Progressively Speaking: Is suspension of Parliament in line with Jewish values?

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Progressively Speaking: Is suspension of Parliament in line with Jewish values?

Student Rabbi Deborah Blausten takes at a topical issue and offers a Liberal Jewish response

Boris Johnson addresses a tense House of Commons (UK Parliament/PA Wire)
Boris Johnson addresses a tense House of Commons (UK Parliament/PA Wire)

With the prorogation of Parliament, a debate arises over whether suspending government business will ensure the democratic will of the people is carried out – or is actually an obstruction to democracy by an unelected minority seeking to do the opposite.

While democracy is not a Jewish principle, the notion that the majority’s voice has legal sway was established in Talmudic times.

In a famous rabbinic argument, Rabbi Yirimiya even dismisses God’s ability to intervene in democracy by explaining the Torah has already set out the principle that we follow the majority.

Exodus 23:2 states: “You shall not side with the majority to do wrong, you shall not give false testimony in a dispute so as to pervert it in favour of the majority.”

The Torah introduces two important caveats. The first explains that even if there is a majority decision, if it leads to harm it should be resisted.

In the second instance, we should be alert to false information that leads to a majority decision.

These caveats matter because they establish an important  idea- that our allegiance must be to higher principles than process.

When judging the actions of a government, we shouldn’t question only whether something is technically possible, but also whether that action jeopardises the government’s ability to perform its central duty of care to the citizens of a country.

With prorogation comes real concern that vital legislation may now not be heard – including the proposed Domestic Abuse bill.

Torah specifically mentions our duty to protect the widow, the orphan and the foreigner.

A shortened legislative window increases the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit, making the rights of EU citizens and the stability of the Irish border issues of particular concern.

The proroguing of Parliament could become a problem if it increases the risk of harm to the most vulnerable in society – and instead strengthens the cause of those willing to put politics and personality above their human and civic duty.

Deborah Blausten is a rabbinic student at Leo Baeck College

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