There is a lot going on in the world today: the supposed ceasefire in Ukraine for Orthodox Christmas, Damar Hamlin regaining consciousness, the continued lack of a Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the second anniversary of the January 6th insurrection.
But this morning I want to take a quick look at something that may not be on your radar screen. On Wednesday the Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis, issued a statement condemning a bill introduced in the Knesset that would allow a majority of the Knesset to override decisions of Israel’s Supreme Court. I can’t recall another instance where the Rabbinical Assembly, which has members all over the world including Israel but is headquartered in New York with a majority of members in the United States, criticized pending legislation in the Israeli Knesset other than bills which would do things like undermine the recognition of Conservative converts to Judaism under the Law of Return.
But this law, if passed, would be a threat not only to the rights of Conservative Jews but to all Israelis, Jewish or non-Jewish. Democracy includes not only majority rule but the rights of minorities and the enshrinement of those rights in laws and norms which cannot be overridden by a slim majority.
Because Israel is a unicameral parliamentary system, the only real checks and balances are between the Knesset and the courts. There is no Senate to provide a check on the House or vice versa, and no separate executive to possibly veto acts of the Knesset. In a parliamentary system like that of Israel, the Prime Minister and most Cabinet members are simultaneously members of the legislature. If a slim majority of the legislature can override decisions of the Supreme Court, there is nothing to prevent the legislature from enacting and enforcing tyrannical measures which override the rights of others.
Although the RA statement does not mention it, traditional halacha provides for a separation of powers. In the halachic governance system there are three K’tarim, Crowns, meaning three different types of authority. There are Keter Malkhut, civil authority; Keter Torah, rabbinic authority; and Keter Kehuna, priestly authority. The three K’tarim are supposed to be maintained separately and for example the Talmud criticizes the Hasmoneans because they were Kohanim who also took on the mantle of civil authority. Thus this proposed law is not only undemocratic but un-Jewish as well.
For the next several Shabbat mornings we will be having kiddush after services. They will not necessarily be elaborate but they will be an opportunity for us to spend some more time together informally rather than rushing home as soon as services end. Especially on days when we do have Kiddush, it’s important that you sign up to attend via our registration form -- it helps us know how much food to have without being wasteful.
As a reminder, I am having drop-in hours on Thursday afternoon from 2 to 4 at the shul. You do not need to make an appointment -- that would negate the whole point of drop-in hours -- but I’d urge you to check and make sure I am there regardless as sometimes there are unavoidable pastoral or other emergencies which might take me away from the building.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at email@example.com or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment. I have been spending more time in the synagogue recently but if you want to speak with me it’s best to make an appointment rather than assuming I will be there when you stop by.