"Proclaim liberty throughout the land, unto all the
inhabitants thereof" (Vayikra 25:10).
These words are etched onto the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia,
American symbol of freedom, proof apparent that the Torah
regards liberty for all inhabitants as the proper state.
Nonetheless, Orthodox Jews are constantly said to be at least
opposed in principle to a free society, possibly opposed also
in practice, and at best willing to accept it until an
authoritarian rule supposedly more to our liking is
Is this true? Is this an accurate representation of our most
deeply held beliefs?
This quick summary of what we are supposed to believe is most
commonly made by our enemies, such as the leaders of the
Shinui party in Israel and their friends. That alone
certainly makes it suspect.
Orthodox spokesmen often answer these critics by pointing out
that, unlike Islam and Christianity, Judaism has never tried
to spread itself using force and for more than 2,500 years
has not been at all involved in conquest.
This is certainly true, but it is also true, as those critics
charge, that we await the imminent coming of our Moshiach who
will certainly implement widespread Torah rule, including,
they stress, capital penalties for sins such as chilul
Does the bell of freedom not ring in the Torah's plan for the
It most certainly does, and with the purest, most universal
and beautiful tones. But they cannot be heard now. At this
point the final vision can only be intellectually understood
because the distance from where we stand is just too
The Torah is in fact opposed to all coercion -- social,
intellectual and of course physical. The entire world will be
"full of knowledge" (Yeshayohu 11:9) and that will be
the reason that "they will do no evil and wreak no
Everyone then will do what only a few do now: choose the way
of Hashem as a result of the exercise of their innate moral
freedom. If everyone participates in the knowledge that
floods the world ("like water covers the seabed") then they
will certainly choose -- of their own free will -- to act on
A compelling vision -- but it compels free men who are
willing and able to follow the utopian promise. It does not
suggest -- even as a temporary compromise -- that any sort of
external coercion be applied.
What about the punishments for transgressions mentioned
In fact, the courts and their punishments were not set up as
a form of coercion. The clearest proof of this is the fact
that the rabbinical judges stopped judging murderers
precisely when murder was on the increase (Avodoh
Zorah 8b). Just when one would expect them to step up
their activity, if their punishments were a form of coercion,
they instead gave them up entirely. In normal times, that is,
normal for the Torah court system, a court would only convict
someone of a capital crime less than once in seven years
(Talmud Makkos 7a).
The motive behind the system seems to be, as said several
times in Devorim (e.g. 13:6, 17:7, 17:12, 19:19 and
many others): "And you should eradicate the evil from your
midst." The elaborate requirements for conviction in capital
cases, including an explicit warning and observation of the
crime by two witnesses, further preclude the penalties from
functioning as a coercive deterrent to violations.
The situation as the Torah sees it is laid out very clearly
(Devorim 30:15): ". . . Life and death I have put
before you, and blessing and curse. And you should choose
life . . ." The alternatives are spelled out very clearly,
but a choice is still there. You are free to choose evil, but
you should choose life.
The Messianic vision of the Torah is an entire world in which
all recognize and freely embrace the truth. There will be no
need for swords of any kind: neither the sword of the warrior
nor the sword of the executioner.
Freedom is a basic component of the Torah's perception of
what man is, and also a foundation of how the Torah hopes man
Let freedom ring.