Remembering each and every person who was lost, may their memory be a blessing.
Dedicated by Mina and Suzanne Goodman

Day 37

Jews and Good Citizenship

In loving memory of Michael Berman by his wife Esther, children and grandchildren.

Can we learn how to be good citizens by studying canonical Jewish texts? In a tradition as rich and diverse as our own, something can always be found. But it may be that in its mainstream thinking, we will find very little. We must take that risk; we must be ready to acknowledge the possibility of a lack. What do we mean by “good citizen”? Do we mean: A law-abiding person, paying his taxes, deferring to legitimate authority, not causing any trouble? Call this the “passive or minimal good citizen.” Or do we mean: A person realising himself in his contribution to public affairs, and participating as one among equals in the governing of his society? Call this the “active or maximal good citizen.” Each conception has its champions. On the first, minimal conception of the good citizen, the Jewish tradition has much to say. How might the prudent Jewish subject best relate to the ruling powers? Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) gives our tradition’s most considered answer. In summary, he should pay his taxes and keep his distance. In the language of the tractate itself: “Love work and despise mastery; do not make your- self known to the government; if you cannot avoid contact with it, be cautious, because it is not your friend; but pray for its welfare, for it is only fear of it that stops men swallowing each other alive.” If the Pirkei Avot Jew has a favoured political form, it is hereditary monarchy. But he is in his heart apolitical, and he has his gaze fixed on messianic days. So far from regarding politics as a vocation, he regards political (and commercial) cares as burdens, which it is the merit of Torah study to ease.


Anthony Julius

Anthony Julius is a British lawyer and academic, known for his actions on behalf of Diana, Princess of Wales, Deborah Lipstadt, and Heather Mills. He is Deputy Chairman for the London law firm Mishcon de Reya.

Fact of the Day

September 19, 1941 – Jewish badge law

After the German invasion of Poland in 1939 there were initially different local decrees requiring Jews to wear a distinctive sign, during the General Government. The sign was a white armband with a blue Star of David on it, in the Warthegau* a yellow badge in the form of a Star of David on the left side of the breast and on the back. The requirement to wear the Star of David with the word Jude (German for Jew) inscribed in faux Hebrew letters was then extended to all Jews over the age of six in the Reich and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (by a decree issued on September 19, 1941, signed by Reinhard Heydrich) and was gradually introduced in other German-occupied areas, where local words were used (e.g., Juif in FrenchJood in Dutch).

*Warthegau was a Nazi German administrative subdivision formed from Polish territory annexed in 1939. It comprised the Greater Poland and adjacent areas.

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Today's Video

Jerry Meents talks about how refusing to wear the yellow star on their clothing meant being sent to the concentration camps. He describes the difference between a concentration camp and an extermination camp.

70 Days for 70 Years is a project of The United Synagogue