Near the beginning of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, we have these words:

that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

For purposes of this discussion, I will assume that the term "Creator" means "God" (Hashem, Aibishter, whatever term you prefer, but it's the same God we believe in.)

I think we all agree that life and liberty are correctly, unalienable rights that all humanity has. But can we truthfully say that the same would go for the pursuit of happiness? Does God want us to spend our time "pursuing happiness"? Isn't happiness a gift that God decides to randomly grant someone, regardless of "pursuit"? If so, how would that be an endowed right?

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    I don't think life and liberty are unalienable rights of all humanity. I, for instance, do not have liberty; I am a slave of God's. Furthermore, God has full control on when I live and die. For now I believe He wants me to live, but that may change. – Double AA Jul 4 '14 at 18:49
  • @DoubleAA - That can be debated, too. Why don't you post that as a question? – DanF Jul 4 '14 at 18:50
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    Is this a question on Judaism or on Thomas-Jefferson-ism? – Double AA Jul 4 '14 at 18:51
  • Meant to be on Judaism. I'm talking about if God (the Jewish God or Jefferson / Franklin's God - whichever you prefer), granted Jews the pursuit of happiness as an unalienable right. Would you prefer that I edit this into the question? – DanF Jul 4 '14 at 18:54
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    I don't know where this is sourced, but most people quote the Rambam as saying that the God of the Christians is (are?) not our God, while that of the Muslims is....hence your assumption that "the term "Creator" means "God" (Hashem, Aibishter, whatever term you prefer, but it's the same God we believe in" is untrue......doesn't mean that this isn't a good question, but I just wanted to point out one technical point – MTL Jul 4 '14 at 18:56

In the beginning of the first chapter of Mesillas Yesharim (see also here), Ramchal writes

ויתאמת אצל האדם מה חובתו בעולמו....שהאדם לא נברא אלא להתענג על השם ולהנות מזיו שכינתו

A person should realize what his purpose is in this world....that a person was not created except to have joy from Hashem, and to benefit from his Shechinah (Divine Presence)

~ מסילת ישרים פרק א

(Translation mine)

....Is the pursuit of happiness an inalienable right? Why, pursuit of [the right kind of] happiness is the whole point of our being here.

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    Emphasis on "the right kind". – Ypnypn Jul 6 '14 at 3:53
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    Does that make it an inalienable right? – Double AA Jul 6 '14 at 4:18
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    @DoubleAA I don't think anyone believes that God would deprive us of the ability to accomplish what He put us here for......or that any individual may deprive another of that ability......what do you think? – MTL Jul 6 '14 at 4:39
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    @Shokhet I think everyone needs to follow halacha. – Double AA Jul 6 '14 at 4:40
  • @DoubleAA ......???? – MTL Jul 6 '14 at 4:42

In declaration of independence terms, "Inalienable right" means one that the human law cannot restrict (as in it would be wrong for it to do so) and "pursuit of happiness" means the feeling of self-worth one gets from contribution to community.

So putting those in Halachic terms, an "Inalienable right" would be something that Dina DeMalchusa could not interfere with, and "pursuit of happiness" would be Osek B'Tzarchei Tzibbur.

So then the question would be does the Torah allow Dina DeMalchusa to interfere with Tzarchei Tzibbur.

At least for many aspects of Tzarchei Tzibbur it seems obvious that the Torah does not allow Dina DeMalchusa to interfere. It could not tell you to not give charity to the poor, not build a shul, not build a Mikvah, etc.

So at least for some pursuits of happiness the answer to your question is clearly yes.

  • Thanks for the interesting link. I have to digest its message a bit further, in terms of how you integrated that definition into your answer. Nonetheless, that definition, I think raises some concerns that may challenge some of the recent Supreme Court decisions last week. – DanF Jul 6 '15 at 14:26

In Mishlei 3:27 we have אַל־תִּמְנַע־ט֥וֹב מִבְּעָלָ֑יו בִּהְי֨וֹת לְאֵ֖ל (ידיך) [יָדְךָ֣] לַעֲשֽׂוֹת׃ Do not withhold good from its owner while it is within your means.

The rights are about not interfering, they aren't (or weren't meant to be) about entitlement. I think אל תמנע applies well.


It is not a right, but a commandment.

תַּחַת אֲשֶׁר לֹא עָבַדְתָּ אֶת ה' אֱלֹקֶיךָ בְּשִׂמְחָה וּבְטוּב לֵבָב.

~ Devarim 28, 47

And this makes perfect sense. Like Aristotle writes on his ethics, a deed without happiness, lacks of meaning, because you are no doing it for the sake of the deed itself, and for the refinement that it's supposed to bring to your soul, rather, for some other worldly and time-limited desire. So in other words, a life without meaning, is a life without acts of virtue and/or religion, acts that bring you closer to an intellectual/spiritual end your soul crave for. A life without good.

So the Torah (and maybe, in a related way), Aristotle and (again maybe, in a related way), the constitution want you to live a life with meaning.

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    I do not see a command in your quotation. – msh210 Jul 5 '15 at 7:47
  • Is the constitution telling us how to worship G-d? – HaLeiVi Jul 5 '15 at 13:26
  • @msh210 not a commandment, and yet, it brings the most horrifying curses written in the Torah. How interesting. – Emilios1995 Jul 5 '15 at 15:08
  • @HaLeiVi Wearing tfilin is a way to worship god. The constitution is telling us how to live a worthy human life, and so does the Torah. (refer to my edits) – Emilios1995 Jul 5 '15 at 15:11
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    It's not about the merit of being happy. It is about the fashion in which we are to do Mitzvos. – HaLeiVi Jul 5 '15 at 16:00

Being that the founding fathers were conscious of work ethics, 'mind your business' being an early motto, and considering their deep morals, i can't believe that their vision of happiness meant eating and drinking and the like. I would assume happiness meant more along the lines of what we call 'shalom' in the birchas kohanim. This shalom or peace or happiness whatever you choose to call it is granted to every human, however it is interrupted by other humans. The founding fathers wanted to establish a country of freedom, where every person lived his own life according to his own will without another person getting in the way. That was their theme whether concerning freedom of religion or capitalist ventures. While this is a true ideal, we know that true peace will only come from Hashem through moshiach or His brachah of shalom.

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    Peace and happiness are not equivalent. Peace may encourage happiness, but it's not a guarantee. Example - Israel and Egypt still have a "peace" agreement, for whatever that may be worth now. But are they "happy" with each other? I may have peace with my neighbor in that we don't fight. But I'm not too happy with him. – DanF Jul 7 '14 at 14:18

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