Judaism and Religious Freedom: A Sourcebook of Scriptural, Theological, and Legal Texts
“Religious freedom does not come naturally to Judaism. In its core ethical statement, the Ten Commandments, the Torah begins by declaring exclusive worship of the God of Israel. The Torah’s authors understood that the temptation of idolatry was great, and the people could not be expected to come to pure monotheism through reasoning alone. The punishment for worshiping another God or for worshiping the God of Israel the wrong way was death, either by a human court or divine decree. There was no room for the internal pluralism necessary for religious freedom among Jews, at least not in any sense immediately recognizable to us. Moreover, according to the Torah, the best possible government is theocracy. Not a state run by theocrats, but, rather, literally ruled by God. In human terms, this would be anarchy, as ‘no king but God’ indicates an absence of human government. Human kingship thus comes as a compromise measure. Israel wanted a king to repulse foreign enemies. Samuel counseled against this desire: ‘The king will take your children from you, sequestrate your land, your vineyards, and your animals’ (I Sam. 8:10-20), but God tells him to accede to the people’s wishes. Even in the most charitable view, Israel’s kings proved a mixed group of men, with few dying a peaceful death, and many allowing idolatry to flourish in Israel.”
For more information, read Judaism and Religious Freedom: A Sourcebook of Scriptural, Theological, and Legal Texts.