“No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President” (U.S. Constitution II.1).

Over the last decade or so, the question of defining “natural born citizen” has come up with increasing frequency, although mostly for the purpose of political posturing. The terminology appears to be derived from British citizenship laws, but the legal qualification of being a natural member of the nation can be traced back to the Biblical laws of kingship.

“You shall not appoint a foreigner over yourself, one who is not your brother” (Deuteronomy 17:15).

One might wonder why any nation would choose a foreigner to rule over them, but it has happened. The natural born status necessary to serve as the king for the Children of Israel, however, is just one of numerous laws that are listed in the Torah regarding a Jewish monarch. A Jewish king cannot have too many wives or own too many horses. He is also obligated to write his own copy of the Torah, which he is to use in order to increase his knowledge and fear of God. The ideal Jewish king is inextricably tied to the Torah, and thus a foreigner would be unable to fulfill this role and its obligations.

When the time came for a king to be appointed over Israel, God first chose Saul from the tribe of Benjamin and then David from the tribe of Judah, from whom all future Jewish kings must descend. While this guarantees the paternal lineage of any king over the Jewish people, one should not conclude that the terms used (brother/foreigner) are entirely exclusionary. After all, King David was the descendant of a Moabite convert (Ruth) and considered just as much a part of the nation as one who could trace his complete lineage back to Jacob himself.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.