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Torah and civil law are the two legal codes that shape the lives of the Jewish people. While the Jews have often been accused of living “outside” civil law (of maintaining a separate communal legal system) this accusation directly contradicts the numerous ways in which Jewish law requires Jews to respect and obey civil law.

The most famous of these imperatives is the Talmudic statement: Dina d’malchuta dina,, which basically states that the law of the land is the law and must be followed. Obeying civil law is a mitzvah, except in cases where civil law might require one to transgress the Torah. In addition, obeying civil law means demonstrating respect for the country’s leadership (not liking them, just showing them respect). As Rabbi Yanni noted: “The fear of the dominant power should ever be before you, as it is written, ‘And all these your servants shall come down unto me, and bow down unto me saying…’ but he [Moses] did not say so of [the king] himself” (Menachot 98a).

Even as Moses stood before Pharaoh and foretold the destruction of his kingdom, he accorded Pharaoh respect by not including him among those who would be brought low. As wicked as Pharaoh had been, he was still Pharaoh, still the king of Egypt, and there was a proper way to address him. His royal status did not exempt him from punishment, nor did it mean that the slaves should not hate him, but it did require that he be treated with the respect owed a king.

Positions of hierarchy are natural in society. Someone has to be in charge. And, of course, the ultimate one in charge is God. Showing respect to the human ruler actually reflects the respect that one must accord to the ultimate King of kings.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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