Is there a halakhic consensus on politics? Is it a materialistic distraction or a furtherance of HaShem’s creation? Does halakha recommend, accommodate or reject the involvement of a Jew in public affairs which involves goyim? My understanding is that Jews ideally do not engage the wider world except for necessary transactions. On the other hand, would the fact that most Eastern European Jews rounded up and murdered by the Germans had probably never met a German in their entire lives up to this event necessitate reinterpretation?
Shalom Jon! Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook would often say that politics in the context of a Jewish State is “Godly Politics”. The welfare of each and every Jew, the Israeli national security and economy, even the national budget, are all halachic, Godly and idealistic issues, and surely not “materialistic distractions”. They not only are the “furtherance of HaShem’s creation”, but the essence of creation! Rav Yisrael Salanter, is quoted as saying that “my fellow-Jew’s materialism is my spirituality!”, for being altruistic is to be Godly, and how much more so on a national level. As a matter of fact, this type of national and military politics is exactly what preoccupied our spiritual heroes who we are meant to emulate (!) as the ideal Jews, like Moshe and Joshua, Kings David and Solomon, Samson, Gidon and Yiftach, all the way down to the Maccabees and Rabbi Akiva (who led the Bar Kochba rebellion for national independence). These halachot, of how to run a moral and Godly economy, army, and politics are detailed extensively in Hilchot M’lachim (“The Laws of Kings”) in the Rambam, and one of the major challenges of modern rabbis and poskim (most notably, Rabbis Kook, Goren and Herzog and Machon Tzomet, see http://www.zomet.org.il/Eng/?CategoryID=275), is how to implement these laws and ideals in a modern Jewish democracy. Rav Kook explains that this is exactly the ideological reason why God created Israel as a nation, with a land, language, economy and army, and not just a religion (Orot p. 104). On the other hand, if you’re asking regarding the involvement of Jews in non-Jewish politics in the countries of exile, Jews are really not meant to be living there. The Bible teaches us that we were exiled as a temporary punishment, that we shouldn’t feel too permanent there, and that living like a different minority among a majority is inevitably, sooner or later, going to lead to anti-Semitism and/or assimilation (see Vayikra 26; Dvarim 28; Ezekial 20, 32, etc). Especially when we’re talking about Jews who are a particularly visible and vocal minority, who, like our aforementioned forefathers, often lead revolutionary, economic and social movements to “fix the world” (Tikun Olam), like Karl Marx (socialism), Leon Trotsky (communism), Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem (feminism), Bob Dylan and Abby Hoffman (anti-war), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Larry Page and Sergey Brin (founders of Google), which easily cause antagonistic opposing opinions, even animosity or jealousy, among gentiles. Despite Alan Dershowitz’s theory that “chutzpa” can prevent anti-Semitism, Jews generally were advised by our sages to keep a low profile in exile (“Don’t be known to the authorities”, Avot 1, 10; “Be wary of the authorities”, ibid, 2, 3.). Daniel was forced by the gentile kings to advise them, yet he was punished by God for giving good advice (Daniel 4; Baba Batra 4), and the jealousy of the competing gentile advisors led to his being thrown into the lions’ den. The absurd exaggerated affliction of Jonathan Pollard (like Alfred Dreyfuss), and the disproportionate involvement of Jews in pre-Holocaust German and Soviet politics, prove that democracy and modernism haven’t solved the recurrent problem, foreseen in the Torah as inevitably part of exile. Despite David Luchins, gentiles are correct that Jews don’t belong in their countries, and that it’s “their” politics, not ours. If there are negative repercussions to a certain political policy we take in America, the Jews can, and will, get up and go elsewhere (hopefully to Israel!), and leave the remaining problems for the “hometown” gentiles to solve. That’s immoral and wrong- especially now that we have our own homeland and State of Israel. R. Ya’akov Emdin (Siddur Beit Ya’akov p.13), the Chatam Sofer, (Resp. Y.D. 138), and many others warn of the prohibition and danger of feeling secure and “at home” in any exile and the consequential problem of forgetting that we are just guests, and supposed to be in Israel. The famed Or Same’ach wrote prophetically in his Meshech Chochma (VaYikra 26,42), that those Jews who mistakenly feel that Berlin is their Jerusalem will unfortunately, have to be uprooted by a terrible storm, because otherwise they will stay there and won’t want to return home to Israel. In short, Jews are definitely meant to be involved in politics, but just as definitely, this must be done in the context of the Jewish State of Israel. Only here we can and will be “a light for the nations”, and that’s always (!) the context of this term “L’Or Goyim” (see Isaiah 42 and 49)- not as individuals living among gentiles, but as a unique nation in the Land of Israel, for other nations to emulate. Thank God we live in a time when this is once again, possible. Rabbi Ari Shvat