The Biblical 4th of July: Perek HaMelekh (Passage on the King)

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Perek HaMelekh (Passage on the King) and the 4th July

On occasions when I have been in a position to shape celebration of the Fourth of July in a Jewish context (such as the ALEPH Kallah some summers, or Elat Chayyim retreat center), I have encouraged a special Torah reading to celebrate this holy day not as a US national independence day, but as the day of the Declaration that all men [sic; but the assertion itself called forth transcendence of its own limitations] have rights, that governments exist to protect these rights, and that the powers of kings and other governors are limited.

What we have done is read the Perek HaMelekh (Passage on the King) passage from Deuteronomy, calling all present up for the aliyah; and then read the main parts of the Declaration of Independence as haftarah; and then invite midrashic responses and reinterpretations to both, out of our own historical and contemporary experience. (For example, some people have urged a "Declaration of [transnational] INTERdependence"; some have pointed to giant global corporations as top-down govts now under no democratic control; some have pointed to the need for affiring not nly rights but responsibilities and community; etc.)

In my experience, this process has for many people put greater depth into their understanding of the notion of a limited govt., and expanded their sense of the reach and profundity of certain aspects of Torah. And it has given much richer meaning to the Fourth of July.

by Rabbi Arthur Waskow
Director, The Shalom Center

Jewish and Interfaith Topics: