Does the Torah model of society value concepts such as liberty and democracy, or does it value a model based on Communism i.e. a non-materialistic, equality-based society etc.?

Torah and Rabbinic sources please.


Actually the answer to your question is "yes". The problem is that you are expressing the choice as an either or, while the Torah emphasizes the responsibility as well as the rights. As such, it does recognize private property - Don't Steal, Yovel, Business practices, partnerships in business, while at the same time it requires the non-materialistic view as well - 0% interest (Leviticus 25:37). , Shemittah, ma'aser ...

Note that one is allowed to charge interest to those who [are allowed to] charge interest to us (non-Jews) so that it is not an absolute prohibition. This means that it is basically allowed but forbidden for other reasons. Business dealings to get a "fair profit" are allowed but one is forbidden to overcharge.

The statement attributed to Marx "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" can be expressed as a Torah thought that everyone must give tzedakah. However, Marx expressed this as the state determining what is "ability" and what is "need" as well as forcing everyone to follow that determination. The Torah would use this as everyone recognizing that he has a responsibility to Hashem to share what Hashem has given him. However, one is forbidden to to waste it. There are stories of people who are castigated for giving away too much. In each case, one must look at the individual case and the level of kedusha that a person is on.

A regular person would not be expected to give away as much as Mitt Romney. However, the Torah expects each person to make that decision on his own. It just gives guidelines.

Rambam says

5% is a rasha
10% is a bainoni (or regular person).
20% is a tzadik

More than that is a fool.

I do not have the quote, but that is how I remember it and there are cases where the over twenty per cent part does not apply. For example, the Talmud speaks of King Munbaz who gave away much of his treasury. A very rich person who will not cause himself or his family hardship can give more. (Rambam, Matanos Aniyim 7:5; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 250:4; Ahavas Chesed 2:19)

In any case, the point is that one follows the guidelines of the Torah and not the ideas of Communism which would make everyone "equal" by making them all poverty stricken.

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    "Note that one is allowed to charge interest to those who charge interest to us (non-Jews)" You are implying that there is a connection between the permissibly to charge them interest and the assumption that hey will dot the same to you. Do you have any source for this? – mevaqesh Jul 28 '16 at 19:02
  • "This means that it is basically allowed but forbidden for other reasons." That is a completely arbitrary claim. One could just as easily claim that it is basically forbidden, but only permitted for certain reasons. The fact that in all likelihood most Jewish business involved other Jews, favors the alternative suggestion. – mevaqesh Jul 28 '16 at 19:03
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    "However, one is forbidden to to waste it. There are stories of people who are castigated for giving away too much. In each case, one must look at the individual case and the level of kedusha that a person is on." Are you implying that the halakhot of tzedaka are dependent on a person's level of holiness? If not what are you saying? Either way, what is your source? – mevaqesh Jul 28 '16 at 19:06
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    "the ideas of Communism which would make everyone "equal" by making them all poverty stricken." I am pretty sure that the idea of Communism is not to make everyone poverty stricken. Do you mean that poverty is an unintended consequence of Communism? If so, what is your argument? – mevaqesh Jul 28 '16 at 19:08
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    @Fred I am not sure what your point is. I asked "Who gets to decide what a fair profit is" rhetorically. My point was, that "The idea of anyone besides the consumer and the producer deciding what is fair for them, is the essence of communism in particular, and centrally planned non-free markets in general" Sh'muel does not seem to arguing for a deregulated market where the consumers and producers decide their own price... – mevaqesh Jul 28 '16 at 22:32

See @sabbahillel's answer, he has a lot of good points...

I would add one more:
The Talmud writes Sukkah 29b (right after the mishna on the bottom of the page) that lulav and several other mitzvos [shofar, matza] need to be yours to fulfill one's obligation with them:

ולקחתם לכם -- משלכם
"And you shall take -- from what's yours"

I don't know if anyone says this, but I always took this to be (on some deeper level) a safeguard against Marxism, Communism, and any other system that denies the idea of private property -- the Torah says private property must exist.

שוב מצאתי Found a source for this idea (sort of)! Chazon Ish (YD 72:2) says that wherever they are, Jews should try to make sure that there is government-issued currency, so that we will have a way to ensure that the Torah obligations of תשלומין payments can be fulfilled; Rav Herschel Schachter (Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society vol. I, footnote 28) takes this as a refutation of those who posit that money is the root of all evil.

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    Do you have reason to assume that a communally owned lulav, as in a Communist system would not be kosher to use? – mevaqesh Jul 28 '16 at 19:10
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    @mevaqesh Such a lulav would not be kosher to use unless one is either explicitly given full ownership at the time he uses it or there is an implicit understanding that he is given full ownership at the time he uses it (Bava Basra 137b, Shulchan Aruch OC 658:7). – Fred Jul 28 '16 at 21:50
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    @Fred I am not so sure that that is the case. The Magen Avraham says that the only problem is "kapdu ahadadi", and therefore Rama writes that if the others consent (as when they purchased it for the mitzvah) , then there is no problem. In a state of universal ownership, I doubt that any individual could protest the usage of another. To clarify, I am not arguing that it is not the case, merely asking the poster why he assumed what he wrote. – mevaqesh Jul 28 '16 at 22:05
  • Perhaps I am making too much out of a mere drush, but Vayikra Rabba states: ויקרא רבה (מרגליות) פרשת אמור פרשה ל לכם, משלכם ולא מן הגזול. the emphasis seems to be that it not be stolen. (This is not a direct contradiction to the opinion that it may not be communally owned, btw). – mevaqesh Jul 28 '16 at 22:37
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    @mevaqesh That's not the meaning of the Rama or the Magen Avraham. The Rama means that, if they bought it together for the mitzvah, there is an implicit understanding that each person grants full individual ownership to whoever is using the lulav at the time (otherwise, you can't assume such an understanding, and full individual ownership would have to be granted explicitly). Likewise, the Magen Avraham is talking about a person who may be makpid to not cede his ownership to the individual who is using the lulav at the time. All these opinions agree that individual ownership is required. – Fred Jul 29 '16 at 1:42

In Bereishis 11:3, the people of the דור הפלגה say to each other "הָבָה נִלְבְּנָה לְבֵנִים," "Come, let us make bricks." The Rav zt"l said that this society was unlike the דור המבול -- this generation was "disciplined and well organized," and had a "strict political code." Among other things, they were "aggressive in undertaking, bold in design, and arrogant in execution." They "represented industrialization," and "enslaved the individual....to the state." The piece ends with "The ideology of Marxism as interpreted by Lenin and Mao Tse Tung could not have found a better portrayal than in these verses."
Chumash Masores HaRav Bereishis (OU Press 2013), page 66, based on Noraos Harav, 7:52.

I would imagine that if God would stop the building of the city and scatter the people across the face of the earth (Bereishis 11:6-9), that this is not something that God wants or likes.

  • I thought that this idea was different enough from my other one that it deserved its own answer. (also, discussed directly by my source ;) – Shokhet Oct 19 '14 at 2:36
  • I am not downvoting, but it seems somewhat circular. Polemics aside, is there actually any support for it from the text? – mevaqesh Jul 28 '16 at 19:12

I once saw a responsa from Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog first Cheif Rabbi of the State of Israel. In the last entry of volume Orach Chaim he deals in detail this very question.

He discusses both sides of the question, and in arguing for communism, he suggests different proofs from the Torah. For example, Shmitta, Yovel and Hefker Beis Din Hefker. He notes that although the Torah does recognize personal property rights, we see from these halachos that personal property can be taken away by the "state" ie. Beis Din or re-appropriated.

However, if I remember correctly, he does point out that since atheism is a central pillar of communism, it and the Torah will never be fully compatible.

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    Cool +1. do know who printed this sefer? how old it is? – user5538 Jun 10 '14 at 12:25
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    "the Torah does not recognize personal property rights" - This is a very strong claim. Are you sure this what he says? – Ypnypn Jun 10 '14 at 13:08
  • pretty sure, im gonna look for it later this week. – Shoel U'Meishiv Jun 10 '14 at 13:09
  • Why is that a difficult concept? how do you understand hefker bes din hefker? – Shoel U'Meishiv Jun 10 '14 at 15:57
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    Hefker bes din has nothing to do with communal ownership of property aka communism. It simply allows bes din under certain circumstances to revoke ownership when the owner is violating some halacha like growing kilayim or to act in the interest of some public policy and invalidate kidushin made improperly. It is not the modus operandi of Judaism contrary to communism. – Yoni Jun 10 '14 at 22:31

Tl;DR Judaism doesn't clarify this conclusively, and while most rabbis opposed communism, some endorsed it. While some rabbis criticised democracy, others encouraged it.

The ideal structure of governance is largely undefined by halakha, but Jewish values may still be relevant to defining a good governemnt, as R. Aharon Lichtenstein writes in Communal Governance, Lay and Rabbinic: An Overview, Printed in Varieties of Jewish experience pg. 73:

The form and structure of the respective seats of authority is, essentially, a devar ha-reshut which is not to say, we remind ourselves, that it is a matter of indifference. There are, unquestionably, important axiological considerations, both moral and religious; and at any given station, some modes of government are more consonant with the spirit and substance of Halakhah than others. The point is that we need to approach the issue contextually and teleologically, with an eye to optimal results rather than to presumed rules. To be sure, there are aspects of the political realm upon which some specific halakhot impinge, normatively. The primary question posed to us, the quest for a composite ideal polity, is not, however, among them.[i]

That being said, the question remains: is some form of government more in line with Judaism.

Before answering that, it must be emphasized that Judaism does not, and certainly since the days of the Sanhedrin, has not had, an official spokesman. Accordingly, it is essentially impossible to answer what Judaism thinks about this; only what individual Jewish scholars, basing themselves off, among other things, Jewish teachings, have held.

That said, below are a couple of rabbbis' views on the relative merits of a secular democratic state, in which religious institutions are not granted authority over the masses, vs. a theocratic state.

Against Democracy

Here is what R. Shakh wrote about democracy (Mikhtavim u-Ma’amarim, vol. 5, p. 124):

בל נחשוב, שהשיטה הנקראת "דמוקרטיה" היא דבר חיובי . . . האמת היא שהיא אסון לעולם. היא נותנת הרגשה מדומה של "חופש" בו בזמן שלאמיתו של דבר היא רק הפקר, ותו לא . . . הדמוקרטיה היא דבר טרף, וכל כוונתם לעקור דרכה של עם ישראל ולהרסו

That is: Do not think that the system called "democracy" is a positive thing... The truth is it a disaster to the world. It gives a false sense of "freedom" which while in fact it is just anarchy, nothing more. . . Democracy is something non-kosher, and their whole intention is to uproot to the path of the people of Israel and destroy it.

On p. 127 he writes:

ואנו תפילה להרבונו של עולם, אנא פטור אותנו מקללת הדמוקרטיה החדשה שנשלחה לעולם, שהיא ממש כמו מחלת הסרטן שנשלחה לעולם. כי רק התורה הקדושה היא הדמוקרטיה האמיתית.

And we pray to the Creator of the world, please rid us of the curse of the new democracy that was sent into the world, which is just like cancer which has been sent to the world. For only the Holy Torah is true democracy.

here is a passage, from R. Yissachar Meir, that appeared in an official Degel ha-Torah publication, Ve-Zarah ha-Shemesh (Bnei Brak, 1990), p. 630:

טעות אחת טעו מנהיגיה הראשונים של המדינה, הם חוקקו חוק הנקרא "דמוקרטיה". כל אחד יודע דמוקרטיה זו מהי, על פי השיכורים הנמצאים במדינה – שלוש מאות אלף מסוממים חיים במדינה – ועל פי זקנים מסוידים וכו' נקבע השלטון. כמו כן בכל מיני שוחד, ודרכי כפיה, נקבע ע"י מה שנקרא "בחירות", איך תנהג המדינה בכל הנושאים העולים על הפרק. על פי דרך התורה, גדולי התורה הם הקובעים את המנהיגות.

One wrong mistake the first leaders of the country, they passed a law called "democracy". Anyone know what the democracy is, according to the drunks who are in the country - three hundred thousand drug addicts live in - and according to old painted sheet set rule. Also all kinds of bribery and coercion methods, determined by the so-called "elections", how the state will handle all matters arising on the agenda. According to the way of the Torah, the Torah sages take precedence leadership.

R. Elhanan Wasserman writes in his Ikveta di-Meshiha, par. 2, published on the eve of the Holocaust.

הגיע כבר העת שתבינו, כי בלעדי אין מושיע. אבל העם מסרבים להבין. עוד נאחזים בשולי הדמוקרטיה הגוססת. אף היא לא תועיל, בדומה לעבודות הזרות הקודמות.

It's already time to understand that without me (God) there is no savior. But people refuse to understand. More cling to the edges of the dying democracy. Although it will not help, just like the former idolatries.

All of the above quotes are found here.

For Communism

For a discussion of rabbis who were supportive or at some level tolerant of communism, see here. Notably, this includes R. Itzele Valozhiner, who seems to have expressed different views on the matter, some of which were positive, and R. Yehuda Ashlag.

For Democracy

Unlike Rabbis Shakh and Wasserman, R. Akiva Yosef Schlesinger promoted a democratic system of governance in pre-State Jerusalem. This system he outlined his book Kollel HaIvirim.

He explains his system would be democratic. He explains that the Torah requires one to follow the majority. This is so, even when a Godol or the like holds different views. He proves this by pointing to the system of the Sanhedrin. There, they did not just go with greatest Rabbi on the Sanhedrin, rather, they started polling the views of the lowest one. (Source)

Additionally, R. Hayyim Hirschenson had positive feelings about democracy. (See here).


As is evident, rabbinic figures have promoted a very wide range of political systems. This is unsurprising, given that as noted by R. Aharon Lichtenstein, this is ultimately a devar ha-reshut, in which Judaism point us to certain ideals, but define the the means to achieve them. He applied this approach to democracy in particular:

The twin pillars of democratic theory the factual assumption that in the long run, the people know best, and the ethical assertion that even if the results are poorer it is their right to decide and the faith in the common man, as well as the priority assigned to his interests, that undergirds them can be accepted or rejected by a Jewish polity; can be adopted at one point and renounced at another. At issue is, indeed, devar ha-reshut. (Page 75).

Importantly, the laissez faire description of democracy that he presents would stand in contrast to the central tenets of communism.

[i] Available here pg. 30.

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