Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Is It Good To Be The King?

Parashat Shoftim addresses many issues, among them the Jewish jurisprudential system, false prophets, and the Arei Miklat, cities of refuge. The guidelines for the appointment of a future Jewish king, which also appears in the parashah, however, will be the topic discussed in this Treat.

The Torah (Deuteronomy 17:14-20) asserts that a king may be appointed, once the Israelites arrive in the Promised Land. God shall “select” the king from among his brethren of Israel. The king may not collect too many horses so he will not return the people to Egypt. He may not marry too many wives, lest they seduce him away from the proper path. Nor may he amass too much silver and gold. He shall write a Torah which shall be on his person at all times.

The Shulchan Aruch does not include in the code halachic matters that are only relevant in a post-Messianic age. Maimonides’ halachic code, the Mishneh Torah, however, does categorize such topics, and it is there (Laws of Kings chapters 1-4) that we find more details. Maimonides rules that a king may be anointed only once a legitimate prophet has identified him as the prospective king and the Sanhedrin confirms his reign.

The king wields great power and is due great homage. No one may ride on the king’s horse nor sit on his throne. After his death, all of his belongings are burned and no one else may marry his wife. His hair is cut daily and people must bow to the ground in his presence. The king does rise before great Torah scholars while in private, but not publicly.

The sages ruled that a king may have no more than 18 wives, and may only own enough horses for his entourage. He may not collect more money other than what is needed to pay his staff and his soldiers. The king may tax his subjects as he desires, to collect for his needs or to cover the costs of wars. After a military conquest, the king may take 1/13th of the resulting bootie, with the other 12 portions being evenly divided among the 12 tribes of Israel.

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