Father Judaism and Mother Democracy

The proper thing to do is relate the tension between Judaism and democracy as being pressure between manifestations of human dignity: dignity for the universal person, and that for the Jewish person who has the right to political sovereignty.

Yair Sheleg
Yair Sheleg
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Yair Sheleg
Yair Sheleg

Benny Katzover has done well to clarify, in today's newspaper, remarks that have been attributed to him about giving up democracy. But the clarification improves only the abrasive style that had previously been attributed to him and does nothing to reduce the danger in his statements.

To summarize his argument: Application of the democratic worldview will compromise the ability to preserve - not to mention advance - the Jewish identity of the State of Israel. Therefore, democracy must be given up in favor of Judaism (or as Katzover puts it, "to prefer something 'Jewish' to something 'democratic,' as long as there is no 'moral' clash between the two" ).

To bring the meaning of his remarks into sharper focus, let us present a few practical questions. Does this mean that Katzover and others like him will support laws that mandate limiting the number of children an Arab woman may have, so as to prevent damage to the demographic balance? And perhaps, at the next stage, Katzover and his cohorts will support killing the babies of Arabs whose families have exceeded the limit (like the biblical Pharaoh, who feared the tilting of the "demographic balance" toward the Jews )? Let us hope not, but such a hypothetical suggestion is exactly what it means to "prefer something 'Jewish' to something 'democratic'," in cases where the two clash.

With all the criticism of Katzover's view, it should be recognized that his remarks are a mirror image of remarks made before him by some of the leaders of the extreme left. They, too, assumed the existence of an essential and built-in contradiction, and a need to make a "clear" decision - between a Jewish and a democratic state. They wanted a decision, and Katzover and others like him supply it - not in the direction that these leftist wanted, but precisely according to their basic assumption.

People who believe in monism (or "one flag" as Ze'ev Jabotinsky put it) and raise a single banner, are correct in their demand to decide between Judaism and democracy. But in the complex human condition, there are tensions all the time between identities and values. Each of us is an individual with his or her own needs, but we are also a spouse, parent, child, friend and citizen, constantly required to balance all these identities and the demands they make. Would any of us, because of the importance of one of these identities, consider giving up the rest of them?

On the contrary, we can view the tension between Judaism and democracy as being like a child who has two parents, each with his or her own worldview. The child loves both and needs both for proper development, and yet he or she is always having to choose between them - father Judaism or mother democracy. That is not a good recipe for proper psychological development.

Public life is also full of tensions between values, such as freedom of the press and the right to privacy, or economic prosperity and social justice. A society that continually prefers only one of the two ends of the spectrum will doom itself to misery. In fact, no serious society would want this. Why, therefore, does this demand come up only with regard to the tension between Judaism and democracy?

The proper thing to do is relate the tension between Judaism and democracy as being pressure between two manifestations of the value of human dignity: dignity for the universal person, and dignity for the Jewish person who has the right to political and cultural sovereignty. Any tension in this regard should be examined individually to try to resolve it with a minimum of damage to either of these two values.

Ultimately, it is a universal value that people should also have particular identities, which they can enshrine in a sovereign framework.

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