It’s Good to Be King: The Monarch’s Role in the Mishna’s Political and Legal System

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Abstract: In contrast to various early rabbinic writings that equivocate about the status of the king, the Mishna displays a remarkably consistent, pro-monarchic orientation. Through recurrent comparisons between the king and the high priest, the Mishna projects both these figures as leading officials, while simultaneously distinguishing between their respective roles in the Jewish polity. The king’s autonomous executive responsibilities lie outside the legal sphere and at a distance from those of the judiciary and priesthood. What emerges is a distinctive administrative scheme that prevents the king from judging and, in many repects, limits the extent to which the court and the priesthood can govern. Through synoptic readings of select mishnaic passages against their parallels in the Tosefta, this article examines the Mishna’s conception of the monarchy relative to those other powers. Additional juridical, political, and histiographic implications are also discussed.

Biography: David C. Flatto is the inaugural Fellow of Jewish Law & Interdisciplinary Studies at Cardozo Law School, and will be a Visiting Researcher at Yale Law School for the 2007-08 academic year. He received rabbinical ordination from Yeshiva University, a J.D. from Columbia Law School, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Rabbinics at Harvard University.

Volume 2, Number 3 (Summer 2007) pp. 255-283