DAY 1132: The Law of the Land is the Law

August 6, 2015
By bethmordecai
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DAY 1132: The Law of the Land is the Law

דינא דמלכותא דינא

The law of the land is the law

Babylonain Talmud (Nedarim 28a, Gittin 10b, Baba Kamma 113a, Baba Bathra 54b and 55a)

Dear Hevreh,

Jews have almost always lived in lands not under their control. In such an environment, it’s been incumbent upon the Jewish community to negotiate with the ruling powers to secure the Jewish population. From the very outset, Abraham had to negotiate burial rights for his wife; Joseph had to negotiate his way into power; and Moses had to negotiate for Israel’s release from Pharaoh (with God’s heavy hand behind him). In the times of the Babylonian Talmud, the Jews lived under control of many foreign governments including the Sassanids, who conquered Babylonia from the Parthians in 226 CE. One of the leading rabbis of the time, Samuel, knew that, like Jewish leaders before him, he’d have to negotiate with the ruling powers to secure a Jewish future in their country. As such he enacted the well known principle dina de-malkhutah dina, “the law of the land is the law.” This dictum indicated that when Jewish law ran contrary to the law of the kingdom, the kingdom’s law would reign supreme (with obvious exceptions).  This was all a part of the negotiation for Jewish survival — in a land not our own, we had to be careful.

Much has changed, or has it? Do we view our life in the diaspora as one in which we are fully a part of the society at large or do we half-expect to be told one day that we don’t belong? I don’t know about you, but the latest haranguing around the Iran deal is resuscitating some of thoseanxious feelings of historical trauma that have been passed down through the generations. There is a part of me, though ever so slight, that is worried about the future of Jews in America (let alone in Europe or South America) and that we must use the principle of dina de-malkhuta dina to keep us safe as long as possible.

On the other hand, this is only a small part of myself. The much larger part, the part that has not experienced anti-semitism (personally), the part that yearns to learn from the religious traditions of my neighbors, implores me to view dina de-malkhuta dina in a more hopeful way than just being about survival. It implores me to see that the land (malkhuta) has a law (dina) that I can embrace. It’s a law that doesn’t run contrary to my faith, but invites me to use my faith to take advantage of the great opportunities to build bridges with others in the pursuit of creating a more perfect union.

Today, I’ll be spending the day with Reverend Anne-Marie Jeffery of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church to really invest in each other’s faith journeys. We want to hear more about how our faiths drive us and to use that energy to build bridges between our faith communities, by exploring our faith identities together and creating a space for interfaith couples to authentically explore the opportunities and challenges of bringing faith into their families. This is a way I am trying to live out the hopeful vision of dina de-malkhuta dina. The survival version is still embedded within me, that comes with being Jewish. But it shouldn’t stop me from embracing my land as fully as possible.

Kol Tuv,

Rabbi Ari Saks

Category : Rabbi Rabbi's Journal
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