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Rabbi's Blog

rabbi 05 smallsf badge lgRabbi Joel Landau  ( has been the Rabbi of Adath Israel since May 2013. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem and has served previously as a congregational Rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina and Irvine, California. A full biography of Rabbi Landau is available here.

After last week’s tragic events in Paris I think it would be wise to remember some of the insights that Natan Sharansky, wrote in his book, “The Case for Democracy”.

Natan Sharansky, who rose from political prisoner in the Soviet Union to a seat in Israel's Knesset, divides the world into two kinds of societies: fear societies, and free societies. Fear societies are tyrannies which rule by terrorizing their subjects, by restricting freedom of speech and movement, by instilling fear so people will not voice opposition. Fear societies are controlled by tyrants who are not hesitant to brutalize people in order to quash dissent.

Sharansky who was himself a prisoner of the KGB due to his outspokenness as a Soviet Jew, had high respect for the great Soviet dissenter, Andrei Sakharov. Sakharov lashed out against the Soviet’s repression of human rights, and called on the nations of the world to protest on behalf of the people of the Soviet Union. Sakharov stated: “A country that does not respect the rights of its own people will not respect the rights of its neighbors.” Tyrants, when allowed to persist, are a danger not only to their own people but to other nations as well.

In contrast to fear societies, free societies provide their people with the ability to speak freely, to express dissent, to move about in freedom. Sharansky writes: “A society is free if people have a right to express their views without fear of arrest, imprisonment or physical harm.” In a free society, a person may offer opinions without fear of being assaulted, imprisoned or murdered. A free society fosters diversity; it respects individual rights; it allows people to think and act freely.

Whereas a fear society represses its people, a free society allows its people to grow and flourish. A fear society is ruled by tyrants and their henchmen while a free society is governed by the rule of law.

Sharansky argues that all people would prefer to live in free societies. Those who live under dictators regret their inability to function in freedom. If given the opportunity, all people would choose to live in free societies. Sharansky was deeply grateful to those in the West who insisted on linking Soviet trade privileges with advances in human rights. He admired the courage of Senator Henry Jackson and President Ronald Reagan who were adamant in their confrontation with the Soviet Union’s fear society. Because of their strength in confronting the evils of Soviet society, the Soviet Union ultimately collapsed. Millions of people were liberated from the fears and oppressions of Soviet rule, and people began to taste freedom for the first time.

The world today is still divided between fear societies and free societies. Just as in the past, many were willing to look aside at human rights abuses in fear societies, so today many are willing to keep the peace even if this means keeping tyrants in power in other lands. Sharansky argues that tyranny is allowed to persist because free societies do not stand up against them and insist that they liberate their populations from oppression and terror.

Tyrannies are an affront to dignity and the human spirit. Tyrannies persist because their subjects are too weak and/or too afraid to rise up against the tyrants. Tyrannies persist because free societies do not exert enough pressure to change the status quo.

In our world today, we have free societies in the Western world, in Israel, and in some other countries. But many of the nations of the world are controlled by dictators who rule through fear and manipulation. They restrict free speech. They use the press for self-serving propaganda and do not allow independent voices to be heard. Some of these nations possess highly dangerous weapons and other of these nations are seeking to develop them. As Andre Sakharov observed, nations that do not respect the rights of their own people will surely not respect the rights of other nations. So we live in a world where war and terrorism are constantly bubbling over, often in the name of an extreme brand of religion or political ideology.

Even in democratic societies, we've witnessed an increase of thuggery and brutality, where extreme groups seek to silence or harm others with whom they disagree. Unless the free societies of the world stand forcefully against tyranny and terrorism, these horrible conditions will persist. Anyone who compromises with tyrants and terrorists is not only endangering the people who live under them, but is endangering the safety and security of those of us living in free societies.