Wednesday, November 21, 2007

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Q&A with A Simple Jew : Respecting the Government

A Simple Jew asked:

Rabbi Yaakov Culi commented in his sefer Me'am Lo'ez,

"One must show respect to a duly constituted government, even if it is corrupt, since power is only granted by Hashem."

These words were written over 300 years ago. How would you apply them to today?

Akiva of Mystical Paths answered:

First, we must note the statement from Pirke Avos (3.2), "Rabbi Chanina, an assistant of the high priest said: Pray for the welfare of the government, since but for fear of it men would swallow each other alive."

"Civil" society, aka civilization, is what keeps things operating in a functional fashion for large groups of people. Without it, all would be chaos and, to see a demonstration of the Pirke Avos above, take a look at what international diplomacy refers to as "failed states", aka Gaza, Congo, Somalia, Haiti (the international Failed States index here). The strong survive, the weak are preyed upon, blood flows freely and life is at risk every day.

We are instructed by the Gemora (Bava Kama 113a, Bava Basra 54b), dina d'malkhuta dina, the law of the government is the law. When we live in a country, we do our national duty, obey the laws, pay taxes, and do required services when they don't violate Torah or destroy our lives (and per national custom, where there is the letter of the law and then the practice.). The state is a means to a civil society, where we have the possibility of living and serving Hashem. The opposite is just a place of survival.

The national administration running a civil society is not holy. They do what administrations do, balance needs and demands and power, leaning left or right as the leadership pushes, servicing the needs of the administration and placating the public. And of course, perpetuating their own existance.

Rebbe Nachman emphasizes this in Likutey Mohoran 4.7, yet also answers your question. There he teaches that malchus, the power of leadership, descends from Hashem to the nations. However, this decent is demeaning, as this strength of Hashem is given over to the nations due to our many sins. Therefore, for both practical considerations of the need for a civil society, and the fact that we make a blessing to a king not due to his power, but in recognition that his power is a (small) reflection of the power of HaKodesh Baruch Hu, we do not undermine civil society.

However, Rebbe Nachman also teaches that through teshuva and humbleness, we can release this strength from the nations. Hakol kol Yaakov, through the strength of our voice, prayer, we can affect things. One does not go after civil society with the strength of one's arm and get civil society as a result.

Dina d'malkhuta dina says we follow the laws & customs of the land. It does not say we agree with the leadership or don't try to change or affect it. Working "within" the system doesn't mean just voting. It may mean lobbying, propagandizing, striking, supporting opposition, making diplomatic contacts, etc. The recent example of Uman and the Ukraine, with diplomatic pressure, is a good example.

1 comment:

  1. From the heights of my ignorance, I dare make the following comment to this subject: in general, yes we are supposed to respect government and the local laws, unless they put our own life and assets in risk, such as the nazi government during the 30's in Germany (most obvious counter-example).
    There are also situations where we may be halachically authorized to disobey the laws of the land. For instance in Brazil - where I currently live - we have an extremely corrupt government structure at all levels, and most probably from every $100 you pay in taxes "for the common good", 95 are stolen by the bloodsuckers (read: politicians) for their own benefit, to purchase their mansions, private jets and [fill in the blanks here, according to your wildest imagination]. In this case, I was told by an Orthodox Rabbi that tax circumvention may be accepted to a certain extent, and the money due to the corrupt government should be directed to alternative channels such as funding Torah learning, Jewish schools and helping your needy Jewish brother.

    Shalom & be well,
    R. Halevy
    Rio de Janeiro - Brazil


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