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History Desk

A trip into political antiquity is just what the medicus ordered. Three totally unrelated geopolitical facts

The dog days of the summer are now on us. Politics plods along listlessly; writers scratch their head for inspiration; and the present conjures up little worthy of this august column. So, a trip into political antiquity is just what the medicus ordered. Three totally unrelated geopolitical facts.



In Washington, D.C., and Jerusalem, D.C. (David’s Capital, h/t to a series of pro-Trump banners in Yerushalayim a few years ago), filibuster is the name of the game. Some Senate Democrats want to ban the maneuver to enable Biden to pass his agenda. In the Knesset, the parliamentary tactic (spelled as above), is used on a wholesale basis by the Bibi-led opposition to harry the fragile coalition and turn voting into all-night wars of attrition. United Torah Judaism MK Yitzchok Pindrus employed the filibuster to recite Birchos Hashachar in the plenum.

The tactic has paid off with Knesset Speaker Miki Levy himself mistakenly voting with the Opposition out of sheer fatigue, killing an important bill. But the question is, how many of the learned Knesset members know that the filibuster tradition is not a Jewish one, but in fact originated with a Roman senator, Cato the Younger?

Whatever the move’s origins, its enthusiastic adoption in Israel’s parliament is not surprising, given the national propensity for a good drashah. And the filibuster itself might be in Shas MKs’ DNA, as some have shown. After all, it was first used by Cato against Julius Caesar on his return from conquering Spain.

Jacob Rees-Mogg

Most modern politicians are a dull lot (barring the odd appearance of a President Trump). But for a colorful political figure out of the distant past, look no further than the ineffably grand Jacob Rees-Mogg. A long, languid aristocrat who is a parody of a bygone Briton, the leader of the House of Commons lives in a country pile in Somerset, has a comically posh accent, and has told national radio that he doesn’t change nappies, because “nanny does.”

All of the above has turned Rees-Mogg into an odd figure in Parliament, but the exterior hides a very shrewd mind, which has made him multiple millions as an investment banker. Naturally, he’s an avid filibusterer (see above). Could the MP who has been called “the right honorable member for the 18th century” rise higher, bringing a brand of social conservatism into a Cabinet position? Despite the fusty exterior, he knows how to move with the times. When he joined Twitter in 2017, he posted in Latin: Tempora mutantur, et nos mutamur in illis (“the times change, and we change with them”).

European Union

As France marks the bicentennial of Napoleon’s death, a little-known fact of history lies in a little-known sefer. Yad David contains chiddushim on Shas by Rav David Sinzheim (above), who was appointed head of the French Sanhedrin (a body meant to govern the Jewish community) by Napoleon.

Inside the front cover, Rav Sinzheim is called “chief rabbi of France and Italy.” For lovers of politico-rabbinic trivia (not, admittedly, a well-known genre), the inscription hints at the last time France and Italy were joined before they became founder members of the European Union.

In 1805, Napoleon became king of Italy as well as French emperor, leading to the first and last time the two countries shared a chief rabbi. Might the EU now be in the market for a chief rabbi?

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 872)

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