Torah for Today: What the Torah says about Royal abdication

Torah for Today: What the Torah says about Royal abdication

Ariel Abel is rabbi of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation

By Rabbi Ariel AbelTorah For Today

Juan Carlos of Spain recently decided to step down on his 76th birthday and hand the throne to his son, Prince Felipe, 46.

There have reportedly been some controversial events in the rule of King Juan Carlos in recent times.

Last April, the king suffered a fall while out on a luxury expedition in Botswana, accompanied by a glamorous German princess for company. Other scandals have surrounded the royal family, but the king’s excesses at a time of national economic suffering proved unpopular.

What is the Torah’s view on abdication?

The principle of abdication was established by Moses. God commanded him to appoint Joshua as leader of Israel during his own lifetime. The career of Moses was plagued by opposition, both from within his own Levite tribe, and from the aristocracy of eight tribes who supported an alternative to Moses. When Moses laid both his hands upon Joshua’s head, he transferred not only spiritual but also political leadership to his control.

This laying on of hands, known in Hebrew as semicha, is the act of empowerment to lead, which in the case of a leader intimates abdication of authority to another, usually younger successor.

The term semicha is used nowadays to mean conferral of a rabbinic degree to a graduate from rabbinic school.

Arguably, there should be some element of abdication when this happens; the receiver of semicha should be good enough to represent and make decisions equal in authority to those of the masmich, the grantor of the semicha. If not, there may be a doubt over how genuine is the conferral of rabbinic authority.

When the people were angered by the corruption of the sons of Samuel the prophet, they demanded new leadership in the form of a king.

This is how Saul was chosen as the first king of Israel. King David decided to hand the throne to Solomon in his lifetime.

The motive was not simply to ensure the realm was bequeathed from father to son with warm hands. David had suffered rebellions at the hand of his own children who had tried to usurp him. For David, it was essential that he stabilise the kingdom, to avoid civil war breaking out on his death. The inheritance inter vivos by Solomon was a rare exception to the usual pattern of the father dying and the son taking over.

• Rabbi Abel will lead an interfaith afternoon session at Walford Road Synagogue, in Stoke Newington, on July 20, 6.30pm

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