it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions."

    Does Judaism support the protection of the 'holy places' of other religions, regardless of the nature of that religion?

    I'd like to know what Jewish principles Israel is based upon.

  2. I don't know if this is still true, but my cousins who attended the Jewish Free Schools in the British Empire were required to study Christianity taught by Anglican priests because the Church of England is the official religion.

    There also is not really a separation of Church and State in the US although the First Amendment of the Constitution states as such.

    Jewish parents in the US are required to pay taxes for schools that celebrate Halloween, Christmas, New Years (which celebrates Jesus' circumcision), St. Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, and Easter which are all Christian holidays.

    Jewish parents who wish for their children a Jewish educational alternative to the Christian indoctrination of the public schools are severely taxed (tuition is up to $24k per child in some NY area day schools).

    I am not sure that in the entire world there exists a truly secular democracy without any of the following religious trappings:

    • dietary laws ~restrictions on producing, importing, selling or consuming specific foods!
    (in the US it is illegal to consume live monkeys which is a delicacy in the Far East.)

    • restrictions or prohibitions on the sale of alcoholic beverages;
    (alcohol is prohibited to be sold on Sundays in much of the US promoting Church attendance).

    • restrictions on conversions away from the dominant religion;

    • restrictions on public dress;
    (In most US public buildings one is prohibited from wearing a headscarf or headcovering.Christianity demands a bare head as a sign of respect).

    • mandatory closing of some or all businesses during religious holidays,including the Sabbath or its equivalent;
    (Many US municipalities have Blue Laws which prohibit businesses from operating on Sundays).

    • other restrictions on activities during religious holidays, including the Sabbath or its equivalent ~“blue laws”;

    • some or all government officials must meet certain religious requirements in order to hold office;
    (The US has never elected a non Christian leader.).

    • prohibitive restrictions on abortion;

    • the presence of institutionalized religious symbols;

    Most US municipalities sponsor public Xmas decorations and nativity scenes. The Red Cross is a Federal instrumentality.

    • presence of an official government body that monitors “sects” or minority religions.

    Is there a TRULY secular Democracy anywhere in the world?

  3. > In what religion does the "Ingathering of the Exiles" precede the coming of the Messiah? [hint - it's not Judaism]

    Go read Zeachariah. That's exactly what it says. There will be two ingatherings according to the prophets, one before, and one after the Moshaich comes.

    > What religion bases its concepts freedom, justice and peace on the prophets of Israel

    And did you ever wonder if we went wrong by not doing that?

    >I'd like to know what Jewish principles Israel is based upon.

    Have you seen the portions you get in the restaurants? I've been in gentile restaurants. Only the Italians get anywhere near a Jewish portion size.

  4. The Rabbi from Frumteens put this together:

    "The Rambam mentions the Kibutz Golius that Moshiach will perform, and also says that the fulfillment of world peace and the "conclusion" of the "fearful acts that will take place from east to west", "they will not happen at the beginning of his revelation in the world, but rather after the war of Gog and Magog.

    In other words, first Moshiach will be revealed suddenly in Eretz Yisroel, with signs that he is Moshiach, then, after Moshiach's revelation according to those signs, there will be Kibutz Golius, the war of Gog and Magog (it is clear that the war of Gog and Magog will be after the revelation of Moshiach), then other Messianic prophecies will be fulfilled.

    This is supported by the Gemora at the beginning of Avodah Zorah which states that even before the war of Gog and Magog, Moshiach will be revealed, known to the nations of the world, and the nations will be so scared of him that they all want to become Jewish.

    Rambam in Mishne Torah says (11:3) that "Moshiach will not need to do any signs or wonders and change things in the world or nature or resurrect the dead ... rather, if someone of Dovidic lineage, and performs mitzvos like his father Dovid ... and will make all of Klal Yisroel follow the Torah, and repent, he is assumed to be Moshiach. If he succeeds..."

    SO first, even here, the Rambam tells us that a prerequisite even for a person to be assumed to be Moshiach is that he will cause all of Klal Yisroel to do Teshuva. With a 60% intermarriage rate in America, all the rebellious teenagers, and all the Aveiros that we all still do, clearly, not even an assumed Moshiach has yet arrived.

    Rambam also says (11:12) that all Jews will gather around Moshiach, who will determine their lineage with Ruach HaKodesh, and (see Kesef Mishna) that he will also possess the Urim V'Tumim.

    In Hilchos Teshuva the Rambam writes that Moshiach will be wiser even than Shlomo HaMelech, and all the Goyim will come and listen to him.

    And more: The Rambam writes that one of the requirements of a Navi in general is that he perform supernatural acts to prove his stature.

    And the Rambam in Pirush HaMishnayos in Sanhedrin (ch. 11) explains that all the world, including the Goyim, will make peace with Moshiach and serve him, "because of his great righteousness and the wonders that he will do, yet reality will not be changed from what it will currently be, except for the fact that the Jews will rule."

    So clearly, there will be many wondrous acts and even miracles that the Moshiach will perform, even before the world changes, and what the Rambam says that Moshiach will not do any wonders or miracles is referring to wonders and miracles such as he lists, like the resurrection of the dead and similar things that are changes in the reality of the world, things that will indeed happen later on in the Messianic age. What the Rambam means, as he says more clearly in Peiruch HaMishnayos, is that the Moshiach will not perform any Messianic changes in the world until later on, but even at the beginning of his revelation, he will perform several wondrous acts."

    The Book of Zechariah - Zechariah's prophecies deal with the entire period from his own day (Zechariah was a member of the Great Assembly that led the Jewish people during the early years of the Second Temple Era).

    The commentators are in agreement that Zechariah's prophetic visions are so esoteric that they will not be understood until the coming of Elijah the Prophet. (This I copied directly from Artscroll Zechariah 1:1, but my mother said it too).

  5. for those that argue that kibbutz galiyot can't occur before mashiach, you must then ignore the facts that soon the majority of jews in the world will be in EY.

    This will actually lead to practical issues, such as shimta might become deoraita.

    So you have basically only have one "hope" to keep to your current beliefs, and that's something traumatic will happen to the State of Israel, where a large amount of the jews there will massacred. I really hope you don't hope or expect that to occur.

  6. The US is a prime example of the separation of Church and State, and those who will claim otherwise are mistaken, IMO.

    The true examples you quote all have legal rationales behind them, which I prefer not to get into, and some of the examples you quote are simply incorrect.

    Take this quote of yours:
    some or all government officials must meet certain religious requirements in order to hold office;
    (The US has never elected a non Christian leader.).

    Hmmmm.... Joe Lieberman is a closet Christian? Good to know. Now I'll know not to drink his wine. How about Mike Bloomberg, Ed Koch or Henry Kissinger? All closet Christians....

    Unfortunately, when one writes comments that are not of the highest caliber, others tend to start doubting the writers intellectual prowess and tend to take everything he has written with a grain of salt.

  7. "soon the majority of jews in the world will be in EY."

    "Inagathering"? There is no ingathering happening now. While it is true that many people are making Aliyah, that does not constitute "ingathering of exiles", besides which many are making Yeridah as well, becoming car service drivers and furniture movers in Chutz Laaretz.

    Kibutz Goliyos won't happen anyway, until after Mohsiach comes, as you say in Shemonah Esrei - "yitakah beshoraf gadol lechariusainu, v'sa nes lekabetz" etc. Who do you think is going to blow that shofar?

    And, as the Ravvad mentions, (Rabbi Avraham ben David of Provence, c.1125-1198, Posquieres, Provence Commentary of the Raavad to Edios 2:9).Kibutz Goliyus will not happen by people going straight into EY. First we will have to wander in the desert again for 40 years with Moshiach, the way we did the first time, and only afterwards will we reach or ultimate goal of going into EY.

    And all that happens after Moshiach comes.

    See also Rashi Yechezkel 20:35, which is the prophecy that the Raavad is referring to. The Ramban in Maamar HaVikuach says this will take 45 years.

    "Hashem promised Eretz Yisroel to us, and GAVE it to us, and then KICKED US OUT because we sinned. G-d said we are NOT TO TAKE IT until Moshiach comes because we need Golus to cure us of our sins."

    "the Brachah of Tekiah B'shofar is going on the Kibutz Golius into the desert, which will happen before the building of Yerushalayim and the Judgement of the Apikorsim. The fact that it says in the brachah "vkabtzenu yachahd ... l'artzeinu" merely means that the ultimate purpose of the Kibutz Goluyus will be to go into EY, but the Brachah itself - the peshichah and chasimah - is not referring to the Kibutz Golyus into EY at all, but rather the preparatory one, which will happen at the beginning of Moshiach's activities. According to many poskim, including the Tur, Ari, and many nusach ashkenaz cited in Likutei Maharich, they do not even include the world "l'artzeinu" in the text of the brachah at all!

    But in any case, the seder habrachos does not say that this Kibutz Golius - wherever it is referring to - happens before the appearance of Moshiach. On the contrary, it happens after the blowing of the Great Shofar, but before the Establishment of the Kingdom or the Building of Jerusalem.

    Eretz Yisroel exists outside the State of Israel - southern Lebanon is Eretz Yisroel, as holy as any of the streets in the State of Israel. Don't forget to "support" southern Lebanon!

    And not all of the State of Israel is EY - Elat is chutz la'aretz, not more holy than New York City.

    So if you have two Jews, one in Eilat and the other in Lebanon, the one in Lebanon takes off Terumah and Maaser, while he basks in the holiness of Eretz Yisroel, while the Jews vacationing in Eilat in the State of Israel, basks in nothing at all!

    It is important to consider this.

    In fact any Gentile nation is allowed to govern EY in Golus. The only ones that aren't allowed are Jews. The Torah says that if Jews govern EY, or even TRY to govern it, as a punishment, Hashem will allow Jews to "be hunted down like animals in the field."

    That happens to be the worst punishment described anywhere in the Torah. Killed and hunted like animals. Those are the words. "ani matir es basarchem k;tzvios uk'ailos hasadeh" - "I will permit your flesh [to the goyim] like game in the fields".

    Jews hunted and killed like animals - the punishment described in the Torah for a movement to create a Jewish State of Israel during golus. And certainly for actually creating one.

    Thats the problem with Zionism. It has nothing to do with the holiness of EY or of living in it. On the contrary, it pollutes EY and strips it of holiness.

    The Chazon Ish said (quoted in Maaseh Rav vol. I): "There are indeed apikorsim today, who are religious. They are those who say that the Gedolim were at fault for the Jews not leaving Europe [in the holocaust], and those who celebrate Yom Haatzmaut."

    As Rav Shach ZTL writes, "Eretz Yisroel is equally 'ours' regardless of who physically owns it at any given time.

    As Rabbi Avigdor Miller ZTL writes, "The State of Israel presents the greatest peril to Jewish existence in history ... what Haman and Titus could not do, the Israelis are attempting: the first could only attempt to destroy the physical existence of Israel, but the State of Israel is attmepting to counterfeit the term Jew and to erase all boundaries between Jew and non-Jew." (Sing You Righteous par. 46-48). And besides the assimilation, Zionism itself is Avodah Zorah, and as Rav ELchonon Wasserman said, "Zionism is idolatry and so religious Zionism is just idolatry coupled with religion". This nationalistic-Zionistic atmosphere creates a culture which needs to be fought against just as does the Goyish cultures in Chutz Laaretz.

    What's "imperative" is that we follow the Torah. And since creating a Medinah in EY is Assur because of the Oaths, and Kefirah against our belief in Bias HaMoshiach.


    (I love this site. It's like my mother with a search engine!!)

  8. John McCain recently said

    "The number one issue that is in the selection of the United States is 'will this person carry on in the Judeo-Christian tradition that has made this Nation the greatest experiment of mankind."

  9. From Wiki:

    Judeo-Christian is a term used to describe the body of concepts and values which are thought to be held in common by Judaism and adapted by Christianity.

    The first-known uses of the term "Judeo-Christian" according to the Oxford English Dictionary is 1899 in discussing the emergence of Christianity.

    Supporters of the Judeo-Christian concept point to the Christian claim that Christianity is the heir to Biblical Judaism.

    In The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition, Arthur A. Cohen questions the term in that it obscures fundamental differences between the two religions.

    Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits writes that "Judaism is Judaism because it REJECTS Christianity, and Christianity is Christianity because it REJECTS Judaism".

    Meanwhile, someone should show John McCain a copy of the US Constitution as it does not appear that he has seen the First Amendment. (The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the establishment of a national religion by the Congress or the preference of one religion over another, or religion over non-religion).


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