Our Gemara on Amud Beis quotes a Mishna in Gittin (8:5)

If he wrote the date on the bill of divorce using a calendrical system that counts years in the name of a kingdom that is not legitimate…in all these case, the bill of divorce is not valid. 

According to Rashi on our daf, the definition of “a kingdom that is not legitimate” is the Roman government. Rashi references a Gemara in Avoda Zara (10a) that denigrates the legitimacy of the Roman rulership, in that they have no language nor script.  Meaning to say, they have no original language or script, but it is borrowed and adapted from other countries:

The verse relating a prophecy about Edom, associated with the Roman Empire: “Behold, I made you small among the nations” (Obadiah 1:2), is a reference to the fact that the Romans do not place on the throne as king the son of the king. The continuation of the verse: “You are greatly despised,” is a reference to the fact that the Romans have neither their own script nor their own language, but use those of other nations.   

The idea seems to be that there is a lack of roots to their culture.  Ben Yehoyada notes that it is not an accident that the issue of not having an original language or script is linked with not having a line of royalty.  In all three aspects, it speaks of a lack of grounding in tradition. Our sages believe that each of the Seventy Nations and Seventy Languages represent a character or quality that is necessary for God’s plan for the world (See for example 3:20a).  Thus, the Romans did not have a legitimate identity and role, but rather a mixed breed and hodge podge of qualities and attributes.  Likewise, not having a royal lineage, is also a lack of tradition and can disrupt a process of progress, culture and development that each nation is charged with.

However, we should also note that it is an incorrect notion to assert that the Torah is for absolute and slavish respect for tradition and honoring the past leadership by passing it down to the heirs.  There is a danger in automatically allowing rulerships and rabbinical positions to be passed down as a legacy from father to son.  At its best, a King or a Rav can properly teach his son wisdom and maintain the culture and integrity of the group by preparing him to be a worthy successor. Yet, at its worst, an undeserving and slothful son can use this assumed right as a way to seize power and respect instead of earning it.

There is a responsum of the Chasam Sofer (Orach Chayyim 12) which discussed a contentious situation between a son of a rav who was “heir to the throne” versus another rav who maintained he was a greater scholar and more deserving.  The actual case was complex, and involved many variables.  However, some of the salient points that the Chasam Sofer makes are as follows:

He starts with Quoting Rambam Laws of Kings 1:7, based on Kesubos 113b

If the king (dies and) leaves a young son, the monarchy is retained for him until he gets older, as Yehoyadah did with Yoash. Those who take precedence in (the laws of) inheritance, take precedence for succession to the throne; and the older son precedes the younger one. This is not only true for the monarchy but for all governing Positions and all appointments in Israel – a son inherits from his father, and so his son from him, forever. This is as long as the son follows in his father’s footsteps with regard to wisdom and awe. If the son was G-d-fearing but lacked wisdom, he is appointed to succeed his father, and trained. However, if he was not G-d-fearing, even though he was very wise, he is not appointed to a Position in Israel.

He also notes, based on a Gemara Rosh Hashanah 2b, that a Jewish King who heir to his father’s throne is appointed in Adar, not Nisan, in order to give a month to determine his fitness to reign. 

He says, the Romans were not criticized for the fact that they do not automatically appoint a prince to become king, as this is actually “close to the Torah way”, rather it is that they only follow the vote and do not consider giving precedence to an heir to the the throne who is ALSO worthy.

Even if the other rabbi is superior in learning to the Rav’s heir, if the town chose the rabbi’s son, their wish should be respected. And, finally he notes Rama (YD:245:22) that the Rabbi’s son has precedence so long as he is learned and God fearing, even if other candidates are superior.  However, if that town’s established custom is to elect a Rav instead of passing it along as a dynasty, then they may elect a rav of their choosing. 

We see, as is often in Torah philosophy, there are no absolutes. It is neither absolute monarchy nor absolute democracy.  Rather, there is great emphasis on legacy and preservation of tradition and culture, but not when the old guard is unworthy.


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Translations Courtesy of Sefaria, except when, sometimes, I disagree with the translation cool

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