A Raison d’etre for a Future Israeli-Jewish Democracy

The new Israeli-Jewish entity wants to be recognized as a Jewish state and not only as a state for Jews. Therefore, it should also formulate a national covenant of destiny as the next stage in its development. Not only that, but it needs a covenant of destiny embodying a unique Israeli-Jewish and democratic destiny that will also be acceptable to the state’s non-Jewish minorities.

A covenant-of-destiny

During its first decades of independence, the State of Israel’s right to exist was based primarily on an unwritten covenant between most streams of Judaism. This covenant called for founding a national home with full sovereignty and independence to defend the Jews from future calamities – a kind of covenant of fate. However, to judge from similar processes undergone by other nations (for example, the Americans and the French) as their national aspirations coalesced, a fate covenant seems insufficient. Because the new Israeli-Jewish entity wants to be recognized as a Jewish state and not only as a state for Jews, but it should also formulate a national covenant-of-destiny as the next stage in its development. Not only that, but it needs a covenant-of-destiny embodying a unique Israeli-Jewish and democratic destiny that will also be acceptable to the state’s non-Jewish minorities.

The covenant-of-destiny should meet several criteria, otherwise, it will be an object of ridicule and summarily dismissed. It should, above all, be based on a new idea that will galvanize people. It should be encapsulated in two or three sentences at most and must be supported by a profound philosophical rationale that can be easily conveyed to the masses. Of particular importance is that the idea reflects values rooted in tradition, that it is relevant to the times, and that it resonates worldwide.

Based on these prerequisites, I would like to propose an idea for a national covenant-of-destiny informed by Jewish and universal values. The idea draws on two primary values of the era of modern nationalism. It can add a new element beyond the fundamental right to liberty, and it can refresh the democratic process by which liberty is realized in democracies – thereby making a unique contribution to the nations of the world.


The following proposal’s philosophical background is rooted in one of the central motifs of the nation-state where the people are sovereign. Human freedom is a fundamental principle of modern political thought. This principle holds that humans should not be viewed as means to ends defined by others but instead that each person is an “end” in himself. The right to freedom is a natural right inherent in personhood, and the government may not deny any person this right inasmuch as it does not have the power to confer it. According to this principle, all people have the right to make independent decisions about their personal lives, without interference on the part of external entities, and to live their lives as they see fit.

Process thinking

The proposed covenant-of-destiny is based on another core principle of modern political thought, that of the democratic process as consciously shaped by historical events. This principle draws on the paradigm of process thinking in history and new branches of science such as quantum physics. The paradigm holds that just as relationships define the core freedom of subatomic particles, so too do relationships define the core freedom of individuals in a nation-state. Without relationships, particles cannot exist, nor can individuals, and there is no real meaning to our liberty. This idea is also reflected in the name of God in Judaism – Yahweh, which embodies the Hebrew for “was” (hayah), “is” (hoveh), and “will be” (yehihyeh).

Collective freedom versus individual freedom

Process thinking can add yet another dimension to the idea of “individual freedom” that characterizes the twentieth-century sovereign democratic state. In nature, relationships are more important than individual components; likewise, individual liberty cannot be defined in terms of the individual’s rights vis-à-vis the government, as the philosopher John Locke saw it. According to Locke, the individual is the “goal” of the modern sovereign state, and it is on the basis of this principle that constitutions and laws are formulated and institutions established. In process thinking, by contrast, the relationship between individuals is the goal, as the individual on his own does not and, by nature, cannot exist.

A state can thus raise the relationships between its citizens to a higher level of importance, thereby increasing the creativity and freedom it gives them. In this sense, “individual freedom” as a modern democratic state’s covenant-of-destiny is merely the first stage of a long evolutionary process in which the human being realizes the principle of freedom in his sovereign country. The individual’s creativity and freedom can be increased if the freedom belongs to the collective and manifests in new and continuous relationships into which the individual enters with others. In this case, the relationships, not the individuals, become the center of gravity.

It may thus be proposed that Israel’s covenant-of-destiny and raison d’être, as a Jewish and democratic state among the nations, should be a slightly different version of freedom – different in terms of its nationalism. The covenant between the various segments of Israeli society should entail anchoring a somewhat different kind of freedom in the nation’s laws and institutions: “collective freedom.”

Societies based on “individual freedom” tend to become atomized. It is only a matter of time before the relationships between individuals in such societies break down, and the individual becomes the center of the system, unable to forge balanced relationships with others and disinclined to be aware of others or to take them into account. When all the individuals in a system think they are the absolute center, it is only a matter of time before competition over the center causes the entire system to collapse. By contrast, the concept of collective freedom does not see freedom as a static state isolated from the other parts of the system sustained by a functioning society but rather as a dynamic state of reciprocal ties between society’s different segments.

How Judaism defines the collective

The idea of collective freedom can be found in the Jewish canon. In universalist thought, “majority” denotes a situation where decisions are made for the good of one side, even if there is only a single-vote difference between the parties. In contrast to this common paradigm of “majority,” a covenant-of-destiny oriented toward collective freedom would require, in the case of a single-vote majority, proof of the quality of the relationships between the individuals who make up the collective.

“Majority” in this sense is comparable, in Jewish tradition, to the term tzibbur – the public. Sometimes a tzibbur numbers ten men or women, sometimes two, and sometimes three. In exceptional cases, even a single person can represent an entire tzibbur – it all depends on the quality and the purpose of the relationships that characterize that tzibbur.

Another example can be found in the laws of tumah and taharah – ritual impurity and purity. In antiquity, visitors coming to Jerusalem to perform Temple sacrifices during the three pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot had to ritually purify themselves to ascend the Temple Mount. But if a “majority” of the people, i.e., 50 percent plus one, were found to be impure, then according to the “majority” paradigm of our day, the entire congregation would have had to be considered impure and would have been forbidden from ascending. Nevertheless, the rabbis understood the concept of majority differently and ruled that the minority could purify the entire congregation, as the overall goal was more important. To avoid the harsh decree that everyone is impure and that no one may observe the commandment of pilgrimage, the rabbis “annulled” the impure majority and deemed the entire congregation automatically pure, according to the principle of tuma hutra ’b’tzibbur – that laws of purity are suspended in order to fulfill public offerings. In this case, the impure majority does not invalidate the ritually pure, but rather the opposite – the ritually pure minority purifies the impure majority.

And here is another example that illustrates the special character of collective freedom, already hinted at in the phrase that sets the Jewish people’s historical narrative in motion: Lekh lekha (commonly translated as “Go forth” but literally: “Go to/for yourself” – God’s command to Abraham in the Book of Genesis). Many have tried to illuminate the strange redundancy of this Hebrew command. One interesting explanation embodies the collective freedom paradigm, namely, that the “going” of lekh lekha constitutes a deep understanding of another term with the same Hebrew root – tahalikh or “process.” The story of the Jewish people begins when its patriarch Abraham is told to undertake a historical process at the end of which he would “be a blessing” and all the families of the earth “shall bless themselves” by him.

Richard Friedman found five different occasions where it is stated in the Torah that all the families of the earth will be blessed by the Jewish people. He noticed that this blessing appears whenever God reveals Himself to the three Patriarchs, as the purpose of the revelation. According to Friedman, there is no place in the Torah where God bothers to explain why He is revealing Himself, except when He appears to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. On all these occasions, He uses the same phrase – that all families of the earth “shall bless themselves by you” (Friedman, 2003, 49-50).

In his commentary on the Torah (Genesis 12:1-2), Friedman maintains that Jewish scripture never says what form that blessing will take. Are Abraham’s descendants supposed to bring blessings to the nations through their moral conduct and organizational or intellectual activity? Or are they supposed to do this through deeds beneficial to humanity, such as discoveries and inventions, medical developments, and contributions to poetry and music? Again, the Biblical text does not elaborate, but one thing is clear from the context in which this destiny appears: However, we interpret the purpose of Abraham’s descendants, it is closely related to the destiny of mankind. This explains the entire unfolding of Abraham’s journey, from the descent to Egypt and the encounter with world leaders to the difficult personal trial of the binding of Isaac, in whose wake the covenant with Abraham and his progeny is made. According to this covenant, a day would come when Abraham’s descendants would consolidate as a people, for their own good and for the good of all other nations.

The grammatical structure of the phrase “shall bless themselves by you” (nivrekhu) implies the ability to see processes in a sharper and more penetrating way. Rashbam (Rabbi Samuel ben Meir) provided a similar interpretation of nivrekhu, arguing that it comes from the root mavrikh. Havrakha, from mavrikh, is something done to plants in order to improve them. With trees, for instance, it means causing roots to sprout from a branch while it is still connected to the tree, so as to propagate a new tree. The branch is bent to the ground and covered with soil. In this way it renews itself, strikes roots, and creates life by means of the roots of the tree from which it still obtains its nourishment. After the new plant has become established, the branch is severed from the original tree and begins to feed itself from its new roots, which are usually stronger and more vigorous than those of the original tree. The term nivrekhu can also be understood as related to markiv or harkava – another horticultural technique in which the branch of one plant is connected to the stem of another to improve the original or to ensure the acquisition of certain qualities.

Thus, there appears to be something special in process thinking that can express collective freedom and guide a nation in a way that brings a blessing to all humanity. The collective freedom paradigm, emphasizing processes and relationships between individuals, can add value to the individual freedom paradigm in twenty-first-century democracies. It may also bridge the two absolute extremes of “individual” and “ruler” or “state.”

Renewed creativity

The covenant of destiny embodied primarily in individual freedom sparked far-reaching change in the history of many democratic peoples. It freed them from the tight grasp of tyrants and led to a flowering of liberty and creativity such as the world had never known: creativity expressed in the sciences, in technological innovation, and in improved living conditions. However, the side effects of this destiny are already starting to surface. The time has thus come to formulate a more sophisticated motif than that of individual freedom, which is slowly severing the individual from the thick and complex fabric of the collective and placing the individual above the collective in a way that threatens to shatter it. The Jewish-Israeli-democratic nation-state may offer a motif for the democratic nations, one in which the individual cannot be placed above everyone else, and must be enmeshed in wide-ranging and complex relationships with others if he is to stand on his own and define his identity in terms of the full array of relationships that he succeeds in forging.

A covenant between groups and individuals oriented toward collective freedom may proclaim loudly and clearly that its entire objective is to connect individuals and groups in remarkable ways. It may further proclaim that it will not suffice with compromise and balance between contradictory ideas or identifying the common ground between its participants. It may explicitly state its unwillingness to accept mere consensus as a basis for coexistence between groups that differ significantly one from the other. Just as a good relationship between two partners, and the quality of the connection between them, are determined by the frequency, rhythm, and diversity of their interactions, so may the frequency, breadth, diversity, and level of contact between individuals in a society lead to a burst of freedom and creativity that could not have appeared if each individual had stood on his or her own.

A covenant-of-destiny whose rationale is collective freedom could aspire to more deeply penetrate the common discourse between groups, so as to identify connections between ideas. It could be perpetually engaged in a quest for ways to create a whole that is greater than its many opposing parts. It could be mobilized, constantly and permanently, for the task of fusing different worldviews, sifting the wheat from the chaff and forging new outlooks capable of actualizing the positive aspects of each component and ejecting what is nonessential.

Above all, the collective is an essential element and a force multiplier. When a group is characterized by individual and collective freedom, when it invests in interactions and processes and constantly weaves relationships between its individual members, those members can advance together and thereby significantly improve the group’s chances of survival.

Work cited

Friedman, Richard Elliott (2003). Commentary on the Torah. Harper-One.

Professor David Passig is a futurist with expertise in predicting technological, social, and educational trends. He is a professor at Bar-Ilan University and head of the Virtual Reality and Education Laboratory in the University’s Faculty of Education.


This essay summarizes selected chapters from David Passig’s The Fifth Fiasco, or How to Escape the Traps of Jewish History in the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge Scholars in English and Yedioth Books in Hebrew, 2021).