Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Romain responds to the question: Is there a Jewish position on the forthcoming AV referendum?
In the Bible, democracy, does not feature very much. It starts off as a theocracy, with God telling Moses what the Israelites should and shouldn’t do. That changes to a monarchy with Saul being elected the first king – in theory to do God’s will (Dt 17.18) but often not in practice.
After the loss of independence, there were foreign rulers, but internal Jewish affairs are governed by a Patriarche in the land of Israel and an Exilarche in Babylon – both of which were often hereditary posts.
Then in the massive dispersal in the Middle Ages, Jewish life was usually under an Oligarchy, a local council made up of elders who were usually the wealthiest members and the ones who wielded power. We had to wait until 1948 and the State of Israel for a fully functioning Jewish democracy to emerge, although its particular system of proportional representation has many critics.
You could say there were two referendums in the Bible: when the people could have chosen to reject the covenant at Mt Sinai where they were gathered together, but instead they declared: ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do’ (Ex 24.3). And then again at Mt Carmel, during the period of the kings, when Elijah held a public contest between himself and the pagan prophets of Baal, summoning the Israelites and demanding ‘How long will you take to decide between two opinions ?’ (1 Kings 19.21) and they come off the fence and say ‘The Lord is God’.
As for the AV referendum on 5th May there are powerful arguments on either side, but the one certainty is the injunction that does go back to the Book of Jeremiah (29.7), where he advises those exiled in Babylon to ‘seek the peace of the city in which you live’ which is also the reason we say the Prayer for the Queen every Shabbat.
In the case of the referendum, it would mean the duty to cast our vote and to determine which system the country adopts and not abrogate responsibility by leaving it to others to decide and then tut-tutting at the result. If you look carefully, I am sure you will find that the Ten Commandments include the one about : ‘Thou shalt go unto the polling station and cast thy vote’.