How the Hebrew Bible Sought to Humble the King

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

The Arab Press Blames Iran Rather Than Israel for Gaza’s Woes

Following the fighting between Israel and Islamic Jihad over the weekend, many journalists and commentators in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia didn’t rush to condemn the Jewish state. Instead, as the translators at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) note, they criticized the terrorist group for “operating in service of Iranian interests and thus inflicting suffering on the Gaza Strip’s residents.” One Saudi intellectual, Turki al-Hamad, wrote the following on Twitter:

It is apparent that, if at one time any confrontation between Israel and the Palestinian organizations would attract world and Arab attention and provoke a wave of anger [against Israel], today it does not shock most Arabs and most of the world’s [countries]. Furthermore, even a sense of human solidarity [with the Palestinians] has become rare and embarrassing, raising the question, “Why [is this happening] and who is to blame?”

I believe that the main reason is the lack of confidence in all the Palestinian leaders. . . . From the Arabs’ and the world’s perspective, it is already clear that these leaders are manipulating the [Palestinian] cause out of self-interest and diplomatic, economic, or even personal motives, and that the Palestinian issue is completely unconnected to this. The Palestinian cause has become a bargaining chip in the hands of these and other organizations and states headed by the [Iranian] ayatollah regime.

A, article in a major Arabic-language newspaper took a similar approach:

In a lengthy front-page report on August 7, the London-based UAE daily Al-Arab criticized Islamic Jihad, writing that “Gaza again became an arena for the settling of accounts between Iran and Israel, while the Palestinian citizens are the ones paying the price.” It added that Iran does not want to confront Israel directly for its bombings in Syria and its attacks on Iranian scientists and nuclear facilities.

“The war in Gaza is not the first, nor will it be the last. But it proves . . . that Iran is exploiting Gaza as it exploits Lebanon, in order to strengthen its hand in negotiations with the West. We all know that Iran hasn’t fired a single bullet at Israel, and it also will not do this to defend Gaza or Lebanon.”

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Read more at MEMRI

More about: Gaza Strip, Iran, Islamic Jihad, Israel-Arab relations, Persian Gulf