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October 30, 1992 - Image 48

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1992-10-30

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Religion And Politics
Make For Confusion

PHILIP SLOMOVITZ

R

EDITOR EMERITUS

eligious issues are not
always rare in quests
for political power.
They do not
predominate but they exist,
as they did when Catholic
candidates were on the
ballots. Now we are witness
to a trend introduced by the
injection of the "God idea"
by the Republican platform
framers, making the deity a
subject for appeals to voters;
religion in politics invites
concern.
Such fundamentalist
policy has given rise to the
previously less challenging
threat to the very vital
American principle of
separation of church and
state. A warning is provided
in a vitally important essay,
"Policy of Separation," by
world Jewish scholar Rabbi
Emanuel Rackman,
chancellor of Bar-Ilan Uni-
versity. While he wrote it in
application to the secular-
ecclesiastical conflict in
Israel, it is now of equal im-
portance to American
citizens. His introduction to
the definitive guideline
states:
For half a century I have
tried to convince co-
religionists that Jewish
tradition does not call for
a Jewish State to be a
theocracy if that means a
state whose head of
government is a cleric
Jewish, Christian or
Muslim and whose offi-
cials are members of the
clergy.
I tried to make it clear
that Jewish tradition re-
quires precisely the oppo-
site a separation bet-
ween the spiritual and
temporal authority. The
two should co-exist, but
the vesting of both au-
thorities in one person or
group is disastrous, as it
was in the time of the
Maccabees.
Dr. Rackman may be fully
recognized as one of the most
valuable guides in
adherence to this religious
ideal with emphasis that it
should always be predomi-
nant in our lives. He has
drawn for supporting views
upon a fellow scholar, Rabbi
Apron Lichtenstein, who is
the head of Yeshivat Gush
Etzion in Israel. Rabbi
Lichtenstein wrote on the

subject in a Yeshiva Univer-
sity publication:
"A priori, one can
postulate three primary
positions." Civil and
religious authority may
virtually coincide, power
being concentrated in the
hands of a king-priest or
curia, as in numerous
primitive societies or in
some instances in contem-
porary Islam.
At the other extreme, the
two may be theoretically
totally separated, as in the
United States. Intermedi-
ately, there may be some
blend of difference and
association, this being the
prevalent pattern in
most modern European
countries.
There can be little doubt
about the classical Jewish
position. Traditional Ju-
daism has thoroughly re-
jected the fusion of secular
and religious authority.
Confrontations between
prophets and monarchs
were a hallmark of the
First Commonwealth.
Even as regards the
relatively more mundane
institution of priesthood.
Radical severance has
been equally out of the
question. A people defined
as a kingdom of priests
and a holy nation (Ex. 19.6)
is hardly prone to divorce
its political from its
religious institutions:'

There are deep rooted
logical and democratic ideals
in the Rackman pieces
which should be considered
obligatory to all of us, espe-
cially now in the attempt by
some politicians to introduce
confusing and most often
falsified ideas in appeals to
voters and American consti-
tuencies.
What Dr. Rackman defines
will hopefully become an
American commitment. he
explains how to prevent po-
litical life and practices from
being dominated by clergy.
The ideal he illuminates
could and should become a
subject for deep study. His
guidance is as follows:

The co-existence of the
temporal and religious
authorities is the ideal. But
not always is it possible to
avoid conflicts. For many

centuries Jewish com-
munities were fairly
homogenous and clashes
were few. In the contem-
porary heterogeneous
Jewish state, however,
there is likely to be
ceaseless tension.
Many are the practical
consequences of Judaism's
approach. The principal
one may be the very prin-
ciple of separation of
church and state.
A major one is the fact
that political and economic
power were never to be in
the hands of the clergy.
They had to rely on
precept and example to in-
fluence the benign exercise
of political and economic
power by the secular
authority.
In the new state that we
Jews have it would be well

Now we are
witness to a trend
introduced by the
injection of the
"God idea."

to clarify what the ideal is
and how we can fulfill it.
In Israel's last election, a
political party for which I
voted . . . tried to restore
the spiritual authority on
course. It did receive sup-
port from tens of
thousands of Jews, but not
enough to elect a member
of Knesset. But the ideal is
still one to which these
thousands plus many
others are committed.
The Haredi parties in
Israel see the Jewish tradi-
tion as the popes did and
would delight in a state run
by its great Torah sages.
But the religious Zionist
parties are more loyal to
the authentic-Jewish tradi-
tion. Perhaps only the dar-
ing among them will assert
this. But so it is.
The function of religious
parties is to help the
spiritual authority to
generate values and in-
fluence the citizens and the
rulers by persuasion to ex-
ercise the temporal author-

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