What is a Jewish contribution to democracy?

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First discuss what is democracy, are you speaking of American Democracy, give a valid definition of what democracy is, pure democracy? the individuals participation in the social order? If you are alluding to the townhall concept, Jews in the middle ages kept their communities alive by self-government. How often is the townhall system of government used today? Is representative government a democracy. Does Greece get too much credit for inspiring us to democracy or was it just democracy of autocrats?
Answer 2
Judaism is egalitarian and values all individuals, both men and women. The wealthy have no privileges; and the poor are valued, treated well and their opinions listened to. (Compare this to those societies in which only mature, land-owning males had any legal status.)
Judaism applied laws, and rules of moral behavior, to all its members equally. The laws of Moses form much of Western legal background.
Quote:
"I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation ... fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations" (John Adams, 2nd President of the United States).
"Certainly, the world without the Jews would have been a radically different place. Humanity might have eventually stumbled upon all the Jewish insights, but we cannot be sure. All the great conceptual discoveries of the human intellect seem obvious and inescapable once they had been revealed, but it requires a special genius to formulate them for the first time. The Jews had this gift. To them we owe the idea of equality before the law, both Divine and human; of the sanctity of life and the dignity of human person; of the individual conscience and of collective conscience, and social responsibility" (Paul Johnson, Christian historian, author of A History of the Jews and A History of Christianity).

Some of the concepts that Judaism introduced were:
  • The rights of every individual, including the elderly, the unwell, the poor etc. Infants are to be protected and cared for, whether or not they turned out to be the gender you were hoping for. Compare this to societies in which unhealthy babies, or females, were killed. Aristotle, who was among the greatest of the Greeks, and Seneca, the famous Roman, both write that killing one's young babies is perfectly acceptable.
  • Women's rights also were carefully maintained in Judaism. Israelite women could own property, could initiate court cases, could have their own servants, and could own fields and businesses; and the Torah specifies marital rights for women (Exodus 21:10).
  • The concept that all people are equal.
  • The requirement of all societies to have just legal systems.
  • Limitations on punishments for crimes. For example, a robber repays double to his victim, or works it off. Cutting off the hand of a robber is a punishable crime. Debtors are not imprisoned or harmed. They are made to sell property and/or work to repay what they owe. Compare this to the Roman practice by which anyone could accuse a man of owing them money and the debtor could be killed.
  • Workers' rights, including the obligation to pay them on time.
  • A weekly day of rest for everyone.
  • Illiteracy among Israelites, in every generation, was rare. Universal education in the Western world is taken for granted today, yet this is a recent development. In Judaism, however, it goes back 3300 years. Judaism has always maintained that education is the highest goal of man in his pursuit of godliness. This tradition has now been passed on to Western culture.
  • Western jurisprudence is based in part upon the Torah. A quick look at the Ten Commandments (Exodus ch.20) and the laws that follow (Exodus ch.21-23) gives a good summary of most modern law.
  • It is the responsibility of the community to support the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the stranger passing through.
  • Other information:
Here is an excerpt from an article by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman. Quote: Human rights do not arise spontaneously out of democracy. On the contrary, inalienable rights can contradict democracy: Even if all the people of the land would vote to outlaw a religion, or to euthanize the mentally challenged, the vote would have to be declared invalid in the successful democratic states of today. For democracy to be viable, it must allow itself to be limited and bridled by human rights.
It was a democratic republic that was responsible for the Reign of Terror in post-revolution France. It was a democratic election that brought the Third Reich to power in Germany, as well as the terrorist Hamas regime in Gaza. Democracy sometimes leads to the worst forms of dictatorship.
It was this that led John Stuart Mill to insist on safeguards against the "tyranny of the majority." Even democracy needs a leash. The problem is: who will determine what those safeguards should be, if not the majority? Whose authority could be recognized as to lie beyond even the will of the people?
The authors of the American Declaration of Independence had a clear answer. The Declaration states that these "inalienable rights" are endowed upon men by their Creator. Who else could determine that "all men are created equal" other than the One who made them? Democracy could work when it remained bridled by the law of God.
Who introduced human rights to the world? Did the Romans, the Greeks, the Sumerians or the people of ancient India or China teach that "all men are created equal" and that all have a right to justice before the law? The concept of a nation with a covenant of duties, freedoms and rights was a unique and radical phenomenon of ancient Israel, not to be emulated by any other nation until 1776.
An example:
Ahab is often considered ancient Israel's most notoriously wicked king. Yet read what happens when he finds himself pitted against a citizen's divine rights:
…Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard, which was in Jezreel, next to the palace of Ahab, the king of Samaria. Ahab wanted it, offering to pay. Naboth declined. Jezebel, Ahab's non-Jewish wife, couldn't understand the problem. Her husband is a king and he cannot get whatever he desires? To please her husband, she hired false witnesses against Naboth, thereby criminally seizing the vineyard for Ahab.
Yet the point remains: Even to the most immoral of Israelite kings, a citizen's property rights were inalienable. Ahab could not even imagine abrogating those rights.
Now let's deal directly with your question:
We don't really know how democracy evolved. In 8th century (BCE) Greece, it appears that a legislator named Solon introduced greater power to a larger number of citizens in the determination of political powers. Nevertheless, most of the time, most Greek states were governed by other means. At any rate, it was not until democracy was married to the idea of human rights, initially in Britain and in America, that it really became a viable proposition for large societies.
The Torah sets forth a constitutional monarchy. Even before that was implemented, there were the leaders of tens, fifties, hundreds and thousands (Exodus ch.18), and the court of Elders (Sanhedrin), who were Torah-scholars that provided Torah-rulings, teaching, guidance and leadership.
In the time of exile, it was common for Jewish communities to hold elections for a community council. But above all, it was the value of education for every child and the love of learning that preserved the Jewish beliefs, commands and ideals.
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 decide to burn down synagogues and churches, persecute minorities, imprison political opponents, and make futile, disastrous wars.
A stable and sustainable world in which every individual has equality before the law is only possible when we accept the voice of the Higher Authority, the One who cares for the world that He made. That is the idea which the Torah introduces to the world.
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