Jewish Monarchy

  • Rav Moshe Taragin

The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash


Jewish Monarchy

By Rav Moshe Taragin


Part I: Kingship and Dynasty

One of the often overlooked motifs of Chanuka is the concept of malkhut - monarchy. The Rambam (Hilkhot Chanuka 3:1) points out that aside from the military victory, the miracle of the oil, and the re-purification of the Temple, Chanuka marked the miracle of restoration of Jewish monarchy (if only briefly). This article will explore a central question regarding Jewish malkhut.

The Rambam (Sefer Ha-mitzvot 173) and many other list the mitzva of appointing a king as a positive commandment. (This in itself is subject to dispute - see Afterword.) The Chinukh (mitzva 497) agrees with the Rambam, and adds a startling comment. He believes that minui ha-melekh (appointing a king) is a mitzva which applies in all generations - a position which elicits wonderment from the later commentators. Indeed, the Rambam himself cites the Sifri teaching that monarchy is automatically passed from father to son! Certainly, then, since David was already anointed and his line of succession has been interrupted, there can be no future scenario wherein the fulfillment of this mitzva could arise. Thus, appointing a king cannot be considered an eternal mitzva!

The Chinukh himself recognizes this question and solves the problem by radically broadening the scope of the mitzva of minui melekh. Though his position is fascinating, it is not our focus here. Instead, we will assume a more narrow understanding of minui melekh in our attempt to deal with the aforementioned question: how can we classify the mitzva of appointing a king as eternal if the dynasty automatically passes from father to son?

What is the necessary methodology in order to approach this question? First, we must make a closer inspection of the issue of malkhut. Moreover, we will isolate TWO dimensions to malkhut - one which indeed is hereditary and one which requires a formal act of appointment.

This multi-faceted nature of malkhut can be glimpsed by examining two disparate passages in the Talmud Yerushalmi.

The Yerushalmi in Rosh Hashana (1:1) asserts that David did not retain the status of king during the six months he was on the run from Avshalom and his mutinous crew. Hence, had he sinned during that period, David would have offered the standard "chatat" sacrifice of an ordinary man rather than the special "chatat" which a king is obligated to bring. This implies that, lacking a national consensus, David temporarily lost his status as king (see Afterword).

If so, we might expect that the status automatically transferred to his rival - Avshalom. Yet, the Yerushalmi in Sanhedrin (2:1) does not concur. It maintains that since Avshalom captured David's concubines, David was not allowed to return to them after reassuming the throne. The Yerushalmi explains: a utensil which was exploited by a common man (hedyot) is now considered unfit for royal use. Hence, Avshalom was not considered a king during these six months despite the popular support he enjoyed. If Avshalom wasn't king and David wasn't king - who was the king?

The answer to this question lies in differentiating between two aspects of malkhut. There is clearly a concept of royalty as it relates to an individual. In classical "lomdish" language, this would correspond to the "gavra" of a king. He has certain laws which relate to him, and to us: if he sins he brings a special sacrifice; he has a special prohibition against taking too many wives and acquiring too many horses in his entourage; he must write a second Sefer Torah; we must fear him. Basically, all the laws enumerated in parashat Shoftim apply to someone who is considered as an individual to be king.

There is, however, a second dimension. Another concept of malkhut exists: a dynasty which passes through the generations as a political institution which continues independently of any particular monarch who may come from that dynasty. For example, the Tudor dynasty was an independent political entity which happened to be represented by various kings in particular eras. Thus, the king and the dynasty he represents are NOT the same. When Yaakov, in parashat Vayechi, awards dynasty to Yehuda, he is referring to malkhut - the chain of royalty, and not to any particular king.

So with regard to David and Avshalom, during those six months there might not have been any individual occupying the office of king. As such, neither David nor Avshalom would bring a special chatat sacrifice. However, though there was no king, there certainly was an enduring "malkhut Beit David" (Davidic dynasty) which lasted through the mutiny and through the suspension of David's particular status as king. Thus, malkhut can exist independently of the melekh and even when there is no melekh.

Returning to our original question regarding appointment, the same division applies. When the Rishonim discuss the inherited nature of kingship, they are clearly referring to malkhut: royal dynasty passes from father to son. However, a PERSON does not actually become a KING until he is officially appointed. In fact, the source for the hereditary nature of monarchy - the Sifri - reads as follows: "If the father dies, APPOINT his son in his place." The very source for the hereditary nature of malkhut demands a formal appointment process. Even though the child inherits the dynasty and the institution of malkhut, he isn't personally considered a KING until he has an official appointment. Until then, he is merely the king-designate.

We find two halakhic confirmations of this principle that even an individual who is designated to be king through the laws of inheritance is not officially considered the king until he is formally appointed. First, the gemara in Rosh Hashana (2b) discusses the manner in which contracts are dated based upon the year of the king's reign. The gemara deliberately informs us that if the king is only appointed after Nissan, even though he was already selected during the previous year, we can only date our document as "in the first year of so-and-so's reign." Evidently, though he had already wrapped up the nomination, he cannot be officially considered king, and the era of his reign does not commence until he is formally appointed.

Similarly, we notice a parallel situation in Horayot (10a) where the mishna outlines the special chatat sacrifice which a king brings if he sins. The mishna compares this with the special sacrifice a kohen gadol (high priest) brings if he sins. In either case, the mishna determines, if they had sinned before they were appointed and then were appointed - they bring a "commoner's" sacrifice; they bring the special sacrifice only if they sinned after their official appointments. This mishna bears witness, as well, that the official status as a GAVRA of melekh is only conferred by official appointment.

INTERIM SUMMARY: Indeed, malkhut (in the sense of dynasty) passes through inheritance, but that doesn't obviate the need for a formal appointment process to confer the personal status of a particular king and the various halakhot which are dependent upon that status. We were able to detect these dual strata by carefully reading two passages in the Yerushalmi.

If indeed there are two distinct planes to monarchy - the personal status of king and the institutional entity of royal dynasty - we might expect differences in the way each is generated. In other words, their different essences might be reflected in the differing manner in which they are each originated. Indeed, a process of minui (appointment) is necessary both to generate malkhut, as well as to designate a melekh. But as the processes are triggering dissimilar entities, there should be incongruities between them. A careful inspection provides three such discrepancies.

1. Who performs the appointment?

The Rambam (Hilkhot Melakhim 1:3) requires that anointing a king for the first time requires both the High Court as well as a prophet. Howev, when the Rambam lists the appointment of subsequent kings (Hilkhot Sanhedrin 5:1), he describes a procedure requiring only the High Court - implying that a prophet is unnecessary. Apparently, the Rambam distinguished between the appointment of a melekh and creation of the concept of malkhut; that latter not only requires the High Court to represent the entire nation, but also a prophet. This verifies that true monarchy is only in God's hands (as we say on Rosh Hashana, "He coronates kings, but the Kingship is His") and He, through his prophet, is the one who must confer kingship upon humans. Once malkhut is a reality and we must only designate an individual as the representative of that dynasty, the High Court suffices.

2. Does the process include anointment or merely appointment?

The Yerushalmi in Shekalim (6:1) as well as the Bavli in Horayot (11b) determine that the initial appointment of a king must be performed by anointment with shemen ha-mishcha (anointing oil). The appointment of a "melekh ben melekh," a son succeeding his father, however, does not require oil. The discrepancy in terms of the technique of minui might indicate the difference between generating malkhut (which requires actual anointment) and merely naming a king (which doesn't).

Interestingly enough, there are two possible sources for this distinction. The Bavli in Horayot first derives it from a verse in Shemuel where God told Shemuel to anoint David "for he is the one." From this, Chazal infer: THIS ONE requires anointment, but not future kings who inherit the throne. Alternatively, the Bavli lists a second source (which the Rambam in Hilkhot Klei Ha-mikdash 1:11 draws from). The verse in parashat Shoftim, "so that the monarchy should endure," is an allusion to the fact that the throne is inherited. From this, Chazal learn that only the first king requires anointment and not those who inherit the throne. Again, the very verse which establishes the inheritance of malkhut excludes "melekh ben melekh" from anointment. This suggests that the lack of anointment isn't merely a formal issue but reflects the fact that the appointment itself is less dynamic; malkhut already exists - we are only selecting a melekh.

3. When a melekh ben melekh is anointed, what oil is used?

The gemara in Horayot posits that when there is a dispute over the throne, even a melekh ben melekh requires anointment. Here we have a disagreement among the commentators about the meaning of this exception. Rashi (Keritut 5b) maintains that the dispute actually suspends the MALKHUT, requiring a new genesis of malkhut. This further demonstrates that the endurance of MALKHUT is dependent upon national consensus. According to Rashi, there is little difference between the original anoinment of David and the anointment of a melekh ben melekh during times of dispute. In each case we anoint with the special "anointing oil" of the Temple, for in each case we are generating malkhut afresh.

The Rambam, however, distinguishes between these cases. In both Hilkhot Melakhim (1:12) and Hilkhot Klei Ha-mikdash (1:11) he explains that this exceptional anointment of melekh ben melekh in times of dispute is merely presentational. It is intended to create a public spectacle to generate support for the king and to rebuff his competitors. It isn't a substantive anointment but a political one. If so, we would expect that the anointing oil of the Temple not be used for this "show." Check the Rambam carefully in his statements in Hilkhot Klei Ha-mikdash - his formulation might confirm this distinction.

Part II: Separating the Strands

In Part I, we established the distinction between the categories of "melekh" and of "malkhut" - the former represents an individual occupying an office, and the latter represents the institution or dynasty itself. Whenever one distinguishes between two categories, which generally overlap but theoretically are distinct, one must conduct a test to determine that they can exist independently of each other. If they cannot, then it is possible that they aren't actually different but represent slightly different terms for the same concept. To verify that an authentic distinction exists rather than merely a semantic one, ideally some independence between the two categories should be sought. Sometimes they will not both be independent - only one aspect can exist independently. For logical purposes this is sufficient, since they are necessarily distinct.

To a degree we already witnessed the independence of malkhut from melekh. We considered two instances in which malkhut existed though there was no melekh. One case was the period prior to the actual appointment of a king during which, according to the gemarot in Rosh Ha-shana and Horayot, the king doesn't actually have a halakhic status of melekh. In addition, we noticed that according to the Yerushalmi, during the six-month political upheaval of Avshalom, neither David nor Avshalom was considered king, although the malkhut continued uninterrupted. Can we discover additional examples of malkhut without a melekh?

One such example readily presents itself from another gemara in Horayot (10a). According to this gemara, when a king is afflicted with tzara'at (which according to Chazal is equivalent to death) he loses his status of a king (reflected by the fact that he brings a commoner's chatat rather than the special offering of the king). The gemara cites the proof from Yotam, whose father Azarya was struck with tzara'at. During this period, since Azarya's status as king was suspended, his son Yotam handled his judicial duties. Here we notice again that a melekh's status is suspended without his successor actually ascending the throne as the next king. The verse relates that Yotam assumed only his father's judicial chores - he did not become the king until his father actually passed away. Here is another instance of malkhut which endures even during a period where there is no person representing that malkhut as melekh.

The Rambam provides another blatant case of malkhut independent of melekh. In Hilkhot Melakhim (1:7) he concludes that if the deserving primary inheritor is still a minor at the moment of the previous monarch's death, we reserve the throne for him until he matures. Until that point in time there is no one sitting on the throne occupying the office of king; despite this absence, the malkhut itself endures - no new anointment is necessary to jump-start the malkhut once the boy matures. The malkhut was abiding even without a melekh representing it and doesn't have to be regenerated.

The Minchat Chinukh provides a fascinating scenario which might comprise another case of malkhut without melekh. The Sifri determines from the verse, "You shall place upon yourself a king," that a woman cannot become king - "melekh ve-lo malka." What happens, the Minchat Chinukh asks, if there are no male inheritors to the throne and the only remaining relative is a woman? Would she inherit the throne? The Minchat Chinukh raises this question despite the specific verse which prevents a woman from becoming melekh. Evidently, if this case would ensue, she would not be considered a melekh - as the verse underlines. She would, however, inherit the malkhut - and pass it on to her children. We then would arrive at a scenario of an existing malkhut without a specific melekh.

This statement of the Minchat Chinukh opens an interesting Pandora's box. The Sifri lists several criteria for the person who would be king. For example, his mother must be Jewish - i.e. he cannot be a convert, nor the son of a convert. What would happen if a convert would be appointed king in violation of this rule? (According to many commentators, such an event actually occurred: Rechavam the son of Shlomo was the child of Na'ama Ha-amonit.) Would we maintain along the lines of the Minchat Chinukh that while he doesn't occupy the official office of melekh because he doesn't meet the full criteria, he nonetheless possesses malkhut - in terms of transferring the dynasty to his children? The Minchat Chinukh, who partially validates femrepresentatives of malkhut, invites us to consider other exclusions and whether they are excluded entirely or merely precluded from acting as official melekh but capable of passing the office to their inheritor.

INTERIM SUMMARY: We have managed to isolate cases where malkhut continues even though there is no melekh. In some instances the melekh is suspended, in others he has yet to be appointed, in still others the person occupying the throne does not acquire the halakhic status of melekh. In all these cases the independent entity of malkhut endures.

What about the reverse case? Can there be a melekh even though there is no malkhut? At first glance such a case seems not to be feasible. If there is no political institution of malkhut, there is certainly no representative melekh! A closer consideration yields one notable example. Let us turn our attention to the concept of malkhut Yisrael.

Throughout the gemara we pick up hints that monarchs from the greater Jewish nation, though they were not part of the House of David which was guaranteed malkhut, were still considered halakhically legitimate kings. Take, for example, the gemara in Horayot (13a) which declares, "The entire nation of Israel is suitable to be king." In Horayot (11a) the gemara declares that both "Davidic Kings" as well as "Kings of Yisrael" (the Northern Empire which split from the Southern, Davidic kingdom in the days of the first Temple) bring special chatat sacrifices if they sin. This indicates that each of them enjoyed the status of king.

In general, we find all the laws of kings applied to kings of Yisrael as well. The gemara in Ketubot (17a) discusses the priority a king has to cross an intersection or use a road before a funeral procession or a wedding procession. The gemara seeks to disprove this by citing the example of Agrippas (a non-Davidic king) who allowed a funeral procession to precede him. Tosafot (Sanhedrin 20b) extend royal authorities to Achav who also hailed from non-Davidic roots. The Rambam in particular confers upon the king of Yisrael all the rules of a Davidic sovereign - "all the mitzvot of kingship apply to him." Evidently, non-Davidic rulers have the status of king. Yet there are conflicting signals as well.

The Mekhilta (parashat Bo) informs us, "Until David was chosen, all Jews were worthy for royalty; once he was chosen, all the rest of the nation was excluded." Even more startling are the statements of the Rambam himself (Sefer Ha-mitzvot, prohibition 362): "Anyone who comes from a family other than the house of Shlomo ... in terms of malkhut is considered a foreigner (nokhri) just as anyone who isn't a kohen is considered a stranger (zar) in terms of service in the Temple." With this, the Rambam extends the prohibition of "You may not appoint upon yourself a foreign man (ish nokhri)," which conventionally is taken to mean that you may not appoint a Gentile or a convert as king, to include non-Davidic appointments. He equates non-Davidic kings with non-kohanim - in each case underscoring their utter incompatibility or incongruity with the particular office. Similar sentiments and similar exclusion of non-Davidic kings can be found in the Rambam's Commentary to the Mishna (Sanhedrin 2:3). This apparently contradicts what was stated earlier that "kings of Yisrael" have the status of king and that all the laws of royalty apply to them!

Possibly, the solution to this famous contradiction lies in the distinction between malkhut and melekh. Clearly, the personal status of melekh, which determines a range of halakhot, can apply even to a non-Davidic individual. There is no question that he can serve as a halakhic melekh. Melekh, however, but not malkhut. The concept of malkhut was promised to David, and once he was chosen all other families were excluded from dynastic ownership of the throne (see especially Rambam, Hil. Melakhim 1:7,9). There is no background malkhut outside of the House of David even though the personal status of melekh applies.

When the Rambam describes the status of non-Davidic kings as "nokhri," he clearly stresses their exclusion from the concept of malkhut. The same language can be found in Hilkhot Melakhim (1:8-9) when he says that even though a monarch of the Northern Kingdom has legitimacy, nevertheless "MALKHUT primarily belongs to the House of David." There can be a melekh from other tribes, but no family dynasty which sees the throne pass eternally through the family. Indeed, throughout Tanakh we notice that children of malkhei Yisrael inherited their father's throne. This does not reflect the presence of malkhut - a dynastic political entity which automatically passes through the generations. Instead, it reflects another halakha - any public position is inherited by a son (known as the law of serara). The office of king is no worse than any other position and is hereditary. This does not, however, constitute malkhut, which is a familial reality independent of any particular individual. Malkhei Yisrael seem to present an instance of melekh without malkhut.

A second example of melekh without malkhut might relate to the Nasi, the Jewish "prince" - the reigning Jewish leader at times when Jewish sovereignty was absent. He was afforded the status of king regarding several laws - among them he is required to offer the special chatat sacrifice of a melekh. This suggests a partial status of melekh. Yet once the malkhut had been suspended, as it was at the time of destruction of the Temple, it would be very difficult to conceive of an enduring concept of malkhut. The Nasi might reflect an additional instance of melekh without a malkhut.

We have thus proven that malkhut and melekh are mutually independent categories, each capable of existing in the absence of the other.


I. A common solution to an apparent contradiction is the splitting of a concept into two components. This is a very elegant way of resolving any contradiction. It is commonly known as "two laws" ("tzvei dinim" in yeshiva jargon).

II. Inspect the generative process to detect dissimilarities which mirror the essential differences. If malkhut and melekh are truly different, they should be triggered in different manners.

III. Once you establish your two dinim, test whether they are truly independent of each other. Can one exist without the other and vice versa?


There is understandably much to discuss in terms of the role of a melekh and most importantly whether the very appointment of a monarch is beneficial or undesirable. In terms of an issue raised in the article - the role of public consensus for monarchy to be valid - see Tosafot, Sanhedrin 20b, and Rashi on Bereishit 49:8.


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