When Bigots Run for Office....
Initially, Judaism was never meant to be a religion disconnected from a land.
The early prophets, priests, temple, Kings, and Bible all arose in the land of Israel between the 9th and 6th century BCE, and none of them could have foreseen the destruction that would arise with the arrival of the Babylonian army.
The difficulty of switching over from a land based practice to a tradition that could survive in exile is evident from literature produced in the mid 6th century in Babylon. In one famous chapter a psalmist goes so far as to rhetorically ask “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Psalm 37) The implication being, of course, that this is impossible.
It finally took a group of charismatic and deeply intelligent leaders, otherwise known as prophets, to slowly morph Judaism into something that could survive without a land. Not only did the prophets tell the people that they can and should continue their practice of Judaism in a foreign land, but they also set up an entire system that allowed Judaism to thrive in foreign lands until today.
Fast forward 2,500 years and we can see one such example play out today.
On June 5 about 3.9 million Californians went to the polls to vote in California’s primary election. Of the 3.9 million voters about 55,000 of these voters voted for a neo-Nazi named Patrick Little.
Aside from calling Hitler “one of the greatest leaders in history” and running on a campaign slogan of “Liberating the US from the Jewish Oligarchy”, Little’s platforms are so abhorrent and insane that they are actually borderline humorous.
For instance, Little wants to establish a death penalty for any politician that attempts to introduce any bill that includes foreign aid to Israel. No other country, of course, made it onto this list. Furthermore, he want to change America’s formal stance on the holocaust to be that it was a “Jewish war atrocity propaganda hoax that never happened.”
Personally, I always find it fascinating when neo-Nazis simultaneously laud Hitler for killing 6 million Jews while also denying that it ever actually happened.
Now if we assume that the voting base is somewhat representative of the people in California, it means that over one out of every hundred people you pass on your average Californian street (although some areas are obviously more saturated than others) not only finds the above views defensible, but would actually want them to become public policy. On an average day, from work, grocery shopping, and going to the gym, we all definitely come into contact with well over this number.
This got me thinking: What would happen if an electoral district actually elected someone with these types of views? While extremely unlikely, this is not totally unthinkable as our history books are full of cases of the attractiveness and spread of antisemitism.
Luckily, our political system was designed to deal with this exact situation. The vast majority of political philosophers from the 17th century onwards understood that a society will not be able to survive on a purely majority rule basis. It is not difficult to understand why. If pure majority rule was instituted then the minority in any situation, be it religious, economic, or political, would be at the mercy of the majority in any given situation.
To mitigate this potentially devastating scenario, the nation’s founders understood that democratic societies needed to be founded on values and principles that would necessarily presuppose any electoral conclusion that may arise from the public sphere. In America we call this the Constitution. And while there are obvious examples of this idea drastically failing, it has a pretty high success rate.
One of the ingenious ideas of the exilic prophets was that governments are crucial for the security of the people. For the majority of Jewish history we have been not only a minority, but often an oppressed one.
A figure as ancient as Jeremiah recognized this in the early days of the Babylonian exile. He understood that being a minority meant that unless there was some greater force (such as a legal code) stopping the majority from becoming oppressors, it was quite likely that his community would quickly find itself in trouble.
In one of the more important verses of the Bible, Jeremiah commands us that we must “seek the welfare of the city...and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). This idea was certainly viewed as important even when the Jews were allowed back into Israel for an early Mishna reflects this sentiment and urges us to “Pray for the welfare of the government, for without it men would swallow one another alive” (Avot 3:2).
These imperatives, among others, have led to the common practice of synagogues worldwide instituting a weekly prayer for the welfare of the government.
Finally, I often read and hear about various communities in America wanting to abolish this prayer because they are disappointed with our current elected officials. However, the ignorance of this position is astounding. While the text does mention the leaders, the main point of the prayer is to bless the moral underpinnings that governments are (hopefully) standing upon. If anything, this prayer is even more important if you find the current leadership to be threatening.
While we may not always agree with the government, its presence is crucial for the security of minority communities, and we should never overlook its fundamental importance.
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What is the connection between the Land of Israel, the natural cycle, and Jewish practice? Especially for Jews living outside the land of Israel, is this still important?
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