Judicial Reform: An Alternate Midrash to Minister Karhi’s
Shlomo Karhi, Minister of Communications, the other day sent a Purim-time message to Israeli reserve soldiers who are protesting against judicial reform, even to the point of refusing to report for service. Minister Karhi quotes Mordecai telling Esther that if she does not speak up, “salvation will come from elsewhere” and her house will be destroyed. Just as Mordecai would not bow down, so must the governing coalition refuse to yield to “hegemony”. He tells the reservists that they should go to the fate of the scapegoat during a different holy day, Yom Kippur.
Minister Karhi is not actually a member of the national religious party, but he is supporting its agenda on judicial reform.
What about another plank of the National Religious Party that wants the value of Torah Study written into the Israeli constitution?
All right then, let us study some Torah here.
Specifically, the Book of Esther.
Mordecai refused to bow down to secular tyrants because only the Creator is sovereign. That is not the same as believing the views of your own political faction are supreme and refusing to respect the views of many – likely most – of the Israeli population against radical judicial reform. Still less did Mordecai express contempt for views of the part of his people who are regularly risking their livings for their nation – as do the reservists.
As for Mordecai advising about salvation coming from elsewhere. Let us look at the whole quote. Esther had just reminded Mordecai that the penalty for her approaching the king without permission is death. What Mordecai wanted her to do was not to stay silent but rather to speak truth to power.
How did Minister Karhi miss Mordecai’s words about not staying silent in the face of power? The Traditional view of Torah interpretation was to consider the entire corpus of scriptures and find ways to interpret all the different passages so that they cohere. The rules do not permit selectively ignoring words within the very same sentence as you are quoting.
Mordecai is urging Esther to step up and risk her life even though she currently occupies a position of luxury and privilege. How is that analogous to army reservists who are speaking up against an initiative of the current government that, in their sincere belief, jeopardizes themselves and the whole nation? Reservists are not a pampered or arrogant elite. They are the people who serve in the army, stay in Israel despite all the stress and danger, and continue to do their duty year after year.
What is the “elsewhere” that Mordecai refers to as the alternate source of salvation? Perhaps divine intervention, perhaps through some other human instrument than Ester if she resiles from her duty? Minister Karhi says the “people of Israel” will manage without the protesting reservists. Precisely who within the people?
If Minister Karhi continues to align himself with the Religious Zionist party, then salvation will not come from Torah students who will be exempted from military service. It is less likely to come from new immigrants to Israel; many will be deterred by narrowing changes to the Law of Return, by refusals to accept conversions done otherwise than in accordance with the views of the state-recognized rabbinate.
Many of us believe that if you identify as Jewish and Israeli and are willing for those reasons to serve in the army, you deserve abiding gratitude and unstinting acceptance – including from people who have never so served and never will.
Minister Karhi claims that the governing coalition came to power to carry out the judicial reforms. Proof text, please. I see where the Religious Zionist party clearly sets out its agenda in this respect. But the Smotrich party won about a tenth of the overall vote. Where exactly, in writing, does the Likud party’s official platform adopt the Smotrich view on judicial reform?
Or are we referring to an oral tradition of Likudism, outside of the written canon? Can you show us the pre-election videos, the recorded interviews, and the speeches at rallies, where Likud adopted as a core plank the ultra plans of the Smotrich party?
Maybe somebody in Likud said something at some point, I do not know. But enough to show that a majority of Likud supporters, let alone a majority of Israelis, voted to endorse the Smotrich agenda?
In any event, a party platform is not a revelation from Sinai. It is a principle of constitutionalism in democracies generally that reform to the supreme law of a state, in particular, requires an exceptional degree of deliberation and support.
Maybe by “coming to power”, Minister Karhi is referring to the coalition deal involving his party and the Smotrich faction. But how is legitimacy on a fundamental constitutional reform secured by adhering to any particular demand by a particular faction in the Knesset – indeed, still a relatively small faction in the governing coalition itself?
Minister Karhi actually is in power. Yet he speaks as though he is an intrepid outsider, the prophet, the dissident, attacking the ruling hegemons. If he rejects the idea that a particular faction of jurists should be able to ensure that they are exclusively replaced by like-minded jurists, fair enough. None of which leads to the idea that you should act like a hegemon yourself, rather than seeking peace and consensus in your community. Mordecai is remembered by the Torah – in the conclusion of the book of Esther –as seeking the good of his people and “speaking peace” to all their descendants.
Israel is long past the time it can afford more inflammatory statements like Minister Karhi’s. No outcome justifies disdain for committed members of Israeli society; for consuming society with internal conflict; for encouraging Israel’s mortal enemies to exult in its divisions.
I call again for even half a minyan with the governing coalition – that is all it would take – to state with clarity and conviction that they will follow President Herzog’s call to end immediately the self-immolation. Responsible officials should sit down and reason together. I believe that is what Mordecai would have wanted. That is the least that the people of Israel – all of its people – deserve.