The 5 Towns Jewish Times

Druze, the State of Israel and Halacha


By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

They number about a million or so, and are found throughout the middle east. They are persecuted in every country in which they reside except for Israel and Lebanon. They are the Druze, and they are now in the news.

Within Eretz Yisroel there are about 130,000 Druze – about thirteen percent of all worldwide Druze.  Throughout the years they have dedicated themselves to the protection of the citizens of Israel. Israeli Druze are drafted in the IDF and work for the police. Many strongly identify as Israeli. In Eretz Yisroel’s history, more than 500 Druze soldiers and police officers have been killed in the line of duty. They have risen to positions of military leadership. They have also served as senior ministers and diplomats. We may recall that a Druze police officer lost his life in the protection of Jews in the Har Nof Shul murders.

So why are they in the news?

Last month, the Knesset passed a law which was sponsored by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. The law endorsed Eretz Yisroel’s identity as the nation-state of the Jewish people. There was also something else. The law downgraded Arabic from an official language to one of “special standing.”  It also emphasized “developing Jewish settlement” as a national value.

And the Druze are protesting.

This past Motzei Shabbos, for example, tens of thousands of Druze Israelis and their Jewish supporters thronged a Tel Aviv square in a demonstration against the government policy. Some have pointed to the left wing politicians who have instigated the Druze against the law in an effort to help topple the Likud coalition.

Historically, the Druze are a small very secretive sect that started in the year 1000.  They splintered off from Shiite Islam, although Muslims consider them heretics.

Druze leaders have said that the law could be fixed by adding one clause: “equality for all citizens.”

Our question is: How does all this fit with halacha? The verse in Dvarim (17:15) states:  You may not place upon yourself a man who is a stranger, who is not of your brethren.”

Although contextually, the verse refers to a king, the Sifrei on Dvarim (157) states that it also refers to other positions of leadership, according to the text of the Vilna Gaon.  The Vilna Gaon’s text is the one that is most halachically reliable. The Midrash specifically includes police officers of the court, gabbai tzedakah, Sofrei HaDayanim and those that implement Beis Din’s punishments of whipping.

Indeed, the Talmud in Bava Basra 3b states that King Herod himself asked the Rabbis their interpretation of this verse. When they were completely forthcoming, he killed them all.

The Gemorah in Yevamos 45b gives us the parameters of the verse – it is sufficient to be considered brethren if one had a Jewish mother.

Ben Gurion had arranged that, technically speaking, the office of the president of Israel could be filled by a gentile, much to the halachic consternation of Rav Untermann and Rav Herzog (See Dr. Zerach Warhaftig, Chukah L’Yisroel, Daat UMedina p. 40).

The Rambam, however, in Hilchos Malachim 1:4 distinguishes between other forms of activities and the office of king. He permits, under certain circumstances, the other offices of leadership.

The Meiri in his chiddushim on Kiddushin 76b states that the prohibition is only when the decision making lay solely in his hands. However, if by bylaws he must consult with others – then the prohibition is not in force. Rav Eliezer Yehudah Waldenberg in his Hilchos Medinah page 127-129 uses this Meiri to permit gentiles in positions of authority.

Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe YD Vol. IV #26) distinguishes between positions of sherara – leadership forbidden on account of the Dvarim verse and other types of choice positions.  A Ger, who was not born to a Jewish mother, can thus serve in the capacity of a Rosh Yeshiva, while other positions of Sherarah are forbidden to him, according to Rav Feinstein.

Rav Yitzchok Herzog takes a different approach. He reasoned (page 207 of the aformentioned publication) that since this was necessary for the establishment of the state of Israel and its recognition by the nations of the world – it would be permitted on account of the notion of aiva – antisemitism or hate. Although there is no specific mention of this idea in any UN charter or law it is understood.

Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, in his disagreement with the Mishna Brurah regarding gentiles and chilul Shabbos, explains that aiva is no mere derabanan in contemporary times of mass communication.  It can lead to direct loss of Jewish life.

Rav Shaul Yisraeli in Chavas Binyamin p. 94 states that the prohibition is only in regard to positions that are inherited from father to son – but other positions do not involve this prohibition. Although this is an interesting approach – the fact that it is mentioned by no Rishonim or Acharonim makes it non-normative.

Rav Reuvain Katz, the Rav of Petach Tikvah, in his responsa Degel Reuvain Vol. II #25 writes that the prohibition is only when it is specific to be ruling over Jews but not to an administrative position. He therefore would permit appointing gentiles to be administrative or department heads.


No one is asking any Rabbinic opinion so far on the matter, but it is highly likely that Daas Torah may agree with the positions set forth by Rav Yitzchok Herzog and Rav Waldenberg. Certainly, the dedication of the Druze in saving lives of the citizens of Israel should be taken into consideration along with the initial rationalizations of Rav Herzog when these policies were first established. Although the passage of this law strengthens the Jewish connection to Eretz Yisroel, halachic leaders should be consulted as to whether it should be modified or not.  It seems that the modifications suggested by Druze leaders are not so removed and the Jewish nature of the democracy that Israel is can still be maintained.

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