The legitimate rules of the country are the Law for the Jews.
Every minority in a country faces the conflict between its own rules and those of the country it lives in and the degree of loyalty it has to maintain to its laws, citizens and authorities. Sometimes, when the minority does not enjoy the rights of the majority but endures its obligations, or when the weight of those obligations is disproportionate, that conflict is intensified. In other cases, in situations of jurisdictional conflicts, the minorities are used as bargaining chips or are mistreated by the parties in conflict.
Jews do not have to worry in a country democratically governed and in which the rule of law and institutional stability are guaranteed. But they must read the political map when anarchy, misgovernment, the absence of authority and a legal vacuum are tried to be imposed. Not more, but not less than any other part of society which is fearful of becoming a scapegoat to disguise political failures and their irreversible tendency to authoritarianism.
The Jewish communities have been, and continue to be in every country they live in, loyal, but not submissive, to the institutions that govern the nations. The Jews who inhabit the Spanish territory are a minority whose members enjoy the same rights as the rest of the citizens since the Spanish Constitution of 1978, currently in force, which declared Spain as a secular country. Their community and religious organizations are accepted and protected, while every Jew in Spain is free to be a member of political parties, to support political options or to be an elected representative or work in public office with no restriction.
Long before the destruction of the nation of the Jews by Rome (celebrated with the issuance of the coin Judea capta est), the rules that must govern the lives of Jews in the countries that receive them were inspired by the prophet Jeremiah, born in Anatoth, Judea in 650 B.C. This prophet sent a letter to the Hebrew captives whose text appears in Scripture in chapter 29 of the book that bears his name and that said: “Now these are the words… to the remainder of the elders who were carried away captive, to the priests, to the prophets, and to all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon…” it said: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel to all who were carried away captive, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon: build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit; take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters, that you may be increased there and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace”.
Reading between the lines of the prophet answers all those who accused and continue to accuse the Jews of a will of disloyalty towards their adoptive nations. It ordered to accept the rules of the sovereign and to try to live normally and following the rules. The last verse is more than graphic: “seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace”.
This is why to this day in their invocations Jews pray for the wellbeing of the nations they live in and of their sovereigns. And they did not stop asking and imploring for their sake even when they were mercilessly persecuted.
The wise men of the Talmud established the rule “the law of the nation is the law for the Jews”. This principle became a binding religious rule. Its application makes the Jewish community seek the wellbeing of the country of reception, and perhaps the history of England from Cromwell onwards is the best example, or that of Holland in its wars of religion against Spain. The Jews obeyed what the prophet had proclaimed, when in their hearts they had a deep gratitude to those countries that allowed them to live integrated without having to renounce their beliefs and ritual forms of life.
The legislation that orders to “accept the law of the place” is known in its original formulation in Aramaic: Dina demaljuta dina. This rule is applied when there are conflicts between laws, between the rules that regulate the Jews between themselves and the national rules. It also serves for guiding the behaviour of the Jews before the civil authority of the state. In every case the “law of the place” must prevail.
The principle appears at least in twenty-five places in the Sulchan Aruch, the legal code that is obligatory for Jews written by Rabbi Yosef Caro, whose family was exiled from Spain when he was little, during the expulsion of the Jews from the country in 1492. It was Mar Samuel (approximately 177-257 A.D.), a Talmudic erudite person from Babylon, who defended it in the Talmud. He searched for the fundament of the jurisdictional autonomy in the Jewish communities. The declaration Dina demaljuta dina appears four times in the Talmud of Babylon, and it is also a sign to the Jewish acquiescence to the gentile authority as an autonomous decision independently of the degree of repression they may suffer. When the situation of persecution in a country was intolerable it was the religious authorities of the community themselves who signalled to which countries they should emigrate, but they did not order the rebellion, disobedience or insurrection.
Julio Caro Baroja in his work The Jews in modern and contemporary Spain, Volume I, tells us that Bayezid II, who governed as Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1481 to 1512, considered the Catholic Monarchs as inept for having thrown out of their kingdom such obedient and productive subjects. And “in effect in the era of splendour of his states, it was seen that, against the treachery or ambiguity of the Christian states, the Great Turk followed a policy defined by taking advantage as much as he could of the riches and technical knowledge of the exiled ones”. And by the way, it was in that shared exile that the exiled from the different kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula acquired a common Sephardic identity (Spanish), which lasts until today.
It is thus clear which is the obligation of any Jew before the civil authority, its laws and the institutions of the State. And it is on this basis that we can vigorously and credibly reject in our time any accusation of infidelity or disloyalty. These accusations have no historical, social, economic or political basis, and they are the product of minds sick with anti-Semitism that look for any excuse for the abuse against Jews or their expulsion, just like the sovereigns of their countries did centuries ago.
When in Spain we hear anti-Semite comments, they are absolutely inexplicable. Not even if you want to justify them with the ignorance and lack of culture of those who make them, which are normally proportionate to their capacity for hatred. But when those comments are made, they are a sign to remain vigilant with the tradition of civic exemplariness that is expected of the Jews in their obedience to state rules, even in the aspects they dislike, and the obedience to the decisions of legitimate governments with whom they may be individually or mainly in disagreement.
We Jews know an undeniable reality: those thrown out of Spain took with them the language, the literature, the music of their rituals, the food and the dreams of returning to the land that had massacred them so many times and had thrown them out. Only those who have a giant affection for the place of their ancestors are capable of such loving acts. And they continue to identify themselves around the world, not as Castilian, or Aragoneses or Andalusian, but as Sephardic, the Hebrew word that means “Spanish“. Thus the love of Spain and the contribution to its prosperity are also an act of historical loyalty.
Faced with the institutional and political conflict that the Jews in Catalonia live, it is our obligation to return to the teachings of the prophet Jeremiah, the Rabbi Yosef Caro, and of Mar Samuel for them to guide us in the civic behaviour that should be expected from the Jews based on our ethics, our values, our Law and our tradition.