Last updated on: 11/12/2015 11:24:27 AM PST
Is Judaism Compatible with Democracy?


General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
The Israel Democracy Institute (IDI), in a 2013 report titled "The Israeli Democracy Index 2013," available from their website, wrote:

"A sizeable majority of Jews (74.8%) believe that the State of Israel can be both Jewish and democratic. Only a third of Arab respondents share this view."

2013 - Israel Democracy Institute (IDI)  

Susan Hattis Rolef, PhD, former Professor of International Relations at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, in an e-mail response to ProCon.org on June 19, 2006, wrote:

"Unlike Catholicism, Judaism does not have a Pope - one supreme authority, which can give the ruling that is binding on all Jews. Therefore, there can be no one definitive answer regarding what 'Judaism' is or is not compatible with. In so far as religions advocate an absolute truth, which tends to breed intolerance, in their purest forms none of the religions are compatible with democracy, which is based on the idea that there is a plurality of positions, perceptions, beliefs, and, if you will, truths.

Amongst the various Jewish streams the most ultra Orthodox ones have the greatest problem with the principles of democracy, and the most liberal Reform and Conservative ones have the least problem. The problem that Orthodox Judaism has with democracy manifests itself in Israel with the objection of the ultra Orthodox parties in the Knesset to a secular Constitution as a supreme law, which by definition would be considered superior to the Halacha - the religious law. The ultra Orthodox parties also have a problem with human rights legislation based on universal democratic principles, even though Judaism, since the days of the bible, has had its own concept of human rights.

Nevertheless, Judaism, as a way of life rather than a religion, has learnt to live at peace with democracy in so far as Jews, including ultra-Orthodox Jews, have, since the 19th Century lived as equal citizens in democratic states, have accepted the basic rules and requirements of democracy, and have enjoyed the benefits it has to offer.

I presume that what I have said about Judaism applies equally to Islam. A Jewish Halachic state - i.e. a state based on the Halacha - would probably be little more democratic than a Muslim state based on the Islamic Sharia."

June 19, 2006 - Susan Hattis Rolef, PhD 



PRO (yes)

Fania Oz-Salzberger, DPhil, Director of the Posen Forum for Political Thought at the University of Haifa (Israel), in a 2012 article for Moment Magazine titled "Symposium / Is Democracy a Jewish Idea?" wrote:

"The Jewish tradition carries very powerful democratic genes. Democracy was invented in ancient Greece and then reinvented in Europe in the 18th century, but there is a long-standing Jewish notion of popular civil participation, with numerous voices taking part in political decision-making…

In modern Israel today, anyone pretending that Judaism and democracy are incompatible traditions and that Israeli society must decide between the two is showing a certain measure of historical ignorance. Not only are Jewish and democratic elements of Israel's statehood compatible, but they have been influencing one another for well over 2,000 years."

2012 - Fania Oz-Salzberger, DPhil 



Tzvi Freeman, Senior Editor at Chabad.org, in an article for Chabad.org titled "Is Democracy Jewish? Why Didn't We Think of This First?" (accessed Oct. 14, 2015), wrote:

"Democracy is certainly compatible with Jewish values. Is it the messiah for humankind? It may be part of the package. But without the prelude of a constitution protecting the rights of every individual, a democracy can easily burn down churches, persecute minorities, imprison political opponents, make futile, disastrous war and eventually implode upon itself to retrograde into a worse dictatorship than had ever stood before.

As paradoxical as it may sound, a stable and sustainable world in which every individual has liberty and equality before the law is only possible when we accept the voice of a single Higher Authority, one who cares for this world He has made, and for every creature He has placed within it. That is the potent idea Torah injects into the world; and in the past few hundred years we have seen its results unfolding before us."

Oct. 14, 2015 - Tzvi Freeman 



The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in a Nov. 27, 1998 report by its Committee on Culture and Education titled "Religion and Democracy," available from their website, wrote:

"Politics and religion should be kept apart. However, democracy and religion need not be incompatible and can be valid partners…

The Islam which accepts the secular nature of authority and wishes to develop within democratic society offers huge potential for co-operation, as does non-fundamentalist Judaism…

The vision of religious radicalism can mislead us about the compatibility of religion and democracy, a trap which must be avoided. Church and State are not incompatible within the democratic system."

Nov. 27, 1998 - Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) 



CON (no)

Shlomo Sand, PhD, Professor of History at Tel Aviv University (Israel) at the time of the quote, in a June 1, 2013 opinion piece for Haaretz titled "On Israeli Identity, Jewish Democracy and Oxymorons - a Response to Carlo Strenger," wrote:

"In view of the 20th century's history of persecution and suffering, Israel can continue to serve as a place of refuge for descendants of Jews persecuted due to their ethnic origin or religious faith; but it cannot be both a democracy and at the same time belong to 'world Jewry.' This is an oxymoron that has severe consequences: it creates injustice; it leads to exclusion of native locals, and it may bring destruction upon us all."

June 1, 2013 - Shlomo Sand, PhD 



Martin Sicker, PhD, author of What Judaism Says About Politics: The Political Theology of the Torah, in his 2001 book titled The Political Culture of Judaism, wrote:

"Many traditionalists take issue with the notion of any compatibility with or even affinity between Judaic and democratic values... In a democracy, in which the people are held, at least in theory, to be sovereign, the majority determines what constitutes acceptable behavior. In Judaism, on the other hand, where sovereignty is ascribed to God, basic societal norms reflect the traditional understanding of the precepts of the Torah, which are not subject to popular approval… As one contemporary writer put it, 'In the Jewish view, there can be no worse moral system than one in which man, rather than God, decides on proper moral and ethical behavior… To state that Judaism is a democracy, therefore, is a perversion not only of Jewish history, but also of Jewish religious belief'."

2001 - Martin Sicker, PhD 



Varda Epstein, blogger and Communications Writer for Kars4Kids.org, in a Feb. 9, 2014 opinion piece for the Times of Israel titled "Livni's Oxymoron," wrote:

"Democracy is a Greek, rather than a Jewish idea. Something cannot be both Jewish and democratic. That would be an oxymoron.

Judaism may have some (predated) tenets in common with democracy which may serve to confuse the public into thinking Judaism is democratic in nature. But a state cannot be both Jewish and democratic since one is at odds with the other."

Feb. 9, 2014 - Varda Epstein 



Meir Kahane, LLB, MA, the late American Orthodox Rabbi and former Member of the Israeli Knesset, in an interview entitled "G~d's Law: an Interview with Rabbi Meir Kahane," published in a 1987 book titled Israel's Ayatollahs: Meir Kahane and the Far Right in Israel, stated:

"Let me say it again: democracy and Judaism are two opposite things. One absolutely cannot confuse them. The objective of a democratic state is to allow a person to do exactly as he wishes. The objective of Judaism is to G~d and to make people better. These are two totally opposite conceptions of life."

1987 - Meir Kahane, LLB, MA