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I Am Concerned

     The left-leaning Israeli media is disseminating news articles transmitting the discontent of American Jewish leaders with the new Israeli government and the policies it wishes to implement. A good example of this genre is the recent headline that blared “169 liberal US Jewish leaders sign letter expressing concern over Israeli government.” These leaders headed non-Orthodox rabbinical seminaries, federations, AIPAC, the Conference of Presidents and others, and they decried accusations of “anti-Semitism” directed against critics of Israel’s government (I haven’t heard any but be that as it may) as well as the now familiar laments about the proposed judicial reforms that will preserve Israel’s democracy and the amendment to the grandfather clause in the Law of Return that currently allows third-generation Gentiles to become Israeli citizens as “Jews.”

      The lines are drawn and there is little I can do to assuage their “concern over the Israeli government.” What I can do is this: express my concern over the state of American Jewish leadership. And these concerns are well founded.

      It is not only that these leaders are self-appointed and often found their own organizations of which they anoint themselves the leaders for life. It is primarily that these leaders are presiding over the rapid decline and disappearance of American Jewry under the dual albatrosses of assimilation and intermarriage. The population of American Jewry is steadily declining, artificially sustained only by counting halachic non-Jews as part of the Jewish community (even those who do not perceive themselves as such). The intermarriage rate among American Jews outside the Orthodox world hovers at around 75%. I am concerned about that because I grieve at the disappearance of every single Jew.  I am concerned about American Jewish leadership’s attitude toward this problem and lament their inability or reluctance to do anything about it.

     I am concerned over the drift over American Jewish leadership from liberalism to the far left, the progressive end of the political spectrum. I am concerned that the Reform Jewish movement proudly features on its website an article entitled “Why Pronouns are So Important – and Why Using the Right Ones is so Jewish.” I am concerned because that is not at all important (in fact, it seems ridiculous and a denial of reality) and it is not at all Jewish. I am concerned because American Jewish leadership seems enamored with every progressive cause far more than they are with Torah knowledge and observance of mitzvot, Jewish identity and Jewish continuity. Indeed, as the progressives embrace anti-Israel activism in all its forms – delegitimization, boycott, divestment and sanction, I am concerned that American Jewish leaders will ultimately fall into lockstep with these Jew haters so as to remain in their good graces.

     I am concerned that American Jewish leaders do little to try to influence Jews to be more Jewish – more learned in Torah, more observant of mitzvot, more inclined to marry Jews and have Jewish children and grandchildren. Some of these signatories are intermarried themselves.

     I am concerned that American Jewish leaders have fallen into the trap of denouncing anti-Jewish attacks from so-called right wingers but rarely (or never) if perpetrated by leftists, progressives, blacks or Muslims. I am concerned that they downplay or ignore assaults on easily-identifiable religious Jews. I am concerned that many American Jewish leaders have come to the defense of Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, blatant Jew haters but, nevertheless, still Democrats, like almost all of these American Jewish leaders, and thus must be defended.

     I am concerned that American Jews have so many problems – internal and external – and American Jewish leaders are racing, tripping over themselves, sending letter and issuing daily statements criticizing Israel’s democracy and opining on pending legislation, which, by any reasonable reading, will have absolutely no effect on American Jewry (not even revising the grandfather clause pursuant to which very few Americans ever apply for Aliyah).

      I would be even more concerned if I hadn’t seen this movie before. In this week’s sedrah (Beshalach), God eschewed guiding the Jewish people to Israel through the shorter sea route and instead takes the more arduous wilderness journey “lest the people reconsider when they see a war and return to Egypt” (Shemot 13:17). A few days later, the people saw the approaching Egyptian army, fearsome in its might and capabilities, and complained to Moshe: “Was there a shortage of graves in Egypt that you took us to die in the wilderness…Did we not say ‘better to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness’” (14:11-12)?

    The “people” feared a war and the “people” complained to Moshe.  And where were the leaders, the heads of the Jewish tribes and organizations, to calm the people, to explain to them the situation, to have faith in God and confidence in Moshe? Where were the Egyptian-Jewish leaders to assist Moshe?

     The answer is that they were long gone. Moshe and Aharon appealed to them before the first summit with Pharaoh and they were enthused with Moshe’s mission and the impending redemption – until they had to undertake personally the risky assignment of accompanying Moshe and Aharon to Pharaoh. They did not quite make it. Rashi (5:1) comments that one by one these leaders slinked away out of fear of what Pharaoh would say or do. They were not “leaders.” They had organizations and titles but they could not lead people and they could not even follow Moshe. So, confronted with George Patton’s choice of “lead, follow or get out of the way,” they got out of the way, and quickly. Moshe (and Aharon) had to lead alone, by themselves. Thereafter the people approached them, directly, without any intermediary. They had other “leaders” in name only.

     American Jewish leaders profess to support a Jewish and democratic Israel. Yet they blithely oppose legislation that would make the State of Israel more Jewish (repealing the grandfather clause) and more democratic (reforming the judiciary). They need to get their house in order. I do not doubt their sincerity. These leaders are dedicated professionals. But their misguided choices, shallow understanding of Torah and failure to adequately address the real problems of American Jewry has me concerned.

     And that should concern all Jews who are lovers of Israel and the Jewish people.

The Torah and Judicial Reform

(First published at and

Did the Supreme Court disqualify Aryeh Deri from serving as a minister because the justices genuinely believed that his multiple criminal convictions rendered him unfit to serve in high office? Or did the Court banish him because it is its last best hope to topple the Netanyahu government and thwart the intended reforms that will dilute the Court’s current nearly unlimited powers? Or maybe it was a combination of the two?

      The fact that these questions are legitimate and that we will never know the answer underscores the credibility problem Israel’s Supreme Court has with a large part of the public. On one hand, there are cogent reasons to ban Deri from serving as a minister. But those same reasons easily pertained to banning him from politics altogether. Thus, on the other hand, it is inherently undemocratic to negate the vote of hundreds of thousands of Shas voters who voted for him knowing of his ethical challenges. It seems odd to allow someone to run with the strong presumption that if his bloc won a majority he (the party leader) would become a minister, only to have an unelected judicial body pull the rug out from under him after the election. It is odder still that the Court took this drastic action without even a semblance of statutory support but simply based on the Court’s own conclusions of what is reasonable. No wonder so many thoughtful people think the Court is out of control and needs to be reined in. 

      In essence, the Court here without authority usurped the role of the prime minister in choosing his cabinet, just as it routinely commandeers the role of defense minister by decreeing security strategy and tactics, just as it routinely appropriates the role of each minister by dictating policy when it is so inclined, just as it arrogates to itself the role of Knesset when the Court invalidates laws or preempts their enactment by leaking that, if passed, the law will be invalidated, and just as it seizes the function of the Chief Rabbinate when the Court deigns to determine conversion standards and which establishments should be deemed kosher. 

      Israel’s Supreme Court thus serves as a Super Minister (above the Prime Minister), a Super General (above the Chief of Staff),  a Super Legislator (above the Knesset) and a Super Posek (above the Chief Rabbis). And it fills all these roles without statutory sanction and without being elected by or accountable to the people – and the Court even controls the selection process of its future members.

       Thus, the Supreme Court controls the judicial branch of government and for practical purposes dominates the executive and legislative branches. If I didn’t know any better, I would think that such an institution is a threat to democracy and needs to be reformed. Imagine, for a moment, that the United States Supreme Court decided unilaterally that it is “unreasonable” that Pete Buttigieg serve as Secretary of Transportation and must be summarily fired. That is not an implausible recommendation but it is unimaginable and unthinkable that such should occur because the US Supreme Court operates under constitutional and statutory constraints. No such limits currently pertain to the Israeli Supreme Court; hence the purpose of the reforms.

     Is there a Torah perspective on the proposed judicial reforms? The instant answer is negative. The secular court system is not a Bet Din and the High Court is not a Sanhedrin (ironically, the Sanhedrin served a quasi-legislative function – but ancient Israel did not have a legislature). The qualifications of the judges and the standards of evidence applied do not adhere to the Torah’s framework for a judicial system. The laws that the Court enforces (or concocts) do not always conform to Halacha  and the Court  for more than a quarter century has studiously avoided applying the Foundations of Laws Act (1980) that calls on the judges of Israel to refer to Moreshet Yisrael (the historical heritage of the Jewish people) when a clear statutory framework is lacking. 

     Instead, it supplants the heritage of Israel and the will of the electorate by basing its most controversial and lawless decisions on, one supposes, Moreshet Tel Aviv, the values of the people (primarily, in the first instances, the justices themselves) whom they deem to be enlightened. And for that, people demonstrate in Tel Aviv and have, through misrepresentations, hysteria, and falsehoods, incited indignation across the world to Israel’s detriment.

      And yet, perhaps we can glean some guidance from the Torah as to the substance and desirability of the proposed reforms. What is the purpose of the judicial system according to the Torah? Well, it is to do justice, which is defined as applying the law equally and fairly to all. The Jewish court does not favor the poor over the rich, the alien over the citizen, the Arab over the Israeli, the Muslim over the Jew, the enlightened over the unenlightened, or the secular over the religious. “Justice” is not social justice, economic justice, racial justice, environmental justice, or any other qualifier. To preface “justice” with an adjective is to distort the very concept of justice. “One law for everyone.” That is the primary role of the court.

      Similarly, since Halacha is given to us as a holistic (and holy) system, the Jewish court does not fabricate laws or substitute its own thinking for that of the Torah. In our context, the role of the court is not to legislate or to create new laws but to interpret the laws as passed by the Knesset and adjudicate cases and controversies that arise between the citizens. Like the other branches of the Jewish government, the system is intended to elicit the divine presence and make us a holier, more faithful people – not a nation that is enamored with Western decadence.

     Furthermore, one of the 613 commandments requires the appointment of judges “in all our gates” (Sefer Hachinuch, mitzvah 491). This is generally done by the people and/or the leadership. The judges do not appoint their successors nor are they given veto power over new nominees as the current Court has, all the better to ensure ideological conformity.

     It is worth noting that the authority of the Sanhedrin derived from the Torah (Devarim 17:11) and thus from G-d. The people accepted its rulings because such deference was commanded by the Torah and rooted in one of the 613 commandments. But from where does Israel’s Supreme Court derive its authority? Presumably from the laws of the Knesset that created it and defined its jurisdiction. Thus when the Court exceeds its statutory authority and adjudicates matters beyond its delegated capacity (such as the revolution waged by Aharon Barak that renders any and all matters justiciable) it has no recognized authority. The government and public’s adherence to those rulings would be discretionary but for Israel’s secular media that treat the pronouncements of the Court with greater reverence that they have for the revelation at Sinai and deem dissenters and even questioners as ignoble heretics.

     Finally, perhaps the greatest lesson from the Torah relates to the qualifications for judges. Certainly, a Jewish court requires “men of wisdom and understanding, exceptional in the wisdom of Torah, with broad intellectual potential, and familiar with other wisdoms” (Rambam, Laws of Sanhedrin 2:1). For our purposes, though, Rambam (2:7) noted that judges should possess “wisdom, humility, fear of G-d, distaste for wealth, a love for truth, beloved by the people and possessors of a good reputation.” We assume that is hard to find – but note the importance of “love of truth” which precludes having a social or political agenda that the judge seeks to implement. Loving truth means following the law even if it does not accord with one’s personal preferences. The judge should be “beloved by the people,” not deem the people as unenlightened, social inferiors, and “possessors of a good reputation,” not usurping authority on specious grounds and threatening civil war if that authority is not conceded.

     The judicial coup d’etat sparked by the Barak revolution has now been joined. Democracy is being defended, not subverted. And the current reforms that seek to limit judicial review, curb the Court’s unlimited powers, restrain its jurisdictional overreach, restore authority to the people, and restructure the judicial selection process have an added advantage: they promote the ideals and values of the Torah as it perceives a functioning judiciary in the kingdom of priests and holy nation.

Death of the Oligarchy

  (First published at

Wow! About 80,000 people stood together in the Tel Aviv rain protesting the Netanyahu government and all it stands for and all the people who serve in it and all the policies it wants to promulgate. This is a major news story only in a media that sees itself as part of that crowd and eggs them on through fawning coverage and uncritical support because they share the same hostility towards Israel’s democracy.

     Let’s crunch the numbers. Far more people attended the funeral last week of Rav Shimon Baadani zt”l not too far from the protest site, but that received a tenth of the coverage of these protests. In the middle of Tel Aviv, 80,000 people got together to hammer the new government just days after it took power. But in Tel Aviv approximately 170,000 people voted for the parties that are not in power, including more than 29,000 people who voted for Meretz alone. In other words, the rally attracted fewer than half of the Tel Avivians who voted for Lapid, Gantz, Labor and the defunct Meretz, and they didn’t really have to travel that far. 

     It stands to reason that no one there voted for Likud, the Religious Zionists, Shas or Yahadut Hatorah.  Why then is it even interesting – much less worthy of front page coverage in the Wall Street Journal and banner headlines in Israel’s left wing media outlets – that a relative handful of those whose election favorites lost are disappointed in the results? It is because these protests are aiding and abetting those entities that seek to harm Israel. The disgruntled are bolstering those who profess that Israel is a corrupt, illegitimate tyranny. Free people have a right to protest but thinking people who protest have some attainable goal in mind and know when the exercise of certain rights is foolish and counterproductive. And it has led to the wildest and most outlandish accusations levied against Israel in recent memory: that the peoples’ vote heralds the end of democracy. 

      Irony does not begin to describe how preposterous this sounds. It is quite astonishing how un-self aware many people can be. The protesters bloviate about the death of democracy simply because the people voted as they did, the truest expression of democracy. These democrats like the “crat” (government) a lot more than they like the “demos” (people). They unwittingly recall Brecht’s sardonic advice to the government that had lost the confidence of the people: “it should dissolve the people and elect another.” Worse, they seemed floored that, for once, politicians are trying to implement the platforms on which they run. In essence, they are asserting, politicians who campaign on the issues, attract voters accordingly, and then attempt to fulfill those promises are threats to the public order. That is the height of cynicism, especially in light of the previous government whose leaders voided their promises shortly after the votes were counted. And who then is the real threat to democracy?

      You cannot claim to love democracy and then declare the people’s choices illegitimate. You cannot claim to love democracy and then vest unlimited power in the hands of one or even fifteen unelected people. You cannot claim to love democracy and coyly threaten violence and civil war in order to thwart the will of the majority. Democracy is “government by the people.” Government by the elites is an oligarchy but it is hard to conceive of an international media uproar if the Tel Aviv protesters chanted that the new government represents a “threat to the oligarchy.” It is not as catchy. And there is no more formidable oligarchy in Israel than the judicial establishment.      It takes a special brand of narrow mindedness to bewail the proposed limitations on the jurisdiction of Israel’s Supreme Court. The morally compromised, “two-state delusion” supporting Alan Dershowitz feels that Israel’s Supreme Court is the “gold standard” of international judiciaries. Really? Is he referring to a court that intervenes to halt the demolition of a terrorist’s home but does not intervene to stop the expulsion of 9000 Jews and the destruction of their homes? Is he referring to a legal system that allows the investigation and prosecution of right-wing politicians to continue in perpetuity? Is he referring to an attorney general who sets up himself or herself as an unelected power center to determine which government policies may be adopted and which laws may be enacted by the peoples’ legislature? 

   This Supreme Court did not allow PM Netanyahu when he served as an interim prime minister to appoint a dog catcher in Nahariya while it allowed – in open violation of an existing statute – the previous interim minister to give away some of Israel’s previous natural assets to a hostile foreign power. The legal reasoning that rationalized that and improperly removed its determination from the Knesset is unworthy of a first year law student. 

    The “gold standard” is looking a little tarnished and needs to be polished, which is the purpose of the proposed Knesset legislation that has so relatively few people in a tizzy.  It is the death of the oligarchy, not the democracy, that has brought the likes of Aharon Barak to scream from the rooftops. It seems that many of those who insist that Israel always define itself as “Jewish and democratic” want Israel to be neither Jewish or democratic. They wish to preserve the secular oligarchy that has long trampled on the rights of Israel’s traditional and conservative majority. 

     It is the death of the oligarchy that brought only 80,000 people into the streets. Perhaps that shows that, media oligarchs aside, most Israelis prefer democracy to oligarchy.