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    Power and morality

    We are proud to have given so much to civilisation. Great Jews have done great things for countless nations and societies. The world would be immensely poorer without them. But far more than the contributions of key Jewish individuals has been the spiritual, intellectual, ethical and cultural enrichment which has come from the Hebrew Bible, the Jewish moral tradition and the Jewish idea.

    It has been suggested that the success of Judaism has been because it generally had moral influence but not political power. Franz Rosenzweig in fact insisted that this is the way it ought to be, that Christianity had to work through political institutions and power history whilst Judaism was a-historical. The Christian sought to come to the Father through history; the Jew was at the destination already. This may not be a correct reading of either religion, but insofar as it emphasises that for most of its history Judaism has not wielded political power it may have a point.

    Today’s world is radically different. For the first time in nearly 2000 years there is a Jewish State. Judaism is back on the scene of power history. The Greeks believed that kings should be philosophers and philosophers should be kings. But as Will Herberg has said, experience should have taught them that “the disinterested devotion to truth and goodness implied by philosophy does not go well with the relativities of interest and expediency”, and that grand ideals become tainted once they are enmeshed with the politics of power.

    Rav Kook, the great mystical lover of Zion, was fearful of what would happen to Jewish ideals of holiness once there was a Jewish State, though this does not mean that he would have opposed the creation of the State. Far from it, even though he knew that a State would bring politics, power, expediency and compromise. But the contemporary generation, though rejoicing wholeheartedly in the existence of Israel, cannot pretend that the Jewish return into history has been without its problems. The new experience of running a State and operating a defence force has not been easy. There is idealism there, but the decisions have not always been wise, high-minded and visionary. Israeli society must somewhere have a potential moral ombudsman capable of assessing the way power is used and credible enough to be heeded and heard.

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