15 May 2010

Article: Is a Halakhic State Possible? The Paradox of Jewish Theocracy

Aviezer Ravitzky, "Is a Halakhic State Possible? The Paradox of Jewish Theocracy" ("Israel Affairs", 11 [1], January 2005: pp. 137-64):


Abstract: "Is a consistent Jewish religious position requires [sic] either fashioning the State of Israel into a halakhic theocracy or negating it completely? If Torah observers gained control over Israeli society, would their faith require them (or permit them) to impose the Torah's laws on one and all, even against the will of the community and its elected representatives? Would there be no escape from having the rule of Torah undercut that of the State? In this article we propose a negative answer to these questions. We argue that the vision of a halakhic theocracy is vulnerable to challenges on two main levels – on the basis of the age-old inner logic of the Jewish tradition and on account of the actual condition of the contemporary Jews. However, criticism of the 'halakhic state' does not imply endorsement of the opposing slogan, 'separating of religion and Jewish state'. The latter gives rise to its own set of serious difficulties, from the perspective of the religion of Israel and of the State of Israel alike. Both positions may be refutable equally. Yet, there is a wide range of useful political and cultural options available between these two poles."

Excerpt: "The Jewish religion is a religion of legal, societal and national dimensions. It is a religion of law (halakhah), in that it concentrates on its adherents' way of life and takes a greater interest in their tangible actions than in their declarations of faith. It is a social religion, in that it deals with communal values and seeks to shape the public domain, sometimes even before getting involved with the private. And it is a national religion, in that most of its commandments and directives pertain to a particular people, the congregation of Israel, and only a few are directed toward humanity per se. Taken together, these three elements afford the Jewish religious tradition a definite political character. Naturally, such a religio-political tradition can never be indifferent with respect to a state that it regards as the state of the Jewish people. It will strive mightily to influence that state's laws and values and to impose its imprint on its culture and symbols."

The article has been reprinted in "Israeli Democracy at the Crossroads", ed. Raphael Cohen-Almagor (Routledge, July 2005: pp. 137-64). The contents of the book appear to be (almost) identical to those of the earlier journal.

The article (as published in the book) can be partially read here:


Aviezer Ravitzky is Saul Rosenblum Professor of Jewish Philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and recipient of the 2001 Israel Prize in Jewish Thought.

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