Feb 6, 2013

Interesting Psak: The rabbis place in politics

How involved should rabbis be in politics? A timeless question.

Clearly in the circles of UTJ and Shas it is believed that rabbis are as involved in politics as they are in any other aspect of a persons life. Whether it means telling their people how to vote, instructing their politicians how to act in government, what issues to support or refuse support to, etc. In the secular parties obviously there is no room for the rabbinic influence. The big question has always been in the Mafdal - HaBayit HaYehudi. What role do the rabbis play in a political party that profiles itself as being religious, but also says they do not obligate themselves to listen to rabbinic counsel that they might seek on issues pertaining to the government.

Whatever their actual position is, the past few days have seen heavy pressure from the Haredi parties to exert their influence on the Dati Leumi rabbonim to be more involved in telling Naftali Bennet and Habayit Hayehudi how to act regarding issues of governance, and that they their counsel be followed.

A rabbi can definitely have an opinion regarding politics, and he can say it just like anyone else can. The question is if he should state it as a member of the clergy, as if that gives him some sort of authoritative voice greater than that of other people, or not.

It is fine for a party to choose its leader and say they follow a certain persons decision, whether that person is a rabbi, a guru, a politician, a wise person or a total fool - if thats what the constituents want, if thats who they say they are, then they should follow the counsel they claim to be integral to the party.

If a party says it might consult with rabbis but eventually makes their decisions on their own, perhaps taking into account the advice received from others, including rabbis, it should not suddenly come as a surprise when they do not listen to the rabbis. they never committed to. And if you don't like that, don't support that party, but don't tell them how they should make their decisions.

הרב שרלו: הבית היהודי לא צריכה להקשיב לרבניםSomeone asked Rav Yuval Cherlo how Habayit Hayehudi can ignore the psak halacha of the gedolei torah (let's assume he is referring to the gedolei torah of the DL communities and not insisting Bayit Yehudi follow the gedolei torah of the haredi world), thereby transgressing a commandment in the Torah of following the rabbis instructions. The questioner suggests, or perhaps demands, that Rav Cherlo formulate a psak demanding that the party follow the words of the chachomim.

Rav Cherlo's response is very telling. He makes a dfinitive statement that rabbonim should not get involved in giving political instructions, but should keep to the realm of the spiritual alone.

Rav Cherlo goes on to explain that the political party is made up of messengers of the people who voted for them. They, as messengers, are therefore obligated to act in accordance with the commitment - in a party that committed to follow a certain rabbi or any other specific person, they must do so, as that is why the supporters voted for them. Same if a party has committed to following the decisions of a certain person.

Regarding the Bayit Yehudi party, it can be investigated as to what the party has committed itself to doing, and it should be demanded that they fulfill their commitments. If they committed to the decision making process being in the hands of the party institutions, they must do so and cannot now go to a rav and ask for a psak. Their voters sent them under specific conditions, and changing that is theft and deception of the community that sent them.

At the same time, it is always good to take counsel with the gedolei torah and with wise people, and the spiritual world can definitely advise them and give counsel regarding the appropriate spiritual issues, but their obligation is to their voters, not to the rabbis..
(source: Srugim)

Rav Cherlo's response makes clear the position of the non-haredi religious party. They never committed to following the rabbonim, just to taking counsel from them and taking that advice under consideration. Their actual obligation is based on what they told the voter, in their platform, their decision-making process would be, and whatever they promised during the election campaigns to fulfill. To Rav Cherlo and others, there is a clear distinction between spiritual matters and politics.

Other rabbis, those affiliated with the haredi community (and maybe some others as well in the DL community) would dispute that and say the spiritual encompasses politics just like it encompasses every aspect of a person's life, and therefore they should be the ones instructing the politicians what positions to support or not.

Each one can have his opinion on the matter, but it seems wrong to me for each one to try to dictate to the other what they must do. Each one has its own interests and styles, and each must follow the direction laid out to their supporters.


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  1. "Other rabbis, those affiliated with the haredi community (and maybe some others as well in the DL community) would dispute that and say the spiritual encompasses politics just like it encompasses every aspect of a person's life, and therefore they should be the ones instructing the politicians what positions to support or not."

    What a sham. They aren't interested in spiritual matters at all, but rather money, and embezzlement.

    Give us money or we will pasken that land should be given for peace... who do they think they are kidding? It's such a disgrace.

  2. "the spiritual encompasses politics just like it encompasses every aspect of a person's life"

    I agree, but I might have use the word Torah instead of spiritual.

    Torah is relevant to every aspect of our lives, including how to run a proper, Jewish government, how to fight a war, and how to relate to non-Jews under various circumstances, not just what we can or cannot do on Shabbath, or can or cannot put into our mouths.

    Cherlo's "psak" is tainted by his mamlakhti (undying State loyalist) hashqafah. Our "deMOCKracy" allows pork to be sold in Jerusalem. But, I guess that's OK, because it was voted on, or decided upon in th courts somewhere down the line.

    BTW, anyone remember when the NRP went to R' Mordechai Eliyahu ztz"l to ask whether it could have a woman on its candidate list? R' Eliyahu said no. But, the NRP did it anyway. When asked why, the response was that "we have other rabbis."

    Fine. Then don't ask in the first place.

    The above commenter is partly right, unfortunately. Those identifying themselves as "religious" seem to be able to find a random pasuq or a "rabbi" to allow them to do what they want.

    1. and what is your world view tainted by?

    2. NRP went to R' Mordechai Eliyahu

      this was actually an aberration, as historically the nrp never asked rabbis for a psak (repeat psak)

  3. Rafi-
    This is an extensive overview, but I still think it may be an oversimplification of a very complex and fascinating topic.
    Where does the DL world get it's leadership from? Take the Charedi/Army issue- is it conceivable for the DL world that Naftali Bennett will determine the appropriate course of action and not one of their leading rabbonim? Can anyone formulate a coherent religious worldview that would condone that?

  4. I am not quite sure what you mean. I do not know the inner workings of HaBayit HaYehudi - I am only an observer from the outside - so I dont know how they formulate policy. I imagine Bennet must go through the process obligated by the party when formulating policy on any given issue. I don't know what that process is, but if there is one, Bennet will have to follow it. Perhaps he has already been given the go-ahead by the party institutions and leadership to promote his agenda on the charedi-army issue. I don't know. If not, as Rav Cherlo said, the supporters of the party should demand he go through the proper channels and not make such important decisions on his own.

  5. But Bayit haYehudi is not just another party. They are the flagship of the DL community, and have earned the support of most of the DL Rabbinic leadership. So the question is historic: Who calls the shots for this population? Who determines the agenda? Is it part of the DL mindset that non-Rabbinic political leaders are capable of determining the direction of the country on issues like the draft?


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