Neither Jewish Nor Democratic 

(Published on last Monday, before the great “pause.”)

Sadly, it has come to this. 

The State of Israel has long self-identified as a “Jewish and democratic” state – the order usually depends on one’s spiritual and national priorities – but the anarchist left has shattered both definitions. 

The anarchists do not want Israel as a Jewish state, except if we define Judaism in the blandest, most inconsequential way. It is not the Judaism of God, Torah, Mitzvot, holiness, objective morality, constant striving, self-improvement and a light onto the nations. It is a religion of – as best as I can surmise – being nice, non-judgmental, placing human reason above God, and feeling uncommanded to do anything. Certainly being nice is a Jewish value, but if that’s all there is, for that no one had to flee the Inquisition, burned at the stake, murdered by the Nazis and their accomplices or be banished to the Gulag. That philosophy can easily fit into several of the world’s religions so there would be no need to fight and struggle for a Jewish state whose territory is claimed by others and is a persistent target of much of the world’s enmity. In fact, if that is all there is to Judaism, it is unclear why it is so important that Israel be a haven for persecuted Jews across the world. If that is all there is to Judaism, why is it so important that Jews survive? We don’t really bring much to the global table and the marketplace of ideas. To the anarchist left, the “Jewishness” of the state is window-dressing. I challenge them to explain why a Jewish state is necessary or why it matters whether Jews survive. (Indeed, I challenge them to identify themselves! The media has been content to identify the protest leaders as “they” without explicating the pronoun. Who are “they”?)

The proof of their hypocrisy is not just in the relentless effort to de-Judaize the state, weaken observance and study of Torah, undermine the traditional family and vitiate the moral notions that we brought to mankind through the Torah. The proof of the hypocrisy is manifestly apparent in the recent demand that Shabbat be desecrated by repair work on the railways because closing the Ayalon Highway on a weekday would “endanger lives.” How hollow and facile does that assertion seem now. Apparently, the Ayalon can be closed – presumably endangering lives – for political protests, which must supersede Shabbat observance. Perhaps the railway authorities can coordinate with the protesters and do their construction in the future on weekdays when the Ayalon is closed for protests. What stunning hypocrisy. 

Obviously, the anarchist left does not want a Jewish state (which they have alternatively threatened to leave or sabotage if they don’t get their way). It is patently clear that they also do not want a democracy. They do not respect the results of elections. The people’s choices do not matter. They prefer that important decisions of state be made by one unelected person (the Attorney General) who derives her power from an elite cadre of other unelected officials, the Supreme Court. That might be a legitimate form of government and it might even be effective in certain societies but we should stop deluding ourselves that it is a democracy. It is not. 

In a democracy, political change is effected through the ballot box. In a democracy, the people govern through a majority and in an enlightened democracy, the majority rules and minority rights are protected – minority rights that promote and do not undermine the national purpose. A democracy is premised on the consent of the governed as is determined through elections. Political change that is effected through riots, protests, demonstrations, violence and threats of civil war is a hallmark of banana republics, not of democracies. We are witnessing the murder of Israel’s democracy at the hands of people who think they are saving it. Hence, their inability to conduct any meaningful dialogue with advocates of judicial reform. 

Several things should be stated clearly. Halting the legislative process will not slow it down until cooler heads prevail; it will kill it. It will not happen. Slowing it down is a smokescreen, a cliche, an obvious deception. The judicial reform movement will be dead on arrival, There will be no negotiations because the opposition will have stumbled onto an effective political strategy in its desire to undo the results of the last election. And a key reason why this government was elected and formed will have been vitiated. It will be yet another failure of a right wing government – a failure of leadership of Binyamin Netanyahu and the Likud. A new generation of leaders who are committed and steadfast will have to be nurtured. Perhaps the corrupted judicial system could then finish Netanyahu’s damn trials, one way or another, instead of dragging them on endlessly, endlessly, endlessly. And if he has to leave office? Well, isn’t that what most of these protests are about anyway –  not so much who comprises a judicial selection committee but how quickest to eject Netanyahu from office? And if he allows it to happen, he really is unfit to serve. 

There are silver linings in this catastrophe. Our society – our children, our citizens, and our leaders – is being taught that violence pays. Violence works. Our soldiers are being taught that refusal of orders and service is an effective approach to social and political change. If people are bothered by Shabbat desecration by railroad workers – or for that matter, anyone driving on the Ayalon on Shabbat – let tens of thousands of Jews block the railways and the highway. If a future left-wing government wants to evict Jews from our homeland or create a Palestinian state, let 100,000 committed nationalist Jews block intersections, storm the Knesset, and shut down the society. Tank the economy. “Let me die with the Philistines.” Let thousands of soldiers refuse orders. They can arrest one or ten people.  They can’t arrest 10,000 people, because then the American government will express its concern over Israel’s instability and call for a halt in the deportation of Jews. Sure. The secret to stopping the destruction of settlements, the surrender of land and the establishment of a Palestinian state has now been revealed. Violence. Threats. Protests. Insubordination. And shamelessness. These are useful implements to have in our toolbox, wholly inappropriate in a Jewish and democratic state, but, oh well. 

We are learning as a nation that any minority can threaten civil war, attack soldiers and police officers, and be granted their every wish. Elections don’t matter and voting is a waste of time. Let Esther Hayut and Gali Baharav-Miara make all the decisions. No one voted for them but they have arrogated to themselves dictatorial powers and have the strength of the mob behind them. That is all they really need in a state that is neither Jewish nor democratic. The protesters are passionate and may even be sincere – but they are anti-democrats. 

Yeshayahu prophesied that part of the process of redemption is ridding ourselves of corrupt leaders and judges who will be thieves, bribe-takers and perverters of justice. We have to purge ourselves of the dross. The process of redemption will be the restoration of the “judges as of old and the counselors as at the beginning” (1:26). He spoke of the ideal Jewish state that would come into existence. He didn’t mention anything about a democracy but, then again, neither does Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Yes, read it. It characterizes the nascent state of Israel as a “Jewish state” (Medinah Yehudit) several times and it doesn’t mention the word “democracy” even once. 

Perhaps the leftist, anarchist mob is onto something. But here is more good news. True, it is pathetic that after 75 years it seems that we no longer have the capacity to govern ourselves in a dignified, coherent and mutually tolerant way. But we can pray that the abject, embarrassing failure of the leadership class – the politicians and judges – and its displacement by the mob signals, and is a harbinger of, the coming of Moshiach, who, among other things, can save us from ourselves. Perhaps the time is ripe, in Nisan, the month of redemption. May we – all of Israel – be worthy of the moment. 

Ask the Rabbi, Part 21

(This is the fourth year that I am answering questions in the Jewish Press forum entitled “Is It Proper?” All the rabbinic responses and more can be read at

Is it Proper for a person with a bad cold (or virus) to daven with a minyan?

In the current environment, it is prudent and politically correct to stay away from shul when one is ill.

But let’s get real! Would a person with a cold not go to work or would teachers or children who have colds avoid school? Would a person not board a plane for a long-planned vacation if he has a cold? That would be asking too much. Rather than have a decree that applies universally, we must return to a life in which people demonstrate personal responsibility for their decisions. The main factor here is: might other people be realistically harmed by your presence? If so, then the person should refrain from going to shul.

Colds and viruses have varying degrees of contagion. If one goes to shul with mild conditions, then it is proper to sit apart, not talk to anyone up close (generally, good advice in shul), not shake hands with others and leave before the conclusion. Any illness which is contagious requires isolation. It is worth noting that not harming other people is a greater zechut for the niftar or nifteret than is reciting Kaddish. The former is a Torah obligation while the latter is a custom.

So go but act responsibly.

That being said, I did not attend shul this year on Shabbat Chanukah because I was suffering from the flu. Davening alone was a greater Kiyum Hamitzvah than thrusting myself and my germs into a crowded shul. It was the first time, I believe, that I ever missed a Shabbat davening because of illness, a pr. It wasn’t easy but it was the right thing to do. And my wife insisted.

What is the proper thing to do when seeing someone who is mesurav l’din at a simcha, Jewish communal event, or some other place where you can’t just leave?

The response is shaped by two important caveats. First, the Bet Din in question has to be authorized, reliable, legitimate and properly constituted. There are such Batei Din. And there are others that unfortunately are not legitimate, and make pronouncements without following proper procedures and sometimes even lack jurisdiction. In any particular case, one should ask his/her Mara D’atra. Second, it is assumed that the seruv includes the harchakot of Rabbanu Tam that demands that we ostracize this miscreant. 

If these two criteria are satisfied, then the miscreant should not be invited to such events and should be shunned by the community. It doesn’t mean that the witness has to make a scene, ruin the simchah, or call attention to the presence of the mesurav. But if their paths cross a good Jew should solemnly say to the miscreant “you should respond to the Bet Din. That is what a faithful Jew does in this situation and being responsive to a Bet Din is more important that attending a simchah or an organizational meeting.”

The nature of the case also matters. Often, people sue in Bet Din when they realize that they could not prevail in a secular court because of insufficient credible evidence or reluctance to adduce that evidence in secular court (where they, wrongly, try all their other cases). This happens when money is the issue and those cases naturally arouse skepticism. But when the issue is a husband who wrongfully refuses to give his wife a Get or a wife who wrongfully refuses to receive a Get from her husband – both having been directed by a legitimate Bet Din to comply – we should be wary of any pleasant, social interactions with the wrongdoers. 

What’s the ideal and most appropriate format for kiddush–standing around, sitting at tables; lots of hot food, a few cold items?

First principles first. A kiddush is an occasion for the members to socialize after shul, which renders the kiddush redundant if the members were r”l socializing during shul. Ideally, it is opportunity to catch up on the week’s news, chat with friends, and discuss the wisdom and insight of the Rabbi’s drashah.

Anything beyond that is secondary and tertiary. Standing or seated will be determined by crowd size and event space. The quantity, quality and variety of the menu will be determined by the affluence or expectations of the participants. Certainly, the kiddush should not render the main meal of the day (at home) superfluous, perhaps even an achilah gassah (gluttonous consumption). One must take care not to overeat or certainly not overdrink at a kiddush so as to make the second se’udah of Shabbat an enjoyable one.

If the kiddush functions as the main meal for some people then it is critical that rolls be served and that the diners sit and not stand around. “Kiddush must be recited at the place of the meal” and so this kiddush then serves a dual purpose. It is probably wise to serve some hot dishes as there is an obligation to consume hot food on Shabbat and not everyone is careful about that. It is probably unwise to turn the kiddush into a lavish smorgasbord, which then pressures current and future sponsors to shell out significant sums of money to please the palates of their friends and neighbors. And we would do well to minimize the quantity of unhealthy foods that are often staples at a Shabbat kiddush.

I must add that I do miss the elaborate Mens’ Club kiddushim at my former pulpit. Consider this a well-deserved shout out!


Democracy Dies in Demonstrations 


     Yes, you read that headline correctly, notwithstanding that it is countercultural, even counterintuitive.

     Civil disobedience is a cherished right in democracies and dictatorships, although the stakes in expressing that right in dictatorships are riskier and graver. It allows a citizen to proclaim his or her dissatisfaction with a governmental policy that so offends the conscience that he cannot sit idly by. Instead, the dedicated denizen takes to the streets, breaks the law and is willing to suffer the consequences for doing so. Thus, we are witness in Israel to demonstrations (relatively small in comparison to the population, and even the number of voters the opposition attracted in the last election) that block streets and highways, disturb people’s lives and constitute a blatant attempt to intimidate the government into not implementing the policies for which it was elected.

     Yet, a critical aspect of civil disobedience seems to be lost on both demonstrators and the government. By definition, and here I cite from the Encyclopedia Britannica, “the civil disobedient, finding legitimate avenues of change blocked or non-existent, feels obligated by a higher extra legal principle to break some specific law. It is because acts associated with civil disobedience are considered crimes, however, and known by actor and public alike to be punishable, that such acts serve as a protest. By submitting to punishment, the civil disobedient hopes to set a moral example that will provoke the majority or the government into effecting meaningful political, social, or economic change.”

     We hear a lot about the right of civil disobedience in Israel – and almost nothing of the punishment that is due such protesters and for which, ostensibly, they are willing to break the law and lose their freedom. National  Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s decision on Wednesday to order the police to break up the protests that blocked road and highways is long overdue and the meager number of arrests that have been made are sad proof of the government’s unwillingness to fulfill its side of the civil disobedience bargain: arrest the demonstrators who break the law even as they pay attention to what the demonstrators are saying.

       Civil disobedience without arrests is anarchy, and anarchy is the enemy of democracy.

      It is axiomatic that the civil disobedient is a minority of the society trying to enforce his views on the majority. It is a failure of democracy – and an insult to the law-abiding public – that protesters are allowed to break the law with impunity. Blocking highways is a crime – go ahead, you try it because you don’t like something the government, right or left, is doing. It should be prosecuted vigorously and the convicted should spend at least a week in jail. They should put their liberty where their mouth is.

      Worse, in Israel’s context, the double standard that pertains is most execrable, disgraceful and unbecoming a moral and just society. The demonstrators against the expulsion from Gush Katif were hastily beaten and jailed, and some for weeks and months without charges. Somehow this highly- acclaimed, vaunted right of protest (the “linchpin of democracy,” we are lectured) did not apply to them. The reason is obvious: they were, after all, just religious right-wingers trying to protect thousands of settlers from a grievous, tangible injury (and protect the nation from an irredentist enemy that would use its gifted territory as a springboard for rockets and missiles to be launched against Israel). They were not secular left-wingers protesting amorphous and contrived “threats to democracy” implicit in… what? Depriving the Supreme Court justices of the right to choose their successors? Limiting the Court’s jurisdiction to cases and controversies, not political matters? Restoring the balance between the various branches of the government? Nevertheless, the Gush Katif protesters were treated mercilessly and pilloried in the media, even as the so-called protectors of democracy are being coddled.

     The disparity in treatment per se is proof of the necessity of judicial reform.

     What has been lost in the media maelstrom that has produced a deluge of hypocrisy is that there are other cherished rights in a democracy in addition to the right to protest. Here are some: there is a right of free passage. Each citizen has the right to move freely in society and not have his way obstructed by others. There is a right of commerce. Each citizen has the right to go to work, earn money, and support his family, without having that right encroached upon by people with a political grievance. There is a right of free association, to meet friends and family in an organized fashion and not be impeded by those who are over-enthused and overwrought by the esoterica of the appropriate balance of power in a democratic government.

     The right of protest is not superior to the right of free movement, the right of commerce, and the right of free association. They are all cherished rights. Those who want to take off from work, stand on the side of the road, wave flags and scream about democracy and the end of the world are welcome to do so. Those who block roads and highways and thus interfere with people who wish to attend a funeral, see a doctor, visit friends and family, go to work or simply enjoy the sights of our beautiful G-d-given country? Well, those people should be unceremoniously arrested, prosecuted and incarcerated if convicted. The roads and highways do not belong to them and should be cleared of these malcontents. That too is democracy.

     Needless to say, a hallmark of democracy is also heeding the results of an election. Those who claim that the judicial reforms were sprung on an unknowing nation are simply lying through their teeth. There are no two more level-headed politicians in Israel that Yariv Levin and Simcha Rothman. Their reform proposals have been discussed for several election cycles now. I personally heard them speak about them during the most recent campaign. Those who claim they are new were simply not listening, which, in a polarized society, is a big part of the problem.

       The right of civil disobedience is fundamental to a democratic society. But so is the obligation to protect the rights of non-protesters, enforce the law, clear the roads and highways, and jail the lawbreakers. Those who truly believe in democracy know that. Those who don’t will continue to cry about democracy when what concerns them most is loss of their undemocratic and unelected power base. They will generate shrill headlines about “the right of protest” and willfully ignore the rightful consequences of protest. Whatever it is they are fighting to save, it is not democracy.

     The politicians in opposition know better. They should so inform their minions – of freedoms, rights and consequences. That would be a public service. And they – most of whom have also called for judicial reforms in the last decade – should spell out in detail what they mean, negotiate in committee, make suggestions, vote for the bill if they like it and vote against if they don’t.

     That is democracy. It is not just the right of civil disobedience, which is just one right among many. Let the government enforce the law uniformly, which is the only way to ward off true anarchy and worse. And let the government advance the reform bills and vote on them, quickly but judiciously. We have real enemies out there. Let’s fight them, not each other.

Get your copy of my just-released “Road to Redemption” available at and at fine stores near you.

Pounding the Table: Israel’s January 6

(First published at

There is an old trial lawyer’s maxim that “if the law is against you, pound the facts. If the facts are against you, pound the law. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table.” Consider the wave of protests in Israel against the proposed judicial reforms the equivalent of pounding the table. It would be a shame, an offense against democracy, and the humiliation of a right-wing government if it allows these protests to derail the proposals and delay the process. These protests are Israel’s equivalent of January 6 – the supplanting of democracy with mobocracy – except that I fear that the January 6 rioters at the American Capitol were a little more sincere in their beliefs.

First, the facts. The weakness of the protesters’ arguments is illustrated by their ever-shifting nature. Some just obsessively hate Binyamin Netanyahu and so must oppose anything he supports. The suggestion that any of these reforms will impact his interminable trials is absurd and far-fetched, and is an accusation that is incessantly repeated without a shred of evidence to support it. He’ll be able to have more influence over the composition of the Court years from now? His trial will still be going on? He’ll be able to pass legislation shielding him from liability – and not pay a political price for that? The answer in a democracy is more democracy, not less.

Second, the notion that the proposed reforms will impair Israel’s democracy is similarly ludicrous and is made by those who assume that asserting it monotonously is itself proof of its veracity. The obvious implication is that for the first 50 years of Israel’s existence it was not a democracy and only became one when 25 years ago Aharon Barak usurped the rights of the people and imposed a judicial fiefdom in which a dozen or so robed lawyers make decisions in every aspect of life – political, religious, financial, military – instead of the people’s elected representatives and its duly constituted coalition government. It sounds as ridiculous as it reads. It cannot be a “threat to democracy” if the goal is to restore Israel’s democracy to what it was before the Barak revolution. Government by a few oligarchs is the quintessence of democracy, not the rule of the people? Why have elections altogether if the people’s choices are frustrated in their ability to implement their platforms?

The obvious answer is that the will of the people is only obstructed when they elect a right-wing government that adheres to tradition, love of the people and land of Israel, and willing to take a strong hand against our enemies. When the people – very sporadically, reality reminds us – elect a left-wing government the Court turns a blind eye to its excesses and trampling of human rights.

Thus, third, the talk of civil war and the civil disobedience that is accompanying it and interfering with people’s rights should not be tolerated. Israel’s right-wing, not to mention the settlers themselves, endured an unforgivable trauma when 9500 Jews were expelled from their homes in gush Katif and northern Shomron. The High Court will intervene and halt an attempt to remove a fence illegally erected by Bedouin to seize more land – and ignored the expulsion of thousands of Jews from their homes? Spare us the crocodile tears, the faux outrage, and the placards decrying these reforms as grounds for civil war and a threat to democracy. If the right didn’t attempt to overthrow the democratic process during the expulsion from Gaza (even though that ignoble process was a corruption of democracy) the left should not be making threats about changes to the Court’s method of judicial appointment and the limits of the Court’s jurisdiction. This is not a civil war over slavery or national destiny; it is a threat of civil war from the people who – like on January 6 in DC – do not respect the results of a democratic election in which those who voted for the government were fully aware of the proposed reforms and voted accordingly. 

Moreover, we should certainly contrast the treatment of today’s rioters and the protesters of the Gush Katif expulsion. The latter were told that their protests were a breach of democratic norms, thousands were arrested, and thousands more were kept away by the government artificially closing roads and access points to them. The judicial reforms protesters, by contrast, are coddled, allowed to block intersections at will, upset people’s schedules and lives, and are celebrated in the media. Anyone who wants to know why there is such distrust on the right of Israel’s Supreme Court and mainstream media should look no further than the disparate treatment between the two groups. Aharon Barak had no sympathy for the plight of the settlers in Gush Katif and so stripped them of their human rights, permittted their expulsion, the destruction of their homes, the extinction of their businesses and even the uprooting of their dead from their graves. That is not equality before the law but simple power politics, and cruel and mean-spirited at that. Equality before the law means applying laws of civil disobedience consistently across the political spectrum.

Fourth, the threats of grievous harm to the economy are objectively preposterous – unless they are promoted by these suicidal activists. It recalls the statement made by a historian, in another context, that the demonstrators are trying to induce “a real life disaster in order to thwart a mythical catastrophe.” If anything, investors seek a business climate that is stable and in which contracts are respected – not one in which a Court can unilaterally impose its reading of a contract on the parties, against their clear meaning and intent, simply because it wants to do so. The reforms will strengthen the business climate unless the protesters, in their madness and anger against their loss of power in a democracy, sabotage their own businesses and Israel’s prosperity. Sadly, in the Middle East, suicidal misbehavior is not unknown. And, if in the short term, there is a brief economic downturn? We survived Pharaoh, and can survive this as well, especially in a world where Israel’s know-how is desired and benefits millions of people.

Fifth, the exaggerated and risible laments have purposely triggered politicians across the world to weigh in on Israel’s domestic concerns, quite an embarrassing display. It has even induced President Joe Biden to demand that Israel’s Parliament act only with a national consensus. Perhaps he forgot – his words are usually written by others – that in the United States he passed his signature legislation without a consensus, relying just on a narrow Democratic majority. Hmmm, yes, he must have forgotten that before he started to lecture us about our legislation.

The best thing the government can do – besides arresting and incarcerating those who block roads and highways – is pass the legislation quickly, and two weeks afterward people will have moved on to something else. Negotiations on proposed legislation takes place in committee; those who choose to boycott, scream, obstruct and intimidate but not offer any cogent proposals forfeit the right to have their voices heard where it counts – in the Knesset, not the street. (The fact that so many protest leaders – including the politicians have called for similar reforms in the past only underscores the hypocrisy of the left and the political farce it is orchestrating.)

Nothing will change in Israel, and the people’s inclinations and policy preferences will continue to be thwarted, unless the Court’s jurisdiction is limited and the override clause is passed. Without that, any legislation including a change in the composition of the judicial selection committee will be overturned by the Court which perceives itself, wrongly, as the ultimate power in society. Similarly, the Knesset must pass a law permitting override of Supreme Court decisions that repudiate its laws. What is the threshold? It is a good discussion, but is a civil war justified if the threshold is 64 and not 67? That too is absurd. Of course, 64 seems too convenient (the coalition’s current Knesset majority), but if the threshold is 65 or 67, then a Supreme Court majority of 13 or 14 justices (not 12) should be mandated if the Court wishes to invalidate a law passed by the Knesset. After all, if a Knesset law is so egregious, the politicians will pay a steep price at the next elections, of which in Israel there is no shortage. And judges, despite their arrogant overreach, never pay a political price for anything. Those who are unaccountable to the public should be wary of imposing their views on the public, not eagerly and tendentiously seek such opportunities.

And obviously, there should no such individual in a civil society like Israel’s Attorney General who unilaterally has the right to order the government to do something or not do something, invalidate legislation or demand legislation. Why vote for a government if power is so concentrated in one person?

It is difficult to conceive of any Israeli who voted for the current government joining or supporting the protests or even having sympathy for them. As such, what we see before us are the sour grapes of sore losers who would rather destroy Israel as a Jewish state and a prosperous democracy than to see a right-wing government succeed in the mission for which it was elected. They have no respect for the people’s vote; why then should they respect the time, lives and livelihoods of their fellow citizens? I hope the small number of protesters – a small mob in comparison to the population that voted for the government – has the decency to stop pounding the table, that the government has the strength and courage to pass the reforms and quickly, and we can return to facing and overcoming the real challenges that threaten our peace, prosperity, unity and holiness.