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Two Cheers For Monarchy


Over at Mosaic, former Commentary editor Neal Kozodoy's new online webzine, there is a lively debate over the relation between religion and state involving such luminaries as Profs. Moshe Koppel and J.J. Weiler, a professor of constitutional law at NYU. Israel does not have a written constitution because it has never reconciled its secular parliamentary democracy with its Jewish character. The Jewish religion cannot be left out of the constitution; nor can Israel be governed by Torah scholars.

Wyschogrod offered a solution more robust, in my view, than what is to be found in the Mosaic debate:

Israel must reconcile the requirements of its secular citizens, who wish to live in a modern parliamentary republic, and its religious citizens, who insist that religious and legal tradition must inform the Jewish state. The danger in secular rule is that modern Israel will fail to present itself unambiguously as a Jewish state and eventually lose the battle to remain a Jewish state....

The crowning of an actual Davidic monarch today would require prophecy to select the proper person. In the absence of prophecy, this is impossible—and the sages of Israel declared almost two thousand years ago that prophecy was gone from Israel. Israel nonetheless can be declared a Davidic monarchy without a reigning king. This action would build into the self-understanding of the state of Israel the messianic hope of the Jewish people, while excluding a messianic interpretation of the present state of Israel.

The solution that I propose is by no means unusual for a constitutional monarchy. It is a common occurrence in monarchy that no king is present or that the present king cannot rule, for example, due to youth. In such situations, a regent is appointed as a placeholder for a king. Such a placeholder can either be appointed or elected.

A constitutional monarchy with an empty throne would conform to the thrice-daily prayers of the Jewish people for redemption, as one of the Eighteen Benedictions states:

Return in mercy to Jerusalem Your city and dwell therein as You have promised; speedily establish therein the throne of David Your servant, and rebuild it, soon in our days, as an everlasting edifice. Blessed are You Lord, who rebuilds Jerusalem. Speedily cause the scion of David Your servant to flourish, and increase his power by Your salvation, for we hope for Your salvation all day. Blessed are You L-rd, who causes the power of salvation to flourish.

But it would also allow Israel's democracy to function without theological interference of any practical kind.