This Shabbat:

Friday Candle Lighting: 5:14 pm
Shabbat Ends: 5:03 pm

Torah Message:

“Church and State”

“And these are the statutes…” (21:1)

The phrase “separation between Church and State” is generally traced to a January 1, 1802 letter by Thomas Jefferson, addressed to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut, and published in a Massachusetts newspaper. Jefferson wrote: “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”

Jefferson was echoing the language of the founder of the first Baptist church in America, Roger Williams, who had written in 1644: “A hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world.”

Judaism has never had this problem. It has always seen its job as bringing “the wilderness of the world” into “the garden of ‘the church’” and not let the world wander into greater and deeper wilderness.

“And these are the statues…”

Why are the laws of Judaism’s social contract juxtaposed with those of the rites of the Holy Altar in the Beit Hamikdash?, asks Rashi. He answers that the Torah is teaching us that the Sanhedrin, the supreme legislative body, should occupy a chamber adjacent to the Holy Altar.

Judaism sees no dichotomy between Divine service and the legislation of social conduct. They are both within the purview of faith without the need for walls or hedges.

Jefferson’s metaphor of a wall of separation has been cited repeatedly by the U.S. Supreme Court. In Reynolds v. United States (1879) the Court wrote that Jefferson’s comments “may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the (First) Amendment.” In Everson v. Board of Education (1947), Justice Hugo Black wrote: “In the words of Thomas Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect a wall of separation between church and state.”

In contrast to separationism, the Supreme Court of the United States in Zorach v. Clauson upheld accommodationism, holding that the nation’s “institutions presuppose a Supreme Being” and that government recognition of G-d does not constitute the establishment of a state church as the Constitution’s authors intended to prohibit. As such, the Court has not always interpreted the constitutional principle as absolute, and the proper extent of separation between government and religion in the U.S. remains an ongoing subject of impassioned debate.

  • Source: Based on the Avnei Ezel