Israeli Values Religious Voices

Letter 36 - R. Dr. Avital Hochstein

To the State of Israel and all its inhabitants,

We are a democratic country. The value of following the majority is central and basic, both in the Jewish world and in a democratic political system. In fact, it is one of the connecting values between Judaism and Democracy. In both these traditions, it is accompanied with a warning about unrestrained and unlimited use of it. 

In one of the most extreme tensions at the Beit Midrash, the value of following the majority is presented as a proper way to reach a human decision. "You already wrote on Mount Sinai in the Torah, 'after majority one should follow'", says R. Jeremiah (Babylonian Talmud, Baba Meziya 59, b). 

There is no question here. The majority determines. When there is a disagreement, or a question - the human majority is the legislator, and the means of decision. The voice of majority also leads to a Halachic ruling. 

The choice to decide by the majority is based on a biblical verse which is sited in the Talmud: “after majority one should follow” (Exodus 23, 2). 

That is the right thing to do, to follow the majority. 

A further study of the verse, attaches a warning sign to following the majority. Simultaneously, next to the unequivocal statement about the supremacy of the majority, it is written: “do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd” (Exodus 23, 2).

Same verse calls for the tendency of following the majority, but at the same time warns and says: Caution! Sometimes, the majority is a means of doing evil! The power of the majority may lead to a fight. 

The Torah and the Jewish tradition require a complex conduct regarding the majority. On one hand, to follow the majority and at the same time to be cautious from it. Brakes and balances are required all the time. On one hand “follow the crowd”, but be careful “not to follow the crowd in doing wrong”. 

In its typical way, the Torah calls us to avoid simplification, while the tradition demands of us complexity: not only “follow the crowd”, but cautiously, in order “not to follow the crowd by doing wrong”.


R. Dr. Avital Hochstein

R. Dr. Avital Hochstein, president of “Machon Hadar” in Israel, together with Hannah Safrai wrote the book “Women Out-Women In: The Place of Women in Midrash’”

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