Friday, May 18, 2007

Guest post

by Kylopod

Some Orthodox Jews insist that democracy is inconsistent with Torah, and that we support it today only for pragmatic reasons. According to this view, we look forward to a Messianic Age where Jews will have their own country run by kings and halacha, just as the Torah mandates.

Those of us who believe in democracy are told that we've been brainwashed by Western sensibilities, preferring an ever-changing morality to the eternal word of God.

I can tell you one thing with certainty. Not a single person who advances this argument would prefer to live in a kingdom anywhere in the world today. The only monarchy they'd ever feel comfortable in would be the awaited Jewish one--and then only maybe. Thus, they would rank governments as follows, from worst to best:

5) Islamic theocracies
4) fascist and communist states
3) traditional non-Jewish monarchies
2) modern democracies/republics
1) Jewish theocractic monarchy of the Messianic Age

How did we acquire this absurd hierarchy? By the age-old tendency in certain strands of Judaism toward unreflective, wholly practical thinking. Philosophical consistency ranks fairly low in the scale of values when you're a religious minority intent on preserving your culture in a hostile environment.

When Haredim claim to be more consistent than Modern Orthodox Jews, what they mean is that they accept what they've been taught unquestioningly without trying to make it conform to some other standard. But this "consistency" is an illusion. Avoiding the conflicts will not make them go away.

Likewise, working to find common ground between two conflicting systems of thought is not being inconsistent. It is, on the contrary, one of the hallmarks of intelligence and discretion in an imperfect world. And it is an integral part of the tradition we have received. Those who aim to preserve that tradition by rote are not staying true to its spirit.

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