Malkhut Melekh

  • Rav Moshe Taragin

            One of the often overlooked motifs of Chanuka is the concept of malkhut - Jewish monarchy.  Aside from the military victory, the miracle of the oil, and the re-purification of the mikdash, Chanuka was a nes in which Jewish monarchy was restored (if only briefly) - see Rambam Hilkhot Chanuka 3:1.  This article will explore a central question regarding Jewish malkhut.


            The Rambam (Sefer Ha-mitzvot 173, along with many other commentators) lists the mitzva of appointing a king as a positive - "asseh" - commandment: This, in and of itself, is somewhat controversial (see Afterword).  The Chinukh in mitzva 497 agrees with the Rambam, and adds a startling comment.  He believes that minui ha-melekh is an eternal mitzva, noheg le-dorot - a position which elicits wonderment from the later commentators.  Indeed, the Rambam himself cites the Sifri that monarchy is automatically inherited from father to son!  Certainly, then, since David was already anointed and, that established the malkhut, there can be no future scenario wherein the fulfillment of this mitzva of anointing a king would 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 filters 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 Yerushalmi's.


            The Yerushalmi in Rosh Hashana (1:1) asserts that David did not retain the status of melekh 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 "par chatat" which a melekh 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 pilagshim, David was not allowed to return to them after his "comeback" victory.  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?  [Who's minding the mint?!]


            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 language this would correspond to the "gavra" of a melekh.  He has certain dinim which relate to him, and to us: if he sins he brings a special korban; he has a special prohibition against too many wives and too many horses in his entourage; he must write a second Sefer Torah; we must fear him.  Basically, all the laws enumerated in parshat Shoftim apply to someone who is considered melekh - 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 individual/king 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 parshat 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 melekh.  As such, neither David nor Avshalom would bring a special korban chatat.  However, though there was no melekh, there certainly was an enduring malkhut Beit David 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 'dynasty' 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 inherited 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 minui or appointment.  Until then, he is merely the king-elect.


            We find two halakhic confirmations of this principle that even an individual who is designated to be king through the laws of yerusha 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 shtar '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 korban chatat which a melekh brings if he sins.  The mishna compares this with the special korban a kohen gadol 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 'common' korban; they only bring the special sacrifice 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.





            Indeed, malkhut, dynasty passes through yerusha, 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 this dual strata by carefully reading two Yerushalmis.


            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 melekh for the first time requires beit din ha-gadol as well as a navi.  However, in Sanhedrin (5:1) where the Rambam lists the appointment of subsequent kings, the procedure requires only the beit din ha-gadol implying that a navi is unnecessary.  Apparently, the Rambam distinguished between the appointment of a melekh and creation of the concept of malkhut - which not only requires beit din to represent all Am Yisrael, but also a navi.  This verifies that true monarchy is only in God's hands - ha-mamlikh melakhim ve-lo ha-melukha - and He, through his navi, is the one who must confer melukha upon humans.  Once malkhut is a reality and we must only designate an individual as the representative of that dynasty, beit din ha-gadol 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.  The appointment of a melekh ben melekh, however, does not require oil.  The discrepancy in terms of the technique of minui might indicate the difference between generating malkhut - which requires meshicha, 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 pasuk in Shmuel "kum moshchehu ki zeh hu" - Hashem told Shmuel to anoint David for he is the one.  From this, Chazal infer - THIS ONE requires meshicha 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 pasuk in Shoftim "le-ma'an ya'arikh yamim al mamlakhto (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 pasuk which establishes the inheritance of malkhut excludes melekh ben melekh from anointment, suggesting 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 for the throne, then even a melekh ben melekh  requires anointment.  Here, we have a disagreement among the commentators about the meaning of this exception.  Rashi in 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 meshicha of David and the meshicha of a melekh ben melekh during times of dispute.  In each case we anoint with shemen ha-mishcha of the beit ha-mikdash for in each case we are generating malkhut afresh.


            The Rambam, however, distinguishes between them.  In both, Hilkhot Melakhim 1:12 and Hilkhot Klei Ha-mikdash 1:11 he explains this exceptional meshicha of melekh ben melekh in times of dispute, as merely 'presentational.'  It is intended to create a public spectacle to generate support for the melekh and to rebuff his competitors.  It isn't a 'substantive' meshicha but a 'political' one.  If so, we would expect that the shemen ha-mishcha of the beit ha-mikdash not be used for this 'show.'  Check the Rambam carefully in his statements in Hilkhot Klei Hamikdash - his formulation might confirm this distinction.



Methodological Points:



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 the "two dinim" trick ("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?  See next week's edition for elaboration of this theme.





            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 the issues I discussed in the article - the role of public consensus for monarchy to be valid - see Tosafot Sanhedrin (20b) and Rashi on the pasuk in Vayechi - Yehuda ata yodukha achikha.