A Talmudic Meditation on Government’s Responsibility to the Governed

In the tractate of Horayot, the Talmud discusses special offerings brought by a king or high priest who commits a sin. This discussion, notes Adam Kirsch, leads to a more abstract analysis of the nature of authority:

[T]he Talmud points out that when a king is afflicted with leprosy, he is no longer fit to rule. That was what happened to King Azariah, who contracted leprosy and had to leave the palace and “live in an independent house.” The Talmud seizes on the word “independent” and draws an interesting [inference]: if a non-king is “independent,” it would seem that a king is dependent—that is, a servant. In this way, the rabbis arrive at the notion that a king is meant to be the servant of his people: power is a form of responsibility, not a means of enjoyment.

What is true of kings is also true of sages. The Talmud goes on to relate a story about how Rabbi Gamliel, the head of the rabbinic academy, was informed that two of his students were “so wise that they knew how to calculate how many drops of water there are in the sea,” yet they lived in poverty, with “neither bread to eat nor a garment to wear.” Accordingly, Rabbi Gamliel decided to honor the two students by seating them in the front row of the academy.

But when he sent word to them about this promotion, they were so modest that they refused to respond. This led Gamliel to explain that leadership in the academy was not a privilege but a form of community service: “Do you imagine that I am granting you authority? I am granting you servitude.” The Talmud is consistent in viewing the exercise of power as a heavy obligation, something that should be avoided if at all possible: “Love work, hate lordship, and do not become familiar with the government,” says Pirkei Avot.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Monarchy, Religion & Holidays, Religion and politics, Talmud

While Israel Is Distracted on Two Fronts, Iran Is on the Verge of Building Nuclear Weapons

Iran recently announced its plans to install over 1,000 new advanced centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility. Once they are up and running, the Institute for Science and International Security assesses, Fordow will be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for three nuclear bombs in a mere ten days. The U.S. has remained indifferent. Jacob Nagel writes:

For more than two decades, Iran has continued its efforts to enhance its nuclear-weapons capability—mainly by enriching uranium—causing Israel and the world to concentrate on the fissile material. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently confirmed that Iran has a huge stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent, as well as more enriched to 20 percent, and the IAEA board of governors adopted the E3 (France, Germany, UK) proposed resolution to censure Iran for the violations and lack of cooperation with the agency. The Biden administration tried to block it, but joined the resolution when it understood its efforts to block it had failed.

To clarify, enrichment of uranium above 20 percent is unnecessary for most civilian purposes, and transforming 20-percent-enriched uranium to the 90-percent-enriched product necessary for producing weapons is a relatively small step. Washington’s reluctance even to express concern about this development appears to stem from an unwillingness to acknowledge the failures of President Obama’s nuclear policy. Worse, writes Nagel, it is turning a blind eye to efforts at weaponization. But Israel has no such luxury:

Israel must adopt a totally new approach, concentrating mainly on two main efforts: [halting] Iran’s weaponization actions and weakening the regime hoping it will lead to its replacement. Israel should continue the fight against Iran’s enrichment facilities (especially against the new deep underground facility being built near Natanz) and uranium stockpiles, but it should not be the only goal, and for sure not the priority.

The biggest danger threatening Israel’s existence remains the nuclear program. It would be better to confront this threat with Washington, but Israel also must be fully prepared to do it alone.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy