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    Top of the league – Vayyiggash

    Sir John Monash

    In his “Binah baMikra”, BS Jacobson remarks that Joseph – Minister for Food Supply in Pharaoh’s Egypt – was “the first in the long series of Jewish men who have rendered outstanding service to foreign governments and peoples in the lands of the Diaspora. From him down to our contemporaries, they have given of the best of their greatness loyally and unreservedly” (English edition, page 60).

    The latest example of distinguished Jewish citizens serving with exemplary patriotism is the election of Switzerland’s first Jewish president. Amazingly, as a former New South Wales premier, Neville Wran, remarked on the occasion of the centenary of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia is top of the league.

    Outside Israel, only in Australia have Jews occupied all the highest offices in the land – military commander-in-chief (Sir John Monash), chief justice (Sir Isaac Isaacs) and twice, head of state (Sir Isaac Isaacs and Sir Zelman Cowen). On the state and local level there have also been and are Jewish citizens in leading positions.

    But to what extent if any is their Jewishness relevant?

    There is no Jewish vote, and Jews distribute their political favours over a range of parties. Jews in high office sometimes take up Jewish causes and are not always popular as a result. But hardly ever is there a Jew holding high office who does not have and exhibit a Jewish commitment.

    Concern for kashrut is one area of commitment; some have refused to transgress Shabbat, and so axiomatic is Yom Kippur that once the NSW Legislative Assembly cancelled its Yom Kippur session because the Speaker and his deputy were both Jews. All this enhances public respect for Judaism.

    Further, Jewish ethical teachings and traditions almost always moulded the public work of leading Jewish citizens, and some were both influenced by and used in their speeches material from classical works such as the Ethics of the Fathers.

    Antisemites used to say that the Jews ran everything; it is far from true, but Jewish participation in public life is higher than our small numbers would suggest.

    Good citizenship is instinctive for Jews. Those countries that refused, removed or compromised Jewish civil rights denied themselves a reservoir of talent and ethical quality.

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