"Moshiach is ready to come now-our part is to increase in acts of goodness and kindness" -The Rebbe

Saturday, April 20, 2013

How to Relate to the Law of the Land

How to Relate to the Law of the Land

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

When Hashem sent the Romans to banish the Jewish people into exile outside the Holy Land, they became the guests of foreign nations. These nations have legal systems that are different from halacha, Torah law, and so residing in these countries means submitting to their laws, just as a guest must follow the house rules. 

Torah itself recognizes civil law and even requires that a Jew abide by it when living in that country, as the Talmud rules: “The law of the land is [Torah] law.”[1] This[2] elevates secular law to a higher standard than it accords for itself, for according to this principle, secular law has divine authority, for by adhering to it, one adheres to a law in the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law. (This is comparable to the Torah’s words concerning a doctor’s instructions: Since the Torah prescribes that in circumstances of poor health one should consult with a doctor and obey his advice, it follows that by fulfilling the doctor’s instructions, one fulfills Torah law.[3])

However, this does not mean that the Jew submits absolutely to the civil law. On the contrary, the Jew’s Master and King is Hashem alone, and at Mount Sinai the Jew took a solemn oath to follow Hashem’s law—halacha.[4] Halacha is the only law that the Jew follows, it permeates every moment and aspect of his life, and he does not submit to any mortal king or ruler.

Yes, a Jew must follow the law of the land, but not in a way that is somehow detached from his absolute subservience to Hashem. His gentile hosts have no inherent power to dictate his behavior. Rather, he follows the law of the land because Torah itself requires that he follow it, as long as it does not contradict Torah, as part of Hashem’s decree that the Jew be in exile. 

On a basic and external level, the reason that Torah requires adherence to the law of the land is that this brings tranquility and peace in society. This is particularly relevant to Jews during their stay in gentile lands, because when gentiles are at peace, their Jewish guests can also live in peace, as the verse puts it, “Through its [the gentile city’s] peace, you [the Jewish people] will have peace.”[5]

Similarly, Torah requires gentiles themselves to follow the law of the land, in the context of their duty to observe the Noahide commandment of dinim, establishing a justice system.[6]

On[7] a deeper level, this is also related to the way that Torah views nature. The reason that the Jewish people need the assistance and hosting of gentiles during the exile, which is accompanied by the Torah obligation to adhere to the law of the land, is that Hashem requires that the Jew follow the natural order. However, this does not mean that the Jewish people are inherently subject to the rule of nature, G–d forbid. On the contrary, since the Jew’s Neshamah stems from supernatural G–dliness, a Jew has the power to control the nature of the world. Rather, the Jews’ dependence on non-Jews stems from Hashem’s desire that the Jewish people follow the natural order during the age of exile. Thus, by doing so, the Jewish people comply with the command and will of Hashem.

[1] Gittin 10b.
[2] Hisva’aduyos 5744, Vol. 2, pp. 612-613.
[3] Berachos 60a. See Taz, Yoreh Deah, beg. ch. 237.
[4] In the Hebrew, the Jew is “mushba ve'omed mei’Har Sinai” (Shavuos 22b).
[5] Yirmiyahu 29:7.
[6] Gentiles are “obligated to appoint judges ... to dispense judgment concerning these [other] six laws” (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 9:19). 
[7] Hisva’aduyos 5743, Vol. 1, p. 170-171.

Dedicated in honor of my own birthday, Yehoishophot Yisrael Yehuda Leib ben Chana Feigeh, on 10 Iyar.

Dedicated in the merit of a speedy release for the captives Yonasan ben Malka (Jonathan Pollard), Sholom Mordechai Halevi ben Rivka (Sholom Rubashkin), Yaakov Yehuda ben Shaindel (Jacob Ostreicher), and Zeva Rochel bas Chaya (Wendy Weiner Runge).

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