Spengler

The Kingdom of Judea?

Ha’aretz columnist Ravit Hecht had the following tantrum after Israel’s elections:

Israel is galloping toward an anti-democratic binational future saturated with hatred and racism….Israel will sink into international, academic and economic isolation…Israel will not be a liberal democracy but rather another failing state in the Middle East…Even though nearly half the people chose otherwise and flexed every muscle to create some hope for the continuation of the Zionist dream, the right-wing half, the settler and religious half, forced on us a nightmarish government in which a cynical racist like Lieberman might still be defense minister…The Israeli people don’t want peace — amid all the incitement they’re afraid. They don’t want to live in a liberal and democratic Western country. They want to live in the Kingdom of Judea, whose fate is known. This wish must not be honored.

Since Ms. Hecht raises the issue, I should like to say that there is a very good case for Israel to become a Jewish kingdom, that is, a constitutional monarchy that underpins parliamentary government. Just such a model was proposed by the great Jewish philosopher Michael Wyschogrod. Prof. Wyschogrod wrote in 2010 in First Things magazine:

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 regent safeguarding the Throne of David until such time that divine intervention identifies the rightful heir to the Davidic kingdom would thus assume the functions now performed by Israel’s president, the symbolic head of state.

It would be quite possible for Israel’s parliament to elect the regent who safeguards the throne just as it now elects Israel’s president. None of the other mechanisms of parliamentary democracy in Israel would need to change. What is important is not the specific mechanism by which the Israeli polity might choose a regent, but, rather, for Israel to understand itself as a monarchy, albeit one without a reigning king.

This would acknowledge God’s will that Israel be ruled by the House of David, and it would define the Jewish character of the Israeli state. If we concede that any constitutional constraints on popular sovereignty derive from an authority higher than the people, we must conclude that a constitution uniquely suited to a Jewish state should embody the political form through which this higher authority has been manifest in the Jewish concept of polity for the past three thousand years. To be a constitutionally Jewish state, Israel must understand itself as a monarchy temporarily without a king.

Such a constitutional monarchy is quite as compatible with modern parliamentary democracy as are the monarchies of Holland and England. But there would remain a fundamental difference between Israel and the European monarchies, which exist as a matter of historical happenstance. For Israel to establish its claim to be a Jewish state”the core issue of contention between Israel and many of its Muslim neighbors”it must do so in the unique way specified by the Bible and the undivided view of Jewish tradition.

Full disclosure: I solicited and edited Prof. Wyschogrod’s essay, one of his last (and in my view one of his best) before his retirement. I am a die-hard small-d democrat, but democracy itself is possible only in the presence of higher principles. In a Jewish state, it is possible to embody these principles in a royal stewardship for the House of David, for whose restoration devout Jews have prayed thrice daily for the past two thousand years.