The Four Hatikvah Questions were created as an educational framework. But at root they are a statement of values. This statement insists that there are four crucial values any just State must commit to provide: Personal and collective security; solidarity and a culture of care and accommodation for all; careful balancing of personal freedoms and collective free choices; and clear geographical limitations on authority and responsibility.
When we ask the Four Questions as to “how” these values should be implemented, we are assuming that all agree on the importance of the values themselves.
In the United States today we are seeing the beginnings of an erosion of belief in these values. Personal and collective security is threatened by Covid 19, by rioting, and by police violence. Solidarity is fraying due to Covid restrictions, and responses to a police officer being accused (and in the court of public opinion, already convicted) of the murder of a black man. Freedoms are curtailed through curfews, lockdowns, and legislation. Government jurisdiction over certain inner city areas across the country is weakened.
All four of these fundamental values are, like all values dependent upon the consent of human beings, shimmeringly fragile. Or at least, the belief that all four are of equal value.
In Israel last night, following on from news of an autistic Palestinian being shot dead by Israeli security forces, word leaked of new emergency measures framed as the “Corona Law”. These measures prepare for a series of wide-ranging police and secret service powers of surveillance, breaking into private houses without warrants, passing laws without the consent of the Knesset, and prohibiting demonstrations. These powers, theoretically tied to the pandemic emergency but not limited by it, would over-rule in a stroke even Israel’s own Basic Laws on Human Dignity and Liberty, and on Freedom of Occupation.
It remains to be seen to what extent these proposals will be opposed, or diluted. What is clear, is that those behind the original proposal argue that such freedoms are conditional, and not necessarily fundamental. What is fundamental, they would say, is the life and health of the People. And when our physical security is in danger, all other values should be subordinated to the most important of duties: Protecting life itself.
In this time of unprecedented crises across the Western world (we haven’t even mentioned the possibility of the Trump Annexation Plan!), we find ourselves re-assessing the fundamentals.
Should all four values always be held to be essential, so that our task is to maintain the ongoing friction between them? Or are there times of emergency – of pikuach nefesh we might say – where one value should rightfully, morally, take precedence over the others?
What should be the nature of these emergencies requiring the primacy of pikuach nefesh?
Who should define them?
And how long should they last?