Thursday, April 27, 2006

Judaism and Democracy

Rabbi Dr. Sol Roth in Torah U'Madda Volume 2: 1990 writes an interesting article on “Judaism and Democracy” (actually a speech given at YU). It seems to me that R’ Roth misunderstands the Declaration of Independence and where freedom comes from.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

To which R’ Roth says “Liberty, by virtue of this declaration, is granted as a right to each American citizen…Hence, for the Jewish people, freedom is associated with a transforming event rather than a congressional decree”.

Freedom is not granted to citizens by virtue of this declaration, but rather by virtue of their own humanity; no congressional decree could create or destroy this right.

The idea of an inalienable right is not one that a person can ever give up; under no circumstance may a person waive their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. One of the many reasons that a person may not sign a document to be killed, it is an unalienable right – you have no choice in this matter. Much like a person’s Jewishness, it can never be washed away, convert to thirty different religions, you will always be a Jew.

Rabbi Roth does however make a very interesting point about the difference between “western” freedom and the Jewish concept of freedom. The social contract theorists believe that freedom is a personal endeavor, while “freedom, in a Jewish sense, is applicable primarily to the people, not to each individual”. The ancient Athenians had a very similar idea of democracy.

The rest of the article I happen to agree with full-heartedly, it can be found here.

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