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Sam Lehman-Wilzig
Prof. Sam: Academic Pundit

Monarchy in Israel’s Future? Why NOstalgia Starts with “NO”

If you think that “Judicial Reform” is the main goal of Israel’s present government (at least its Messianic wing), think again. The ultimate goal is a wholesale return to a nostalgic biblical regime.

In a 2019 radio interview reported by the Israeli newspaper Yisrael Hayom (https://www.israelhayom.co.il/article/662795), Bezalel Smotrich (today, Israel’s Finance Minister; back then Minister of Transportation and religious-Zionist Chairman of the National Union party) stated that his party is slowly working to re-establish a Jewish Monarchy: “…the state of the Jewish people will return to being conducted as in the days of King David and King Solomon, according to the Torah’s law.”

There are two basic problems with this – beyond the fact that one can’t turn back the clock to a far-off yesteryear. The first problem is “personal”; the second, “philosophical.” Both, however, show how “nostalgia” for the past can blind even highly intelligent people (which Smotrich certainly is).

The “personal” error relates to the two kings that Smotrich mentioned – by all accounts the two most honored in the Jewish tradition. But who were David and Solomon? How did they behave? In a word: abominably.

David slaughtered two southern tribes (down to the last man, woman and child; there’s a modern word for that) who did not threaten him. So why the slaughter? To convince the Philistines (!) that they can trust him when he was residing in their midst (Samuel 1, 27: 7-11). The reaction of the Philistine king for what David did? “He hath made his people Israel utterly abhor him” (verse 12).

OK, he was “young” then. So what about the outrageous sin of committing adultery with a married woman (Bat Sheva), and then sending off her husband Uriah to the very front of the battlefield to die in war so that he could marry the now-widow? There is no doubt that David was a great warrior and perhaps an even greater poet and musician, but what we need from a monarch is moral fiber and a sense of fair play. On those scores, King David failed miserably.

King Solomon? Supposedly, the wisest man of all, but then again how wise could he have been to marry 300 women and take on another 700 concubines?!? Marital fidelity is not the main issue, however. The Torah specifically forbids kings from having too many wives (Deut. 17: 17) – so where does Smotrich find in Solomon any “accordance with Torah’s law”?

The second failure of anyone wishing to return to the Bible’s “glorious monarchy” is that the Bible directly and indirectly shows over and over again that monarchy is NOT the preferred form of political regime. This is most clearly stated by the Prophet Samuel who tried to dissuade the Israelites from their demand of him to anoint a king, explaining (with extreme prophetic correctness) the really bad things the king will do to them. When they persisted, Samuel turned to the Almighty who told him (Samuel 1, 8: 7): “’Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not be king over them.” So Saul was made king – a disastrous choice. (One can only recall Oscar Wilde’s famous aphorism: “when the Gods want to punish us, they grant our wishes…”).

The rest, as they say, is history (but not one the Messianists want to recall): a litany of bad kings. The first appeared immediately: Rehoboam, Solomon’s son whose onerous policies led to the breakup of the Israelite state into two separate “kingdoms” – idolatrous “Israel” in the north, and the rump “Judah” in the south. Several truly evil kings followed (e.g., Ahab, Manasseh), interspersed with the very occasional saintly monarch (e.g., Josiah).

Indeed, Israel’s monarchical rule was so uniformly bad – morally, religiously, and also politically – that the monarchy basically ended (thankfully) with the destruction of the First Temple and exile to Babylon and Egypt. Yes, there was one final attempt to restore the monarchy (a few centuries later) by the Maccabees, but that too ended catastrophically because of their descendants’ hubris. The result? When it came time to designate Hanukkah as a religious holiday the Rabbis’ focused exclusively on the “miracle of lights” and not the Maccabees’ military victories. Even the Books of Maccabees were not included in the biblical canon – and there were two to choose from. And as if to reinforce the point, the Haftorah reading for the sabbath of Hanukkah ends with the verse “not with force nor with military might, but rather with God’s spirit….”

As Winston Churchill noted: “Democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others that have been tried from time to time.” One can add to this the lesson of Jewish history: “Monarchy is the worst form of government. Period.”

About the Author
Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig (PhD in Government, 1976; Harvard U) taught at Bar-Ilan University (1977-2017), serving as: Head of the Journalism Division (1991-1996); Political Studies Department Chairman (2004-2007); and School of Communication Chairman (2014-2016). He was also Chair of the Israel Political Science Association (1997-1999). He has published four books and 69 scholarly articles on Israeli Politics; New Media & Journalism; Political Communication; the Jewish Political Tradition; the Information Society. His new book (in Hebrew, with Tali Friedman): RELIGIOUS ZIONISTS RABBIS' FREEDOM OF SPEECH: Between Halakha, Israeli Law, and Communications in Israel's Democracy (Niv Publishing, 2024). For more information about Prof. Lehman-Wilzig's publications (academic and popular), see: www.ProfSLW.com