THEOCRACY, literally the "rule of God," but generally applied to mean a state ruled by religious law. In the first century C.E. Josephus created the term "theocracy" to describe the people of Israel's polity. "Some peoples have entrusted the supreme political power to monarchies, others to oligarchies, yet others to the masses. Our lawgiver, however… gave to his constitution the form of what – if a forced expression be permitted – may be termed a 'theocracy,' placing all sovereignty and authority in the hands of God" (Apion, 2:165). That description is entirely accurate, if taken literally. The Torah repeatedly refers to God as the immediate ruler of the Jewish people and gives only passing attention to human self-rule in the form of a monarchy (Deut. 17:14–20). The Book of Joshua and particularly the Book of Judges depict a pure theocracy. The period of such direct divine rule was, however, limited. Divine sanction was given to the new monarchy, although the latter was said to imply a rejection of God's direct king-ship (I Sam. 8:7). From that time on, what is in effect Jewish theocracy is understood to be one of various forms of indirect divine rule, which generally acted through the official religious institutions. Thus, in the Second Temple era there were times when the high priesthood united political and religious power, as in the Hasmonean rulers. In such priestly rule, theocracy was transformed into heirocracy, a priestly rule. It may be contrasted with the nomocracy, in this instance rule by sacred law, of the post-Temple period. Josephus seems to have recognized this when he wrote, describing Torah law, "be content with this, having the laws for your masters and governing all your actions by them; for God sufficeth for your ruler" (Ant., 4:223). In the talmudic period and the Middle Ages the polity of the Jewish community, though built on religious law, was not   strictly speaking a theocracy since it was not ruled exclusively by the rabbis. In fact, there was continual tension between the rabbis and the lay leadership. -Contemporary Israel The question of the character of the Jewish polity, largely theoretical for nearly two millennia, became a matter of practical concern with the establishment of the State of Israel. Secularists and most non-Orthodox theoreticians have maintained that religious institutions in Israel should refrain from exercising a direct role in the government. The overwhelming majority of Orthodox thinkers have been willing to accept the essentially non-religious structure of the Jewish state, provided that Orthodoxy has certain political rights and power. A tiny minority, insisting upon a rigorous interpretation of God as sole ruler, rejects the present State of Israel as blasphemous and insists that a Jewish state can be established only with the coming of the king-messiah. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: Baron, Community, 2 (1942), 52–168; E. Borowitz, How Can a Jew Speak of Faith Today? (1969), 90–107; N. Rotenstreich, in: Judaism, 15 (1966), 259–83; A. Lichtenstein, ibid., 15 (1966), 387–411. (Eugene B. Borowitz)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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