Apr 30, 2012

Does Prime Minister Netanyahu Have The Halachic Status Of A King?

With the news this morning of the death of Benzion Netanyahu, the father of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the age of 102, I was wondering how the country would be affected with its prime minister sitting shiva, and what Bibi could and could not do during this period.

Sure enough, as the morning progress, Srugim published an article detailing what the halachos would be in regards to the prime minister sitting shiva. As the author points out, there is little written about such a situation, as for most of the past 2000 years the question has not been relevant.

The author details what the relevant halachot are: the king, unlike the kohein gadol, cannot shave or get a haircut, but he also is not allowed to go to the funeral. It is possible, using King David as a precedent when he went to the funeral of Avner ben Ner, that nowadays when it is common for heads of state to go to state funerals, that Netanyahu would be allowed to go.

Regarding the shiva customs, the halacha says that people do not go to pay "shiva calls" when a king is sitting shiva. Only certain people would be allowed to go, those specially invited and expected, and "his servants". As well, the king is not supposed to sit on the ground when he is being visited. He is not allowed to shave, so we might soon be seeing Netanyahu sporting a beard.

With Netanyahu sitting shiva, I expect his substitute will be filling in for him during this period. However, if there is any situation of pikuach nefesh that would require Netanyahu's attention, he would be allowed to deal with it.

One issue not dealt with in the article is whether a prime minister has the halachic status of a king. I have never heard of anybody saying the bracha for seeing a king when seeing the prime minister. if such a status is not bestowed upon him, then some of these issues might not be relevant.
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  1. Begin sat shiva for his wife when he was PM and went to the levaya. He then stayed at home for most of the shloshim because he didn't think a PM should be seen in public unshaven

  2. interesting. how did he run a country staying at home for a month?

    1. I am not sure how well he ran the country and the truth is even after he went back to the PMs office he wasn't the same person. Months later he resigned.

  3. From the little I know, it would seem that the Prime Minister might have the status not of a king but of a "Nasi" which is much more nebulous. Remember that the only real kings we recognize are from Beis David. Netanyahu can't claim that one.

  4. The original hypothetical formulation was offered by Rav Kook (I don't have source in front of me), that a popular sovereign gov't would have the status of מקצת מלכות - some of the laws of a king's gov't would apply; but not all such laws. The same, presumably, might hold true for the head of such a gov't, the Prime Minister. I have no idea regarding things like aveilut/mourning. Most such analyses have dealt with the authority of the gov't, rather than the obligations and restrictions on particular people like the PM.

  5. If he does not have the status of a king, then Pres Peres does anyway. The idea of a figure head President and active Prime Minister did not exist in the days of the Bible, except in one case, where Yosef was Prime Minister of Egypt. maybe we can use that as a precedent, as everyone bowed down to Yosef as well as Paroh.
    I think Netanyahu's power is such that he has some of the status of a king, and therefore the rules should apply as they should as well to Peres too.

  6. Meir makes an excellent point (although I'm not sure if the Joseph parallel actually works, because he was clearly a subordinate to Pharoah - think cabinet member). In ancient times the king would have been head of state (Peres), head of government (Netanyahu), commander in chief (Benny Gantz), as well as the entire legislative branch of government (the 120 members of the knesset).

    The very fact that we're having trouble figuring out who (if anyone) is most analogous to the king of ancient times would indicate that no one really is.

  7. don't expect BB to follow the letter of the law. He was definitely cleanshaven at the shiva (Wed. evening) nor did I notice a kri'ah. He stumbled a bit on the Kaddish, too. From our DL perspective this is disappointing, but sorry boys, he's no Chaggai ben Artzi..

  8. Um,...The Mamlakhtim might say so.

    Katzav at least tried to act like one (in the beginning), without the gaivah.

    He even read the appropriate Torah passages during the Sukkoth after the Shmitah year.

    He stood for the Chief Rabbi, rather than the opposite, just as the King stood for the Sanhedrin.

    The most important thing WE need to remember, in our current time and situation, about anyone with even a marginal status of a king is:

    רמב"ם הלכות מלכים ומלחמות ג,י
    ואין צריך לומר אם גזר המלך לבטל מצוה, שאין שומעין לו.


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