Rabbinical Rulings on Policy Questions

Policy Paper No. 18

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  • Cover Type: Softcover
  • Number Of Pages: 46 Pages
  • Center: Religion and State Program
  • Price: 45 NIS

This position paper examines the way in which religious leaders issue halakhic judgments on political issues such as peace agreements,  relinquishing Israeli territories, war and peace, sovereignty, and various issues of foreign policy and security  It explores the validity of the of the assumption that there is internal halakhic legitimacy for rendering halakhic judgments on political issues.

The political effort by the State of Israel to make peace with its neighbors serves as a jumping-off point and catalyst for religious thinking that finds expression along various political, philosophical and normative planes. Within this framework, Torah positions on decidedly political topics have been voiced in recent years by teachers of Halakha of various persuasions. These positions vary in their forms of genre (formal judgments, polemics, analytical essays, etc.), of publicity (public or in answer to a private question), of the degree to which the decision is concrete (an instruction concerning how to act in a specific actual or anticipated situation, or a general instruction relating to a topic of public dispute), and in additional parameters. We have become used to hearing that "the genius of the generation" or "settler rabbis" or "the council of the wise" have rendered a political judgment that draws its strength from their religious standing. The phenomenon of a religious leader setting guidelines for his followers on political topics is perfectly common.

The topic of this position paper is restricted to the examination of one the ways that religious leaders express themselves on political issues - the halakhic judgment. Despite the fact that a judgment is the ultimate form of expression, various rabbis do not hesitate to render judgments on decidedly political topics such as the attitude to peace agreements, questions concerning relinquishing Israeli territories to foreigners, war and peace, sovereignty and various issues of foreign policy and security. It turns out that these rabbis assume that there is internal halakhic legitimacy for rendering of judgments on political issues. The validity of this assumption is worth examining.

From a halakhic viewpoint, a comprehensive clarification of this question would arouse, among other things, questions of forum and of law. The consideration of these important questions will be postponed for another occasion. Instead, I will focus on appraising the accessibility of the judicators to the political question; i.e., I will reveal the prior conditions that the judicators must answer to before they pronounce an obligatory halakhic opinion on political questions.

The non-legal cubbyhole "accessibility" will serve me as a terminological framework for raising a string of legal questions concerning the authority of the judicator, the judicability of the issue and the prospects of the halakhic judicator for juridical creativity. This position paper will be divided into three parts: In Chapter Two I will examine whether questions of policy are a topic within the halakhic norm or are they perhaps outside the realm of Halakha (normative judicability) and whether the halakhic judicators are authorized to deliberate on these matters (this being the "essential accessibility" ). In Chapter Three I will assume essential accessibility and will examine whether the Halakha maintains a judicial policy that expresses interest in determining political issues (institutional judicability), this being "institutional accessibility." In Chapter Four I will assume essential accessibility and institutional accessibility but I will examine the practical difficulties standing in the way of the halakhic judicator interested in determining political issues, this being "practical accessibility."

In the aggregate, I will ask whether policy issues are an actuality that a halakhic judicator has the opportunity (essential accessibility), the interest (institutional accessibility) and the capability (practical accessibility) of addressing. A finding that supports the absence of accessibility to policy questions in one of the three abovementioned meanings is sufficient to prevent, or reduce or deter taking an obligatory halakhic position. In other words, a mandatory condition for a halakhic judgment on questions of policy is confronting the question of accessibility in each of its three meanings.

This position paper does not pretend to peg down the topic. Its intent is to indicate the variety of internal halakhic positions on the questions considered and to denote an analytic method for halakhic deliberation for the purpose of their determination.