Sept. 8, 2020

Dr. Andrew Rehfeld on Judges 17:6 – “The Importance of Strong Centralized Leadership”

Leading political scientist and distinguished Jewish communal leader, Dr. Andrew Rehfeld, joins Mark on the podcast today. Andrew’s illustrious career has bridged both the academic and professional worlds as Associate Professor of Political Science at Washington University, and as President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis. He is currently the President of Hebrew Union College, which has ordained most of the Reform Rabbis in the world, including Mark’s wife. The passage he has chosen to discuss is Judges 17:6.

Andrew begins the discussion by summarizing the passage and sharing the meaning it holds for him. He and Mark delve into how its theme is repeated throughout the Bible and illustrate how it is reflected in the world of today. They also explore the components of Jewish statehood, the importance of a leader’s character, the inescapability of philosophy, and Andrew’s prediction for the future and growth opportunities for Reform Judaism. As with all episodes, our guest concludes the podcast with the lessons he has learned about mankind throughout his extensive career. At this current moment in history, when chaos, anarchy, and leadership are discussed and debated on virtually a daily basis, today’s episode is a particularly relevant one, shining the light of Torah wisdom and providing its timeless words of guidance that are so sorely needed.

Episode Highlights:

  • Andrew’s summary of the passage and why it’s meaningful to him
  • How its theme is repeated in the Bible and reflected these days
  • The importance of centralized leadership
  • The stability that clear and decisive leadership brings even when it’s unjust
  • Why there is chaos in the absence of strong centralized leadership
  • The freedom that statehood offers and enables the Jewish people to blossom
  • Defense of the people, flourishing of the people, and the manner it achieves the aims in justice
  • The importance of the character of a leader
  • The inescapability of philosophy
  • Andrew’s prediction for the future of Reform Judaism
  • The fundamentals of Reform Judaism
  • The growth opportunities that Andrew sees for Reform Judaism
  • The lessons that Andrew has learned about mankind


“It’s just terrible. It’s the worst kind of chaos, civil war, disorder.”

“Where there’s no centralized ruler, everyone does what…seems right in their own eyes.”

“The idea that that expresses really happens throughout the Bible.”

“Where there’s chaos, where there’s anarchy, there is no leadership, there is no ruler in place, if you will.”

“It brings stability just by setting clear expectations of what the law is, even if it’s an unjust law.”

“It seems that it’s not just defense, it’s also offence.”

“In a democracy, I think the character of a leader is perhaps most important because the people are the direct rulers, if you will…when the ruler’s character is decayed, the people themselves will take that as a lead and justify any manner of behavior.”

“Political leadership has tremendous role modeling effects.”

“We create all kinds of rationalizations to produce the outcomes that we want.”

“We’re in a different era. We need to do things differently in a way that is actually going to continue the transformative work that we have done for…146 years.”

“There’s always a...spark of the divine in all of us.”

Judges 17:6 In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did as he pleased.


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