Rav Aviner- Democracy as the Will of the Jewish People

Here is statement from Rav Aviner issued on Friday. Can we use this to test EJ’s desire to use Rawls? How would you solve this statement of Rav Aviner?

I am not interested in the halakhic or politics aspects. I want a continuation of the discussion on the use of Rawls. Hartman preached pluralism of as the solution, Menachem Kellner makes an ahistoric typology between rational Maimonideans and irrational racist Halevi followers. Rav Aviner defines democracy as the will of the people and the fulfillment of ideals in a Platonic state way. He does not know that here we define democracy as civil liberties, civil right, representation democracy or minority rights.

Rav Aviner on… Without Loyalty There is No Citizenship
[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Shemot 5771 – translated by R. Blumberg]

Question: A law has been proposed in the Knesset that any non-Jew who wishes to receive citizenship in our country must swear a loyalty oath: “I declare that I will be a faithful citizen to the Jewish state, and I undertake to respect the country’s laws.” Is this law appropriate?

Answer: Obviously, I don’t deal with laws and jurisprudence, but with the Torah. And so, here is how things look according to the Torah:

1. It is halachically possible for a non-Jew to live in the Land of Israel. The Torah allows for a ger toshav, or resident alien. The Poskim [halachic decisors] write that even in our times there is room for a status similar to that of the resident alien (see Rambam, Ra’avad, Kessef Mishneh). In other words, it is possible for a non-Jew to live in the L and. Yet there are two preconditions to this, one moral and the other political.

2. The first condition is moral: undertaking the seven laws commanded to Noach, the foundations of human morality, by virtue of which man is called man. True, some take the lenient view that it suffices for a non-Jew to undertake not to worship idols, and such was the ruling of Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Kohain Kook (Mishpat Kohain), and our Rabbi Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook (Sichot HaRav Tzvi Yehuda – Eretz Yisrael). After all, this is the Land given to Avraham, who fought against idolatry. Hence it cannot be that somebody who goes against this should live here. Therefore, this is not the place of the various types of Christians, and of various pagan faiths from the Far East. By contrast, Islam is not idolatry.

3. The political precondition is that the candidate must accept the state’s authority (Rambam, Hilchot Melachim). This is something obvious and logical that exists throughout all the nations of the world. Certainly, somebody busy destroying our country and killing us cannot live here. That goes without saying.

4. Let’s just point out that there is no racism in either of these conditions. Racism is a biological doctrine that distinguishes between races, but within the Jewish people there are Jews from almost all of the races, whether they were born Jews or converted.

5. All that said, the idea of a Jewish-Democratic state can find expression, but note that I place the word Jewish first. In other words, there is room for democracy on condition that it does not contradict Judaism. That is certainly how things must be. After all, this is the State of Israel, or, in the words of Theodore Herzl, “the state of the Jews”, in both Hebrew and German, or, “the Jewish state”, in Yiddish and French. This is a Jewish state, and not a state of all its citizens.

Certainly, democracy, i.e., the will of the majority, cannot force an immoral or antinational law. Examples would include a law that would force Shabbat violations or a law that would decide to erase the State of Israel and make it part of the United States. Even the philosopher Plato described an idealistic democracy aimed at the general good as an organism and not just a utilitarian gathering of individuals. Certainly there are timeless ideals that transcend the law. After all, a nation is not built solely on economics and security, but on ideals and history as well.

To cut a nation off from its history, from its soul, is an immoral act, and the most antidemocratic act there could be.

Let us support real, exalted democracy: responsibility and loyalty to the Nation down through the generations

I repeat I am not interested in politics or the halakhic status of Christianity. I want a Rawlsian discussion. Or do we need the basics of Locke? Should we be pushing Rav Hayyim Hirschenson as one who saw the need for democracy? Is this just a problem of Israel not having a constitution? Would Habermas or Charles Taylor work better in Israel were we allow the voice of non-democratic positions a say in the public discourse. We are speaking to a group that does not realize that Plato is seen as the opposite of the democratic society.
From a politic perspective see Jeffrey Goldberg article from this morning “What If Israel Ceases to Be a Democracy?”. Can we create a Judaism with some of Locke, Rawls, or any other democratic thinker?

4 responses to “Rav Aviner- Democracy as the Will of the Jewish People

  1. I think the particular example you chose is not the best way to discuss how Israeli democracy can be established in a broader, fairer way. If you read the discussions in the press, paranoia is operating on both sides. The left sees these measures as code for an eventual ethnic cleansing where the Israeli Arabs will be forced to leave. It also feels these loyalty oaths are asking the Israeli Arabs to accept as just all the inequalities they feel attached to the idea of a Jewish state.
    It seems to me unequal opportunity is a clearer, less symbolic issue, where there are concrete facts that would be relevant. Have the Israeli Arabs been allowed to build new communities within Israel? Are they give the same subsidies as Jewish Israelis? Do they have roughly equal opportunities in education and employment? If not, why not? Each sub-issue should be looked at separately in the hope that fair and equal treatment would in time increase the loyalty of this community.
    There are also symbolic issues that go a long way in creating loyal citizens. I remember the fears we all had here in Chicago after the riots in 1967(?), when the blacks burnt down so much of the West Side, driving all Jewish business out of the area. Chicago today remains a segregated city, inequalities in America have grown wider decade by decade. The blacks may have had some relative improvement, but now are much less significant a force given the new huge Latino community. What has changed are the attitudes of whites, and their willingness to accept symbolic change, a black police chief, a black Mayor, a mea culpa of the Kerner report, Oprah and more Oprah. The change in the white attitudes has kept relations between black and whites on an even keel. The blacks are no longer demonized, they know this, and life has improved for both groups.
    Is this mutual respect and acknowledgement part of a liberal Rawlsian vision? I believe so. Is this a cover up for cosmetic changes in what is really a master slave relationship? I’ll leave this last question to the left Hegelians.
    PS…While I appreciate the honor, I feel uncomfortable seeing my handle as part of the heading of your posts…”EJ and Rawls, What would EJ say?” I post my opinions, but I am just a blogger, a single person, and apparently a blogger who at times is subject to serious philosophical confusions. I am here to talk in learning, no different than the many other commentators who are interested in deepening their understanding by the back and forth of discussions.

  2. To be fair, it is not just Israel that struggles with the question of what Democracy means. Does it necessitate liberalism or can it function without it? Can nationalism sometimes trump liberalism and can liberalism trump the free exercise of anti-liberal religious or ethnic practices?

    Americans like to think that the Constitution somehow insures that there is a simple answer to these questions, but in truth it is the rapid assimilation of minorities that has gone the farthest to avoid major conflicts. A country like Israel, which is truly riven by religious, ideological and ethnic differences was never going to be an easy democracy to hold together. And is more likely to fall victim to the small mindedness of special-interest party parliamentary maneuvering.

    R. Aviner’s problem (rather, my problem with him) is not his definition of democracy per se, it is his identification of the will of the Jews as a trans-historic will that is inherent in every Jew, religious or secular, yearning toward religious-national redemption, hence the quote from Herzl. If that is the will that a Jewish democracy must instantiate then all questions are already closed. Democracy just becomes the shape that that the spirit of the Jews inhabits at this political moment, not an inherently valuable institution by which the public will is shaped, refined and expressed via deliberative processes.

  3. I think it is difficult if not impossible to evaluate the actions and statements of one actor, even an ideological, thoughtful actor, in a vacuum. Israeli democracy has a particular form that does not function according to the unwritten rules of France, Belgium, Switzerland or the US. Every political system, political culture and political tradition leaves its long term impact, a kind of signature, on the actions of its constituent leaders. Thus, the kind of debates and forms of expressions are quite different in the various democratic parliaments.

    While it may be all the more fascinating for visitors to watch a session of those respective parliaments in action, it does make it harder to compare the statements of the political actors.

    Concretely, the American political system encourages politicians to work on behalf of the entire population of their districts, not just their voters, because there is a real chance they will convince voters in their districts to support the incumbent the next time around. The representative is also the sole boss over his district at his level of government, or share the dias with a limited number of other actors. In a proportional democracy, the competition is national, and there is a lot of work going on to advance within the hierarchy of one’s own party, to be closer to the top of the list.

    All the above is exacerbated by the Israeli political culture, where politicians constantly lobby for their own national constituency, and jostle for prestige within the party. It is this aspect of Israeli political culture, more than anything else, that hurts the notions of equality. One cannot get R’ Aviner or the signatories to the ban on renting to Arabs, to truly change, unless all actors, right and left, slowly inch towards a different way of thinking. Because of coalition politics, parties also seem to see their time in the coalition as a time to achieve a maximum number of things they care about at the expense of all others, because that’s how everybody acts.

    I am not sure what is the way out of that quagmire, which, in my mind, is a far greater threat of internal cohesion in Israel, but I do know that everybody there is guilty of it. I vividly recall a prime minister expressing himself regarding demonstrations by the opposition, in a way that would not only never fly in Europe, but be actually inconceivable.

    The present failures of Israeli politics aren’t only about a measure of racism in a beleaguered country, but the almost inability to see the other as having a valid point, be that other Arab or Jew. And that fault is even worse in the Palestinian Arab public. Which in turn, leads me to ask whether it is even possible to truly change the Israeli political culture as long as the surrounding nations don’t.

    Does Rawls only apply to ideals in law and politics, or also in effecting change so that a society can come closer to implementing his ideas?

  4. I have a problem with the general schema of Rabbl Folger’s comments. He is in favor of Israel being governed along liberal democratic principles. His argument is that there are special conditions that must be changed before it is reasonable to expect a movement towards democracy. Thus not much can be expected of Rabbi Aviner unless all actors, right and left, slowly inch towards a different way of thinking, which in turn is unlikely because of the Israeli system of coalition politics. And again he doubts if the Israeli inability to see the other as having a valid point can truly change as long as the surrounding nations don’t.
    It would seem the day when Israel will be ready for democracy similar to the standards in other Western countries is lo hawya vlo nivra…there will never be such a day, which may indeed turn out to be be correct. But then, and this is my first point, it is not an exception, a special situation, it’s how it is period. We know that if you allow for a liberal use of exceptions, there is hardly an authoritarian or even fascist government that cannot be justified. In America according to Bush and now Obama ever since 9/11 we are at war with al-Qaeda. Because of this exceptional situation where we are threatened domestically, certain civil liberties must be suspended, even if this war lasts forever. The trick is always the same…we want the good stuff but alas not now because we are living in a special situation. Cameron in the UK wants to help the lower middle class and poor, but he must institute draconian cuts because it’s a crisis. Paulson gave a trillion dollars to the bankers who caused the problem, again because it was a crisis. Israel between the Holocaust and the many wars and enemies has never had a day which wasn’t an exception, when they weren’t in crisis. Perpetual traumatization.

    I don’t quite know how to counter this Carl Schmidt type rhetoric, nor does the left in general. Where ever you look the social democratic left is in disarray. What I was trying to say in my initial comment on Rawls is that changing the language, by just repeating the ideas of what makes a society right and just as if it is possible now, yes crisis or no crisis, is I hope, an effective method of bringing change.

    Tell me again Rabbi Aviner why can’t there be a tradeoff between a Jewish state and a just state? Why must they be lexically ordered? Why should a state created by secular Zionists be goverened by the visions of the Rabbi Kooks. Are dead rabbis sovereign? And so on ….
    To say that justice is the first vitue of a society, not efficiency, or pleasing the clergy means not to accept anti-decency rhetoric as the way things are; it means being political and pushing back.

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