Monarchical Legitimacy

Michael Walzer, The Jewish Political Tradition

[A king] participates in the work of the court, and he is subject to its judgements. But this subjection depends on his own agreement: the king is subject only if he subjects himself, which only Davidic kings are imaged to do.


When [a non-Davidic] king defies the court, as Yannai did and as others are expected to do, the ideal structure collapses; there is no restraint at all on a ruler who refuses to be restrained.

Moshe Halbertal and Stephen Holmes, The Beginning of Politics: Power in the Biblical Book of Samuel

Hierarchically organized power is defined by the power-wielder's capacity to act from a distance. Delegation involves the capacity to create extended causal chains, embroiling and implicating multiple subordinates whose actions radiate downward from an apex or outward from a center. The longer the chain, the greater the power of the sovereign who acts invisibly through its multiple links. It is as if the arm of the sovereign literally reached its remote objective through a succession of proxies carrying out his commands.

(יד) כְּלָלוֹ שֶׁל דָּבָר כָּל דִּין שֶׁיַּחְקֹק אוֹתוֹ הַמֶּלֶךְ לַכּל וְלֹא יִהְיֶה לְאָדָם אֶחָד בִּפְנֵי עַצְמוֹ אֵינוֹ גֵּזֶל. וְכָל שֶׁיִּקַּח מֵאִישׁ זֶה בִּלְבַד שֶׁלֹּא כַּדָּת הַיְדוּעָה לַכּל אֶלָּא חָמַס אֶת זֶה הֲרֵי זֶה גֵּזֶל. לְפִיכָךְ גַּבָּאֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ וְשׁוֹטְרָיו שֶׁמּוֹכְרִים הַשָּׂדוֹת בְּמַס הַקָּצוּב עַל הַשָּׂדוֹת מִמְכָּרָן מִמְכָּר. אֲבָל מַס שֶׁעַל כָּל אִישׁ וְאִישׁ אֵינוֹ גּוֹבֶה אֶלָּא מִן הָאָדָם עַצְמוֹ וְאִם מָכְרוּ הַשָּׂדֶה בְּמַס שֶׁעַל הָרֹאשׁ הֲרֵי זֶה אֵינוֹ מִמְכָּר אֶלָּא אִם כֵּן הָיָה דִּין הַמֶּלֶךְ כָּךְ:

(14) The general principle is: Any law that a king decrees to be universally applicable, and not merely applying to one person, is not considered robbery. But whenever he takes from one person alone in a manner that does not conform to a known law, but rather seizes the property from the person arbitrarily, it is considered to be robbery. Therefore, the king's dues collectors and his officers that sell fields with a defined tax on the fields, their sale is valid. But a personal tax is only collected from the person himself, and if they sold the field with a personal tax, behold this is not a valid sale unless the king has decreed that it is.

Naphtali Tzvi Judah Berlin, Ha'amek Davar, Deuteronomy 17:14

Some states cannot tolerate a monarchic regime, whereas others, without a monarch, would be like a ship without a captain. An issue like this cannot be decided by the binding force of a positive commandment. For matters of collective policy involve [dealing with] life-threatening situations in which positive commandments are overridden. Therefore, there can be no definite imperative to appoint a king, as long as the people have not consented to the monarchic yoke through seeing the surrounding nations being governed more adequately [by kings]. Only then is there a positive commandment upon the Sanhedrin to appoint a king ... It is for this reason that for three hundred years, while the tabernacle resided in Shilo, there was no king, [i.e.,] for lack of the people's consent.

אמר רבי יצחק אין מעמידין פרנס על הצבור אלא אם כן נמלכים בצבור שנאמר ראו קרא ה׳ בשם בצלאל אמר לו הקדוש ברוך הוא למשה משה הגון עליך בצלאל אמר לו רבונו של עולם אם לפניך הגון לפני לא כל שכן אמר לו אף על פי כן לך אמור להם הלך ואמר להם לישראל הגון עליכם בצלאל אמרו לו אם לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא ולפניך הוא הגון לפנינו לא כל שכן

With regard to Bezalel’s appointment, Rabbi Yitzḥak said: One may only appoint a leader over a community if he consults with the community and they agree to the appointment, as it is stated: “And Moses said unto the children of Israel: See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel, son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah” (Exodus 35:30). The Lord said to Moses: Moses, is Bezalel a suitable appointment in your eyes? Moses said to Him: Master of the universe, if he is a suitable appointment in Your eyes, then all the more so in my eyes. The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to him: Nevertheless, go and tell Israel and ask their opinion. Moses went and said to Israel: Is Bezalel suitable in your eyes? They said to him: If he is suitable in the eyes of the Holy One, Blessed be He, and in your eyes, all the more so he is suitable in our eyes.