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    Church & State – Mishpatim

    Mishpatim raises the question of how far a modern state can live by Biblical laws.

    Many countries are proudly secular and separate church and state. Israel is one of the lands where the principle is still being debated but the way things have worked out the decision seems to have been made.

    In 19th century America a leading lawyer, John Norton Pomeroy, distinguished between the Jews and other peoples, stating that “the Scriptures expressly declare that (the Jews) were a peculiar people and that their condition was anomalous”.

    Though the debate in Pomeroy’s generation concerned the United States, this might not be the case in a Jewish state. But Israel has not embraced the “Torah state” model but has separated religion and state, though in some respects those who draft Israeli legislation are obliged to take the relevant principles of Jewish law into consideration.

    There is a fear that Israel might become a theocratic state, and orthodox judges mostly fail to support the principle of basing the state on the Torah. The fault lies on both sides – the secularists’ fear of religious coercion (they don’t see Torah as the historic national culture of the Jewish people) and the orthodox failure to formulate Jewish law in terms of a legal system.

    In 1948 Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Herzog knew what was needed but others did not support his efforts.

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