Democracy is generally assumed as the best way of doing things, but what happens if the majority of a country makes a self-destructive decision?
In this week’s Parsha, the passuk states:
לא תהיה אחרי רבים לרעת ולא תענה על רב לנטות אחרי רבים להטות
“Do not be a follower of the majority for evil, and do not respond to grievance by yielding to the majority to pervert [the law] (Exodus 23:2).
This second half of this verse, אחרי רבים להטות, is the source for the Torah’s concept of “majority rules.” The commentators struggle to understand the beginning of the verse, לא תהיה אחרי רבים לרעות – “Do not be a follower of the majority for evil.”
Ibn Ezra and Rashbam both explain that verse warns us not to follow the majority simply because everyone else feels the same way. Don’t assume that just because the majority of people believe something that it is actually true.
Chatam Sofer adds that we only follow the majority when there is some doubt, and it can go either way. As a gentile once asked, it says in your Torah to follow the majority, yet, the majority of the world are not Jewish, so why are you sticking to your beliefs? The answer is that the principle of majority rules only applies when there is doubt. However, if it is obviously wrong, we don’t follow the majority. If a majority of the people in a country want to oppress the minority, it’s hard to call it a legitimate democracy.
If a majority of the people decide to make a bad decision, we might apply this principle. Still, it is difficult to determine that a decision is obviously wrong and has no merit.
Rabbi Shlomo Gabay