This week’s Two Voices asks: how can the new Conservative government unify the country?

Rabbi Peter Tobias says…

Rabbi Pete Tobias

Rabbi Pete Tobias

Jewish tradition has never paid much heed to democracy. In the Bible (Numbers 16), Korach criticised the apparently autocratic rule of Moses and Aaron, claiming “all the people are holy”. This resulted in the earth opening up and swallowing Korach and his followers.

A few centuries later the Israelites, in a rare display of consensus, demanded the prophet Samuel place a king over them. Samuel warned that a king would exploit them and impose harsh taxes.

Briefly, the monarchy was successful and King David established a thriving empire, uniting the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. David’s son Solomon treated the northern tribes of Israel as Samuel had warned, however, and after his divisive rule the united kingdom split into north and south.

What lessons might be learned? The biblical view seems to be public opinion cannot be trusted, and the only power to submit to is divine not earthly.

This suggests that the duty of any government is to rule in a way that promotes a fair and just society. The task of the prophets in ancient Israel was to call to account any element of their biblical world that undermined that aim.

We, their descendants, must assume that prophetic role and continue to speak out in order to ensure that this country’s rulers fulfil that obligation. 

Pete Tobias is rabbi of the Liberal Synagogue Elstree

David Walsh says…

David Walsh

David Walsh

In the coming months, we will increasingly hear more about ‘British values’, as the government works to combat the threat of Islamist extremism amid increasing divisions in British society, both cultural and economic.

I am proud to say I see no conflict between the fundamental issues Jewish organisations advocate for and British values. Indeed, as British Jews we play a strong role in all aspects of public life while simultaneously maintaining a vibrant and diverse community of our own.

It could be argued, however, the government will need to do more than repeat vague notions of tolerance and fair play when asked what these values are.

As noble as these fundamental concepts are, they need to be furnished with a stronger sense of national identity which is not blind to the challenges and opportunities posed by the multicultural reality of our country today.

As a diverse community with our fair share of disagreements and factions yet with a truly cross-communal infrastructure, there is much the Jewish community can contribute to the debate through its own experiences. This is an opportunity for the progressives among us to reaffirm our commitment to truly liberal and instinctively British Jewish values.

David Walsh is a member of Leicester Progressive Jewish Congregation