How the Hebrew Bible Sought to Humble the King

Aug. 13 2021

In this week’s Torah reading of Shoftim, Deuteronomy raises the possibility that, after taking over the land of Canaan, the Israelites might collectively say, “I will set a king over me, as do all the nations about me,” and lays out some regulations to which the monarch must adhere. David Wolpe comments on their significance:

At a time of unlimited power for kings, the Torah was far wiser in its skepticism about human power. As our parashah tells us, Israel is (with some reluctance on God’s part) permitted to have a king, but with limitations. Kings may not accumulate too many horses (lest they be tempted to go back to Egypt to enlarge their stock), may not set up a royal harem by marrying too many wives, and may not acquire too much silver and gold.

In other words, the Torah seeks to humble the king, because his position will elevate him. Therefore, [the Talmud adds], the king, while reciting the central Amidah prayer, must remain bowed throughout, [unlike ordinary people, who must only bow at specific points]. And he must both write a Torah scroll and carry it with him and read it throughout his life.

Underlying this deliberate reining-in of those who reign is a philosophical assumption that is basic to the Jewish tradition. Kings in the ancient world acted like Pharaoh in the Torah—capricious, often cruel, and unlimited in the scope given to their appetites and preferences.

[W]hen the Jews are liberated from Egypt it is because they are not to be slaves to a human king, but to the King of Kings—God. For the title of “king” does not apply properly to a single human, but to all humans. Abraham Joshua Heschel was fond of quoting the ḥasidic bromide that the greatest sin a human being could commit is to forget that he is a king. Everyone, men, women, children, are all royalty, for we are all made in the image of God.

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Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Biblical Politics, Deuteronomy, Hebrew Bible, Jewish political tradition

 

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

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Read more at 19FortyFive

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship