Legislature Proposals

From Friends of the Sanhedrin
Jump to: navigation, search

Studies of proposals for the transformation of the historical body into a modern legislature.

A Bicameral Parliamentary System

The historical government of the Jewish people involves a bicameral parliamentary system. This includes the Sanhedrin, a deliberative body similar to the upper house or chamber of a legislature, and an ordinary parallel lower house which represents the needs of the population.

a) The Sanhedrin is a "House of Scholars". Unlike some parliamentary systems, members of this upper house are not elected, nor is their position permanent. Any scholar, at any time, may gain a place on the legislature by proving a greater level of scholarship in Jewish Law than a current member of the legislature.

b) At times during Jewish history, a parallel "Congressional Assembly" also existed. Originally it consisted of the royal court of a constitutional monarchy, but in a democratic society it may consist of an assembly of regionally elected representatives. Needs of the population were represented demographically; originally according to feudal strength, but in modern times they would be represented by voting power. The head of the lower house would be the Monarch, Reish Galuta or Prime Minister. He would have the power to collect taxes and would be the head of the executive branch of government. He would be subordinate only to the Sanhedrin.

This ancient bicameral system has had great influence on the organizational structure of many Western European legislatures.

The Sanhedrin, strictly a Theocrasy?

A member of the Sanhedrin did not have to "run for office" as he was not elected. There was no need for him to exhibit his qualifications for public to view and approve. Instead he obtained his position through a test of scholarship. It has been suggested that the idea of a "house of scholars" who did not have to run for office, was in a round about way the inspiration for the English "house of Lords" and the U.S. Senate/Supreme Court, and other similar institutions throughout Europe.

The obvious question asked is, does that mean that a Jewish government is a theocracy? if the public has no say, how are their needs represented?

The Rambam in Hilchos Melachim discusses the role of King and Sanhedrin. Josephus also discusses the role of the Jewish kings in civil administration. If you project that into today's terms, the role of the king's court, where Josephus says claims were brought and civil administration was handled (roads, public security, other public works, etc) could be taken by a body perhaps similar to the modern day Israeli Knesset. In secular terms, the king's court, which I call in loose terms "congressional assembly" represents the needs of the people, and the "house of scholars", Sanhedrin, represents the rights and obligations of the people to the "Constitution" which in this case is the Torah, Talmud and body of Rabbinic Jurisprudence that has been built up over our history as a people. In modern terminology the role of the Sanhedrin and court can be thought of, as an upper house and lower house they enact legislation to manage and govern the Jewish people.

The Iggeres of R'Sherira Gaon and Seder 'Olam Zuta discuss the Reish Galuta, his court, his "police" and emissaries who wore the emblem of the Reish Galuta [Shabbat 58a]. See also Seder HaDoros. The term "dayyane di baba" ("judges of the gate"), was applied to the members of the court of the exilarch

There are many approaches to theory of government when it comes to the Jewish people: what was intended, what was done in practice. I admit that this is only one of many possible ways to look at it. The intent was not to be comprehensive, historically speaking, but rather show the way in which the nascent Sanhedrin sees that it might fit in modern society.

Ranking Members

All the members of the nascent Sanhedrin are ranked. Some are considered as equals to others. When a new applicant comes, the leadership committee interviews him, questions him, and recommends where he should sit in the order of least to most scholarly. If the position that the new person was placed seems too low, then he can challenge the person, in the place he would like to be, to a debate. If it seems to high, then a lower scholar can challenge him.

In general the leadership committee maintains the list of scholars and their level of scholarship. They recommend when any new changes should take place, and generally their recommendations have been accepted. But they can be challenged at any time.

When the new person enters the court, the lowest ranking scholar is dropped from the list, although in practice the highest ranking scholars do not appear at every sitting of the court, so the lower ranking scholars may be invited to join the court to achieve the minimum number for the sitting of a court.