What does it mean to serve the government as a Jew? Is there a way to express Jewish values in civil service?
I’ve worked for a number of different government agencies over the past 13 plus years. “Jewish values” are often shared by non-Jewish colleagues who choose to serve the public, from a different origin of thought. As the late Rabbi Albert Lewis, a leading Conservative rabbi, put it: “One tree, many branches.” It’s important to understand that the values of good civil service share a common thread embedded in many different people.
“Observe and do what is emitted from your lips just as you have pledged to the Lord, your God, as a donation, which you have spoken with your mouth.” — Deuteronomy 23:24
When you serve in government, whether elected, appointed or through the civil service hiring system, you pledge to uphold the laws of the people for whom you work. The spoken word above holds the same weight as the written. The above allows for no corruption in practice of government, and therefore, to administer justly all the laws of the government for whom you work, and for all people.
“Assemble the people: the men, the women, and the children, and your stranger in your cities, in order that they hear, and in order that they learn and fear the Lord, your God, and they will observe to do all the words of this Torah.” — Deuteronomy 31:12
In the days of the temple, all the Jews, and everyone else, heard the law. The law was meant to be public, to be understood, and to be shared with all so that it was understood and unambiguous. I argue that it is incumbent on the Jew not to just administer the law, as above, but to explain it clearly and fairly to all who come across it. Pragmatically, the Jew who works with others in government should explain his or her section of policy that they administer in clear terms, and so that the honest citizen abides by it as he or she understands it.
Senator Blumenthal of Connecticut, while Attorney General, consistently fought for a fair and open reading of the law and against public contract corruption.
The book of Leiviticus provides, in my opinion, the highest duty of government:
“You shall not commit a perversion of justice with measures, weights, or liquid measures.” — Leiviticus 19:35
In this case, I do not mean that people should not shave gold or up-charge you with false gasoline prices, though they certainly shouldn’t do that. It is the highest duty of government, when faced with judgment or choice in the application of policy, to weigh the arguments and decide how to apply policy fairly. Favoring any side, or desiring an outcome that you personally think is correct is just as bad as using the faulty scale: you use your position to adversely impact others that should be under your fair-minded guidance. Eliot Spitzer used the power of his office to prosecute prostitution, hypocritically drawing attention away from his own crimes, his own false scale. He should’ve remembered his Torah.