Tag Archives: Lishkat haGazit

Parshat Mishpatim (2013)


Exodus 21 – 24

Jewish Justice: Does the Torah forbid us from taking cases to civil courts?

Torah and LawIn this week’s parsha we come in to this discussion just one chapter after the giving of the Ten Commandments. After the giving of these first ten the people became overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, smoke, and trembling that came as G-d spoke on Har Sinai. They asked for Moses to speak with G-d for them, they will give heed but they prefer for him to address the voice of G-d, to which Moses agrees and he draws closer into the thickness of G-d’s presence. (see Exodus 20:14-17) Immediately we find that G-d continues to give commandments to Moses, that they are not to worship with idols made of precious metals but instead they are to make simple, burnt offerings upon altars of unhewn stones. Neither are they worship through naked ritual on that altar. These are the core commandments of Mishkan (Tabernacle) and Temple worship. (Exodus 20:18-22)

Then our parsha begins with the following words:

“And these are the ordinances

which you must set before them.”

| Ve’eleh hamishpatim

| asher tasim lifneihem.

Exodus 21:1

What we need to keep in mind is that the revelation of Sinai is still taking place, Moses has not yet descended from the mountain. Moses continues to hear the commandments of G-d spoken to him. The giving of commandments doesn’t just end at this point, no it continues.

Interestingly this section’s chumash commentary is going to begin by giving us the basis of the Lishkat haGazit – the House of Hewn Stones, the Supreme Court known as the Sanhedrin, the house of law that stood opposite and distinct from that of the ritual complex and it’s altar.

Rashi immediately begins to set up for this point in his commentary that their laws they administer are from Sinai, they are to adjudicated the commandments held herein. He makes this point while noting that even in the Torah we clearly see that G-d did not just give ten commandments alone, he gave additional ones as noted with the words “ve’eleh / and these are…” They were only spoken directly to Moses as an audience as we see here in this scene. We are taught that there is a reason for the juxtaposition of these laws relating ot the altar and the establishing of ordinances of Torah, it is not by accident. G-d is not merely giving ritual direction to this new society, He is also advises them how to administer civil law as well in this Torah. Hashem speaks all these things to Moses.

Rashi focuses heavily on the latter clause of the verse, upon the words “asher tasim lifneihem / that you shall set before them.” The sages tell us that G-d did not instruct Moses to just refer to the oral instructions two or three times, so that they familiarize themselves with it well enough. No, one in leadership is not free of the responsibility to enable people to understand it and to explain it to those who turn to them. The judges are to set the Torah before people, not just throw the book at them. It’s not to be tossed at someone quickly. The Torah is to be placed before someone like a place setting at a table, set before one like a set table (kshulchan aruch) placed before someone so that they can eat (and thus nourish themselves) from it. (see Talmud Bavli, Eruvin 54b)

Notice that we have only barely come out of Egypt and already we have touched on the topic of law and order. In Parshat Yitro we see that Moses is given advice on appointing judges because surely he will not be able to continue to hear all the Israelite’s cases, his father-in-law contends. (see Parshat Yitro 2012) They were a true society, with real people, problems, disputes and crimes. Moses up until then had heard all their disputes and grievances. Here we see the type of issues of law that came in to play in their society being summarized for us in these next few chapters. Thus this parsha is named Mishpatim – meaning ordinances, laws, or judgments.

If one examines the types of law that the Israelites are commanded by G-d, we see that the law spoken about here is more than just civil law, relating to contracts and damages. It extends all the way to criminal and capital cases as well. But what makes this system of Torah justice unique is that it does not just take into consideration civic responsibility, it also takes moral and religious concerns into consideration as well. Within the context of Israelite sovereignty and in the shadow of the altar this system was to administer all justice for the people.

The rabbis saw themselves as continuing on the role of the elders and judges, administering this law for the Jewish people. Even after the fall of the Sanheidrin during the Roman occupation the rabbis continued to administer law to the best of their ability in tribunals known as a beit din – literally a house of law, a law building; or simply, a court. Even if these courts were makeshift. Though they did not live in sovereignty and thus there were many elements of law that had to be set aside under foreign rule, nonetheless as members of a minority that was not considered a true citizenry they were left without a working judicial infrastructure and Jews often naturally continued to rely upon their local rabbis to summon a religious court for them.

As the Jewish people began to pioneer out across the world during the dark-ages to follow they often found themselves settling in areas where there was no system of law. It is for this reason that our sages stress among one of the Seven Commandments given to the sons of Noah, the seventh and very distinct one from the Ten Commandments of Moses; the command to establish courts of justice. (see Talmud Bavli, Sanheidrin 56a) In their distant enclaves they continued to engage themselves in Jewish law in ways not so distant from their autonomous past and encouraged law and order among their neighbors.

As the Christian and later the Muslim conquests followed and their rulers became more deep-seated they did establish their own courts of law, but much of the Jewish population was not integrated into that society. Jews still continued to live in enclaves, most notoriously in forced settlements and closed towns known as ghettos in Europe. In the absence of a judicial system that concerned itself with their needs Jews needed to rely heavily on the rabbinic courts to settle disputes.

Even though today we are greatly integrated into the larger society many religious Jews still depend on the rabbinic courts to settle issues for us. Though these days most of us live in countries with established civil courts, often times the issues that most concern the lives of religious Jews cannot be taken into consideration by the civil code of the land. People turn to a beit din to settled these issues. These concerns and disputes can extend beyond just religious issues, concerning themselves with more than just hearing case relating to ketubot and kashrut. In an old-world culture where people often make agreements on a handshake and a promise, or making unique business agreements for optimal religious benefit of the parties, people put a lot of faith into the ability of community rabbis to settle issue between them.

Everyone can bring their issues to a beit din, even a non-Jew in dispute with a Jew is able to bring a case before a rabbinic court of three rabbis. Historically this often made a lot of sense to pursue because non-Jews have traditionally wanted to avoid the complications arising from lack of integration (that a Jew doesn’t have standing to be heard in a gentile court) and also because of the reality that Jews would be more likely to give heed to the ruling of their own community. A ruling by the community rabbis would come with the weight of communal authority, compelling the community to have to respond, thus a person living in that community could not live comfortably until the issue was settled.

As the rabbis even hear the complicated moral issues at hand in a case, the use of this type of litigation is sometimes still favored by parties and utilized as a form of civil arbitration. The only thing that is required of each party is that they agree to the ruling of the tribunal of rabbis as binding for settlement. And I want to stress this aspect of this type of adjudication, this is the final closure of this dispute and therefore one is not able to go to another court later to settle the issue again. If you don’t like the ruling you are not able to dismiss it and shop around for another set of rabbis that will agree with your claim. Because this is the case, the raising of a legal dispute by another court after being heard by the rabbis was considered anathema.

Most often people who could not get a ruling that satisfied them would therefore lastly turn to the non-Jewish authorities, to courts headed by local nobles or bishops; something considered an avoidance of justice already rendered, and furthermore an act of informing against Jews for spectacle trials during an age of inquisition. For this reason our rabbinic law from this age and context states, as in the Shulchan Aruch, that one is forbidden from bringing cases before the non-Jewish courts (see Shulchan Aruch, Chosen Mishpat, Siman 26).

We must keep all of this in mind as we read the next section of Rashi, or we might be lead to the wrong conclusion. The commentary for the last word of Exodus 21:1 reads as follows:

Before them: But not before gentiles,

even if you know that they will judge

something the same as the laws of Israel,

you shall not bring it to their courts,

for one who brings Israelite lawsuits

before gentiles

profanes the [Divine] Name

and honors the names of idols

to ascribe importance to them.

As it is said:

‘For not like our Rock [G-d] is their rock,

but [yet] our enemies judge [us]’ (Deut. 32:31).

When [we let] our enemies judge [us]

this is testimony to [our] esteem of their deity.”

לפניהם: ולא לפני גוים, |

ואפילו ידעת בדין |

אחד שהם דנין אותו כדיני ישראל, |

אל תביאהו בערכאות שלהם, |

שהמביא דיני ישראל |

לפני גוים |

מחלל את השם |

ומיקר שם עבודה זרה |

להחשיבה, |

שנאמר: |

כי לא כצורנו צורם |

ואויבינו פלילים, |

כשאויבינו פלילים זהו |

עדות לעלוי יראתם: |

Rashi for Exodus 21:1 (from Tanchumah 3)

This section of the Torah is one that I didn’t necessarily think much upon in previous years. This whole section relating to lawsuits is something that we don’t often discuss, even though a great swath of the Torah and Talmud is about settling disputes. I have never been part of a legal proceeding myself, and I can honestly say I have never had an instance of conflict that I felt needed to be brought before a court aside from administrative issues, be it a civil court or a rabbinic court. Thus I have rarely had to consider the idea of whether or not I would ideally bring an issue before a rabbinic court or a civil court. But our halacha is clear, and for sensible reasons, we are to settle cases among ourselves to the best of our ability and to extent the law allows us.

We should not have to bring cases before non-Jewish courts, because when we do so it shames our faith and shows deference to heathen ethics. Simply put, to petition outside courts says we can’t follow our own laws and religion so we need foreigners (indeed, idolaters) to set us straight.

Now as we look at the above Rashi for this text, I want us to first concern ourselves with what it initially states. It’s reason for us not turning to gentile courts to settle our issues is not so much out of fear of making a chilul Hashem (a desecration of the Name of G-d), but namely because our primary concern is that the non-Jewish courts will not rule to the same height of moral standard as the Torah demands.

This week as I began to read the commentary for this I began to become troubled as I considered the English translations offered for the Rashi in most volumes. Because here was the first verse of this weeks parsha commentary seemingly offering fuel for a serious moral debate in the Jewish community. In the past few years several sexual abuse cases have rocked the Jewish community worldwide. In recent weeks the internet has been buzzing with articles revealing previously unknown sexual abuse and rape cases. The disturbing nature of it has intensified after the release of several statements by prominent rabbis suggesting that sexual abuse cases not be taken to the authorities first, but instead reported to the rabbis.

There does not appear to be a mass cover-up anything close to the crisis rocking the Catholic church this week, where Cardinals were known to have intentionally buried sexual abuse claim. (see The Los Angeles Times) However, our reaction to our crisis is just as anguishing. As we see that the Jewish community is experiencing exponential growth its institutions seem to lack a sophisticated understanding of sexual abuse and mechanism for dealing with abuse cases. In a lot of ways what seems to make the atmosphere similar in both cases is that it appears to victims that the religious institutions are showing more regard for their embarrassment, instead of first concerning themselves with championing their superior ethics. The finger-pointing by lot of Jews had towards Catholics amidst their fall from grace is being turned inward now.

The truth is that we should be harshly denouncing and uprooting sexual abusers from within our communities. We should be using the religious courts and bodies to punish abusers, not just looking at cold statutes like the secular legal system but instead hold each abuser accountable to a higher authority found in Torah. People should be called to account for their injustices by our Batei Din (rabbinic courts).

However, this does not mean that we are not to report these cases to the police and cooperate with civil prosecution. Our rabbis are limited in authority, only really being able to hand out moral censure and award settlements for damages that only personal honor would compel one to comply with. Just as a beit din does not have autonomous rule to administer capital or corporal punishment, it does not have the ability to administer criminal law either. Neither is it legal for us to imprison someone, that is only allowed by civil authorities. Those who insist that we are not allowed by our sages to bring cases to the civil authorities based on this text ignore the obvious meaning of the words “dinei Yisrael / Israelite (Jewish) lawsuits” of our commentary; our rabbis can hear lawsuits but cannot enforce punishment for crimes. Their legal authority is incomplete, it is inappropriate that it end there.

The fact is that living in a secular, civil society we are required to live according to the law of the land. Our tradition clearly states to us Dina deMalchutah Dina – that the law of the land is the law, even for the Jews. (see Talmud Bavli, Bava Batra 54b, Nedarim 28a, Gittin 10b, Bava Kama 113a, and Bava Batra 55a)

We cannot break the law, wherever we live we are required to respect their laws. Sexual abuse is a crime that is punishable by the criminal courts, it is not merely a civil case which is settled by a lawsuit and monetary judgment. When a crime is committed a person is accountable for their crimes against the people of that land according to their laws. Furthermore, in most states and countries one is required by law to report suspicion of physical or sexual abuse to the authorities. When the seriousness of ones crimes goes beyond the scope of “din Yisael / the law of Israel” then it must be rightfully settled in the courts of the land, who are authorized to hear such cases.

In a society where there is a degradation of moral and civil responsibility we need to use all the appropriate levels of justice to adjudicated law and order. By assisting justice on both religious and civil grounds can we live up to our motto, “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof / Justice, justice shall you persue.” (Deut. 16:20)


Translation: “The Development of the Transmission of the Oral Law”


The Development of the Transmission of the Oral Law

Sometimes I’m overjoyed to find a book in Spanish. As if finding Judaica in Español isn’t thrilling enough, once in a blue moon I get a double-wammie and find something that isn’t just sefardit (Spanish language), but is actually according to Sephardi tradition – the customs of the Sephardic Jews of Spanish extraction. This is taken from a very simple book written in the finest and simplest language Spain has to offer. As we often talk about Mesorah – the unbroken chain of Jewish tradition going back to Har Sinai – I wanted to explain this, but instead of reinventing the wheel I went looking for a simple intro that could lay it out for us. Instead of finding a complete listing for both Ashkenazi and Sephardi tradition in Hebrew, I found this simple introduction in Spanish. I have translated to the best of my ability – juggling idiomatic phrases left and right – but despite being clunky in translation, I hope it lays out a good map that we can follow. (All in all I knew I was at least doing a decent job when my grandparents handed it back to me and wish me good look on my endeavors with no suggestions; and they actually translate for a living.) The earlier parts of this appear to be extracted from the Mishneh Torah of the Rambam. Hope you enjoy!


Original Translation from “‫ / שלחן ערוך‬Shul’han Aruj de Rabbi Yosef Caro”
Recopilacion de las leyes practicas y sus comentarios hasta los Sabios contemporaneos segun la tradicion Sefardi”
by Rabbi Abraham M. Hassan
Pages 9-20, Printed for “Fundacion Hesde Lea”, Copyright (1989 ?), Spain
Translation by Shmuel Gonzales, 2012 – In use for education purposes only in keeping with Fair-Use Policy; please support this work by purchasing to enable its propagation and future endeavors.

All the ordinances received by Moses (Mosheh Rabbeinu), at Sinai were transmitted by G-d explicitly, as it is written: “I will give you the tablets of stone, and the laws and commandments.” (Exodus 24:12)

The Torah is the Written Law; and the order of the explanation which Moses received from G-d, that was called the Oral TorahTorah Shebeal Pe – which conforms to the Torah so that it can be applied.

At the end of his life, Moses personally wrote all the Torah and gave an example of the Sefer Torah [the Torah scroll] to each one of the Tribes of Israel. Another Sefer Torah was kept in the holy Ark – Aron HaKodesh – were it was also kept as a testimony for all generations with the Tablets of the Law received by Moses at Mount Sinai, as we read “Take this Sefer Torah and place it in the Ark of the Covenant of the L rd your G d, so that it can serve as a witness” (Deut. 31:26)

In regard to the Oral Law, that was not written by Moses, but was still verbally taught to the Elders of his generation (the 70 Elders that comprised his Beit Din [court]), which in tern taught the people. Then Moses entrusted the transmission of the complete Oral Law to his chief disciple Yehoshuah Ben Nun “All the words that I have commanded you shall observe exactly, without taking away or adding anything.” (Deut. 13:1) Yehoshuah Ben Nun intern confided the transmission to Pinchas and the Elders (Zekenim), during the age of the Judges that succeeded him. And it was transmitted from master to disciple until [the time] of the Prophet Samuel The generations of prophets that succeeded the Prophet Samuel. Samuel continued on as trustees of the Torah. The last among them transmitted it to Ezra HaSofer [Ezra the Scribe]. He instituted an assembly of 120 Elders called the Keneset HaGedola [the Great Assembly], that later was replaced by a similar institution, The Sanheidrin. The finial Elder of the great assembly was Shimon HaTzadik [Simon the Just].

The Sanhedrin served the functions of educating and possessed judicial authority; it was comprised of 71 members, and had a seat in a section of the Temple called Lishkat haGazit (see Parshat Shoftim (2011): “The House of Hewn Stone: The Roots of the Sanhedrin”) The Oral Law was transmitted from master to disciple during six generations, from Shimon haTzadki until Hillel and Shammai When the second Temple and Jerusalem was destroyed Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai disciple of Hillel, took it upon himself to found a rabbinic institute in Yavneh, to perpetuate the teaching of the Law. It continued in this fashion of transmission for six generations until [the time of] Rabbi Yehuda haNasi, called Rabeinu haKodesh [Our Holy Teacher, and Rabbi].

The Elders that succeeded from Shimon haTzadik until Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi were called Tanaim. During the course of the age from that extended from Moshe Rabbeinu until Rabbi Yehuda haNasi the Oral Torah was not written definitively. But in each generation the president of the Beit Din or the Prophet of that age had a record written of the teachings of his teachers that was transmitted to the public verbally, that comprised the oral tradition of received by Moses, and as new laws that the great Elders were able to deduce from the “Thirteen Principals of Interpretation” (Shelosh Esrei Midot) of the Torah, introduced to the tradition after approval of the supervising Beit Din.

Rabbi Yehuda haNasi took an important role in securing the transmission of the Law. In fear that this system of oral teaching of the Torah could be be forgotten over the course of the generations as a result of persecution that the people were subjected, by their exile and the declining stature of disciples. As a result, he complied a compendium of principals received from the oral teachings of those that preceded, and constructed a written code, The Mishna thus transmitted this way for all Israel. Mishna,

The disciples of Rabbi Yehuda haNasi completed his work: Rav composed the Safra and the Sifri to state and explain the principals of the Mishna. Rabbi Hiya composed the Sifri, Tosefta, Tosefta a compendium of all the laws that Rabbi Yehuda haNasi, for the sake of being concise, did not introduce in the Mishna. Rabbi Oshaya and Bar Kapara composed the Braitot, a compendium of all the books written after the Mishna as commentary.

During the course of the ages of the Tanaim the population of Eretz Yisrael [the Land of Israel] were violently persecuted during the invasion [of the Romans], and a greater part of the people immigrated to Babylon. Great rabbinic schools were founded there and the Mishna was explained and taught to the people. The most celebrated academies of the time period were those of Punbedita Sura and Nehardea that for hundreds of years Punbedita, Nehardea, propagated the Law among all Israel.

The Elders that explained the Mishna were called Amoraim, (plural for Amora). Rav, the head of the yeshiva of Sura, and Shemuel the head of the yeshiva of Pumbedita were the primary Amoraim.

In the academies each law of the Mishna was discussed. There arose variances of opinions, followed by many discussions, supported by verses of the Law or Braitot. The concise laws of the Mishna were detailed and explained in the most minute details to allow the forming of halachic (legal) decisions.

In parallel, the Mishna was explained by the academies of Eretz Yisrael, where the most prominent Amora was Rabbi Yohanan.

Finally to preserve all the details of these fruitful discussions for future generations to come, Rav Ashe of the academy of Sura, six generations after Rav, undertook jointly with the cooperation of Ravina the prodigious work of redacting all the commentary concerning Ravina, the Mishna. This work called the Gemara was completed 300 years after the the redaction of the Mishna.

In Eretz Yisrael, this work was taken on by Rabbi Yohanan and completed 150 years after the redaction of the Mishna.

The combination of the laws of the Mishna with their commentary of the Gemara is called the Talmud The Babylonian Talmud is called the Talmud Bavli and that of Eretz Yisrael is called Talmud Yerushalmi. Of these two works the Talmud Bavli is the more important, Yerushalmi. because it was completed after the Yerushalmi and consequently contains the greatest part of these teachings in the end.

The teachings of the Gemara can be summarized as follows:

  1. Explanations of the Mishna, development of the controversies and analysis of the different argumentation that leads one to grasp the subject; the development of the teachings after the redaction of the Mishna until the end of the completion of the Talmud.

  2. Application of the Halacha [the way one should follow[, obtained from various opinions stated in accordance with the correct explanation of the Mishna, or new laws gained by deduction from the Thirteen Principals of Interpretation of the Torah.

  3. Explanation of the laws introduced en each generation by the Prophets or the Elders to establish a “fence,” a “protection” around the laws of the Torah, in order to avoid profaning them; this is in accordance with instructions: “And make a fence for the Torah” [Avot 1:1, commentary on Lev. 18:30, “keep my charge,” the word charge is ” meaning fence or post]. The Gemara likewise gives all the rabbinic rulings laid down according to the exegesis of each age by the Beit Din of the corresponding period. The Torah gives authority of law to these rulings, in accordance with the verse: “According to the laws that they shall teach you, and according to the judgment that they shall tell you, you shall do; do not turn away from their rulings, neither to the right nor to the left” (Deut. 17:11)

  4. Moral norms, instructive examples, and Jewish thought, etc.

This is a table of the primary Prophets and Elders who were the intermediaries of the Oral Law of the Torah, that was transmitted from generation to generation from Moses to the Talmud:

Transmission of Oral Law

Moses (Mosheh Rabbenu)

Yehoshua

Pinchas (and the Elders)

Eli

Sh’muel

David

Ahiya

Eliyahu

Elisha

Yehoyada

Zecharia

Hoshea

Amos

Yeshayahu

Micha

Yoel

Nechamia

Habakkuk

Tzefania

Yirimiyahu

Baruch Ben Neriya

Ezra, [the Scribe] whose court consisted of the Elders, the Great Assembly “Anshe Knesset HaGedolah”

Shimon haTzadik [Simon the Just], the final Elder of the Great Assembly

Antignos Yose Ben Yozer

Yosef Ben Yohanan

Yehoshua Ben Perahia and Nitai Ha’arbeli

Yehoshua Ben Tabah and Shimon

Ben Shatah Shemaya and Avtalion

 Shamai and Hillel

Rabbi Yohanan Ben Zakkai

Rabbi Eliezar HaGadol

Rabbi Akiva

Rabbi Yishmael, Rabbi Mier, and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai

Rabbi Shimon

Raban Gamliel HaZaquen

Raban Shimon

Raban Gamliel

Raban Shimon, the son

Raban Yehuda haNasi

Rabbi Yochannan, Rav, Sh’muel

Rav Huna

Raba

Rav Ashe, redactor of Talmud

With the closure of the Talmud, the teachings were shared with all Israel; one may not aggrandize themselves nor subject no one under him. The work of the wise is therefore to give explanations and clarification from the Talmud.

The Talmud has laid out the way in order to arrive at the Halacha, in case of divergence of opinions. It is this way. in the controversies between Beit Hillel and Beit Shamai the Halacha was generally set according to Beit Hillel. And for those between Rabbi Eliezar and Rabbi Yehoshua, the Halacha is according to Rabbi Yehoshua. Between Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Akiva, it was established according to Rabbi Akiva. Between the Amoraim [of] Abaya and Rava, with the exception of six instances, the Halacha follows the opinion of Rava, etc.

In numerous cases however, the Halacha was not decided [finalized, definitive]. Likewise, because of the resulting variances of opinion between the Talmud Bavli and the Yerushalmi, there are different variations. The Saboraim, the Elders that pertained to the generation that followed the closure of the Talmud offered new explanations and clarifications. The Geonim succeeded them in the following period of 450 years.

The Geonim, the distinguished teachers of the yeshiva in Babylon, represented the dominant spiritual authority. They were the ones that were designated to receive clarification, particularly relating to concerns of new problems relating to Halacha that arose in each period. The answers given by the Geonim, with their explanations and decisions, formed extensive bodies of literature called “Teshuvot haGeonim,” which were their responsas (more specially Geonica) which until our days still constitute the basis for comprehension of the Talmud.

As these responsas were redacted in an academic style, it was only accessible to those who were trained in Talmudic teaching. But as a result of the persecution and instability that reigned, the quality of study decreased the comprehension of the Talmud and that of the responsas of the Geonim became only understood by a minority. Certain great teachers consequently sensed that there was a need to provide the public the decisions (Pesak) of the Talmud and the Geonim in a codified form of law. These master legislators were called the Poskim and their works were received with great interest from the public.

The first great Posek was Rabbi Yitzhak Alfasi (The Rif) who redacted a summary of the Talmud (which was written in Aramaic), divided according to topic, in which it withheld the debate in order to only present the deciding Halacha. The laws concerning the age of the Temple were likewise withheld. This masterpiece was the starting point and foundation of all the literature of the Poskim.

The Rambam (Maimonides the disciple of the Rif, composed his infamous code of law, the Mishneh Torah a compendium of all the laws contained in the Talmud and in the Torah, explanations of the Geonim, that was majestically constructed as artistically as [the work] of an architect. The Oral Law was divided into categories for the given themes, with all the laws relating to it and was preceded by fundamental explanations, systematically expressing with clarity and linguistic simplicity, carefully weighing each expression , as a single word can add or detract from the meaning; for virtually the entire Mishna. This work was divided into 14 parts, which is why it is called “Yad haHazaka (“the strong hand,” “yad” meaning hand has the numeric value of 14). The objective of the Rambam, specified in his introduction, was to place the knowledge of all the Oral Law within reach of the people, and not only a minority.

The Continued Development of the Halacha

The Geonim, succeeded the Rishonim [who were] distinguished teachers. Their era began Rishonim, with Rabbi Yitzhak Alfasi (the Rif 1013-1103), the first great posek, and continued until Rabbi Yosef Caro the author of the “Shulchan Aruch.” The teachers who successively came after, until our era were called Aharonim.

In addition, there were many wise men who took on the work of explaining the Talmud in systematic form of writing. Among the Rishonim there is:

  • The great classic great Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki (known by the name Rashi 1040-1105) who is merited with making the Talmud clear and accessible by his explanation; which explains why it is the commentary par excellence of the Talmud.

  • The Baalei Tosafot the rabbinic authorities that complimented the the explanation Tosafot, of Rashi, delving deeply into them. This is why each page of the Talmud is accompanied by the commentary of Rashi and Tosafot. Ramban,

  • Rabbi Moshe Ben Nachman (the Ramban, Nachmonadies; 1195-1270).

  • Rabbi Shlomo Ben Aderet (the Rashba, 1245-1310)

  • Rabbi Menachem Ben Shlomo (haMeiri, 1249-1315).

  • Rabbi Nissim Guerundi (the Ran, 1305-1360).

Furthermore, certain geniuses who specialized in the work of explaining the Written Law which was contained in the Oral Law, through studying the 613 mitzvot; such as Rabbi Moshe Ben Yaakov de Kutsi (haSemag), one of the baalei tosafot.

The Continued Codification of the Halacha

  • After the Rif and the Rambam, Rabbi Asher Ben Yechiel (the Rosh 1230-1328) the disciple of the last baalei tosafot, became the third great posek, who authored a code of laws redacted in Hebrew and similar to the Rif.

  • Rabbi Yaakov Ben Asher (the Baal haTurim 1270-1343), was the son of the Rosh and based on the work of his father composed a classified collection by theme, called the “Arba’a haTurim” in four parts (Turim).

  • Orach Hayim: rules relating to the prayers and blessings, Shabbat Hayim: and Festivals, etc.

  • Tur Yore De’ah: Laws of Kashrut De’ah:

  • Tur Even haEzer: laws of marriage haEzer:

  • Tur Hoshen Mishpat, (the Maran, our master; 1488 1575): who was among the Spanish exiles, and was the author of “Beit Yosef” an important commentary on “Arba’a Beit Yosef,” and was the foundation for the infamous code of law [called] the “Shulchan Aruch (which adopted the the structural divisions of the Arba’a Shulchan Aruch” Turim):

  • Orach Hayim

  • Yoreh De’ah

  • Even haEzer

  • Hoshen Mishpat

The “Shulchan Aruch” is the definitive collection of Jewish laws that govern the conduct of the people of Israel. To determine the Halacha, Rabbi Yosef Caro based it upon the three fundamental works of his predecessors; Rif, Rambam and Rosh. In instances where the decisions of the three poskim disagreed, it went according to the consensus which is the opinion shared by the Sephardi; which in general is that of the Rif and Rambam.

  • Rabbi Moshe Isserlis (the Rema 1525-1573) of Poland, complimenting the Shulchan Aruch with an appendix that bears his name, Rema. And in certain instances where certain laws that Rabbi Yosef Caro had not been included, other opinions stated by the Ashkenezi teachers that were different from the Maran were cited, as well as the customs of the Ashkenaz.

  • Rabbi Mordechai Yaffe (1530-1612), disciple of Rabbi Moshe Issereles, composed a code of law called “Lebush in a simple, clear and comprehensible form based upon the “Arba’a Turim”

Based upon the teachings of the Geonim and the Rishonim who are irrefutable authorities, the Aharoni teachers continued on bound by precise principals and developmental methods. The Oral Law, of Divine origin, is applicable to all times; as are the responses of the Aharonim, dealing with the problems that present themselves in each period. In our days great geniuses continue to reveal the way to continue to apply the Oral Law in all its detail.

The “Shulchan Aruch” which is complimented by the Rema has been amply explained and commented upon by the greatest poskim of latter days. Among the most important we can cite:

  • Rabbi Yehoshua Falk haCohen (the Sama, who died in 1614); the author of the commentary “Sefer Mierat Enei’im” based upon Hosen Mishpat. Enei’im” Sefer

  • Rabbi David haLevi (the Taz, 1589-1667) author of “Turei Zahav” based on Yoreh De’ah, and “Magen David” based on Orach Hayim

  • Rabbi Eliyahu, the Gaon of Vilna (haGra, 1720-1789), author of the commentary that bares his name, based completely upon the Shulchan Aruch

  • Rabbi Hayim Yosef David Azulai (the Chidah, 1724-1806), author of “Birkei Yosef Chidah, Birkei Yosef

  • Rabbi Yisrael Mier haCohen (Chafetz Chayim, 1835-1934) author of the “Mishna Berurah,” recognized as the greatest explanation that exists in our days of the sections of Orach Hayim of the Shulchan Aruch and has been turned out to be the most popular book of the Halacha.

Furthermore, certain teachers composed more later works of Halacha based on the four parts of the Shulchan Aruch or certain parts of it. We can cite:

  • Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (the Baal haTanya, 1748-1830), author of The Tanya, “Shulchan Aruch haRav,” which notes the customs of the Chassidim.

  • Rabbi Abraham Danzig of Vilna (1748-1821), authored the book “Chayei Adam” which deals with the laws relating to the section of Orach Hayim, and the book “Chochmat Adam” based upon the section Yoreh De’ah.

  • Rabbi Shlomo Gantzfrid of Hungary (1804-1886), author of “Kitzur Shulchan Aruch” (an abbreviated Shulchan Aruch), a very popular guide to the Halacha.

  • Rabbi Yechiel haLevi Epstein (1829-1908), author of the work [called] “Aruch haShulchan,” which details all the laws with their source in Talmud.

  • Rabbi Yosef Hayim of Bagdad (1834-1909), author of the “Ben Ish Chai

The “Shulchan Aruch” with its ample explanations, its commentaries, and its different forms of presentation we have displayed all the details necessary for the practicing of Judaism. It is not a human code, but instead is the expression of the will of the Creator, transmitted throughout the Oral Law by Mosheh Rabbeinu, by means of an unbroken chain; the Prophets, the Elders, the Tanaim, the Amaraim, the Geonim, the Rishonim, and the Aharomim; who [through] divine inspiration successfully conserved this treasure in all its purity and its authenticity, while at the same time they scrutinized, clarified, and developed it so that it could be accessible for each and every one of us.


Parshat Shoftim (2011)


Parshat Shoftim
Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9

How the Torah calls us to an extreme pursuit of justice, and towards an abhorrence of corruption

_img-sefer-gavelMany of you know that when I get into a parsha, sometimes I get stuck for weeks even. I feel like I can’t move on until I really grasp the lesson, and take it to heart. Every year this parsha stops me, and always about these very points. Even though it is last weeks parsha, I want to share this you. I would love to do a more complete study at some point, but a new Shabbat is coming upon us so I gotta get on with this weeks parsha now!

Last week, in Parshat Re’eh we began to see some interesting language being laid out for us. Several times we read in the text that the children of Israel are to do what is right in the eyes of G-d, by following after all of these mitzvot that He has commanded us. The first thing we learned was that when the people entered into the land there would be a chosen spot appointed, and worship would be centralized there. We later read of the mitzvot against idolatry and the command to destroying all traces of the false deities of the inhabitants. These many local place of worship and home altars were to be destroyed; as the children of Israel too would be forbidden to participate in private worship,thus offerings were to only be offered at the Temple once it was established. Then the parsha also goes into the details of the shelosh regalim – the three pilgrimage festivals. Of course lumped up in between there we were also presented with the mitzvot relating to kashrut, tithes, etc.

But early on we were given with blunt words from Mosheh (Moses) regarding how things were going to change once they went into the land:

“You shall not do all that we do

here this day,

everyman what is right in his own eyes.

For you have net yet come to the rest

and the inheritance that Hashem your G-d

gives you.”

| Lo ta’asun k’chol asher anachnu osim

| poh yayom.

| ish kol hayashar b’einav.

| Ki lo batem od atah el-hamenuchah

| v’el ha-nach’alah asher Hashem Elohecha

| noten lach.

Deuteronomy 12:9

Though in the preceding verses up to this Mosheh tries to soften up the message, saying that they are being commanded to do this so that they will be able to rejoice and celebrate together that G-d blesses them at whatever they set their hand to. It was to unify the people, and provide a space for everyone to celebrate before G-d. Though you must understand that this most certainly would have been a contentious issue to people, maybe even considered as religious intolerance. But notice that when public worship was possible, private worship was not to be allowed. It was so necessary that people be in relationship with one another and responsible to each other that we were given commandments and seasons were it was compulsory for people to go up to the House of G-d. Both as individuals with life cycle events and corporately as a nation during holidays, they were mandated to ascend to the congregation of the people.

It was not just religious observance was going to centralized, so too the judicial system would also come to rest in Jerusalem. This would serve as a capital in all respects. We begin to read of that in this weeks portion, Parshat Shoftim.

This parsha is going to go into great detail about justice, and the rules for establishing justice. But it doesn’t just deal with the concept of justice in general and on the national stage, it’s also going to establish a system for adjudicating justice locally. Thus we read in the opening words of our parsha:

“Judges and officers

shall you provide at all the gates [of the cities]

which Hashem your G-d shall give you,

so each tribe shall be judged with

righteous judgment.”

| Shoftim veshotrim

| titen-lecha bechol-she’areicha

| asher Hashem Eloheicha noten lecha

| lishvateicha veshafetu et-ha’am

| mishpat tzedek.

Deuteronomy 16:18

So our parsha opens with the word shoftim – which means judges, which is very appropriate because the bulk of this parsha is going to be about the rules that relate to the judges and officers; including priests, kings, and local magistrates. This Torah is very demanding of those in authority. This is what is expected of the leaders:

“You shall not twist judgment,

you shall not respect persons,

and you shall not take a bribe

for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise

and perverts the words of the righteous.”

| “Lo-tateh mishpat

| lo takir panim

| velo-tikach shochad

| ki hashochad ye’aver einei chachamim

| visalef divrei tzadikim.”

Deuteronomy 16:19

Now this is very clear, this cuts right at the heart of old-world and small-minded thinking that is left in the children of Israel. Like all people who come from the old way of doing things, favoritism and bribes is the societal norm. But here they are being told this is forbidden, because even the wise and righteous will find their judgment perverted by such things. But it doesn’t just outlaw bribes, it uniquely outlaws showing favoritism. It actually informs one that “lo takir panim / you shall not recognize a face;” that you should deal with the issue at hand and not even give consideration to the person for whom the case is heard. But takir also means to become acquainted, to know, to become familiar with, or to be introduced to. One also must not be chummy with the people related to the case or they cannot rule appropriately.

Then our parsha gives us some of the most famous and lovely words in all of the Torah:

“Justice, justice shall you pursue

that you may live

and occupy the land

that Hashem your G-d gives you.”

| Tzedek tzedek tirdof

| lema’an tichieh

| veyarashta et-ha’aretz

| asher Hashem Eloheicha noten lach.”

Deuteronomy 16:20

These three words “tzedek tzedek tirdof / justice justice shall our seek” are such a central concept to the Jewish people that these words are known the world over as a battle cry of Jewish progressives. Though one may not know any other Hebrew words, these words have been made infamous even in the United State where they were proclaimed by Jewish people who fought for abolition of slavery, woman’s suffrage, child labor laws and civil rights.

Interesting statement, to tirdof tzedek to pursue justice. This word tirdof means to seek and pursue, yes. It literally means to chase after. But normally this word is used very differently in spoken Hebrew, more often it means to haunt or trouble a person, to chase them down. Why chase them? Normally one does this to oppress or persecute a person, so they are on the run! For this reason to be nirdaf in Hebrew means to be persecuted or to be oppressed. Instead our Torah tells us to do the exact opposite, it tells us to go running and chasing after people in order to do righteousness and provide them justice; so that they may live, and so we can all live more securely. It’s not good enough that we don’t go after people to persecute them like it’s an inquisition, instead we are commanded to go out and seek people out in order to show extreme justice and compassion to those who are deprived of it!

Justice. Not just any sort of justice, but tzedek tzedek; said twice, which is the classical way of emphasizing something important that should not be missed. We are to seek to fill this world with perfect justice; tzedek, which simply means what is right and correct. Again we are reminded that we are to show correct judgment to all people, indiscriminately. We are not be crooked or biased people.

Here in this parsha there is established a system of judgment were appointed magistrates and elders are assigned through out the local towns, cities, and tribal regions that operated as almost like individual states. They are to meet at the local gates, which in this society is the primary marketplace for all forms of business and social interaction. The bigger the city is the more gates they have to accommodate the traffic, thus the more judges and officers they city also had as they were placed at all the gates. One should not have to go far to find justice, it should be as accessible as going to buy groceries! And it should be proclaimed in the open, for all the people to witness and not in private back-room dealings.

The House of Hewn Stone: The Roots of the Sanhedrin

In this parsha we begin by discussing the local judicial system. But this was not the only branch of government that was established to oversee the law. Earlier in the Torah, in Parshat Yitro we learned that Mosheh was challenged by his father-in-law Yitro to appoint judges because the task was too big to for him to hear all the issues of the people himself. He presented him with a system of selecting elders and judges that were given a certain jurisdiction, and then judges set over larger regions still; like courts of appeal, increasing in jurisdiction as one progresses up the legal system. The lower courts should hear the minor cases, and the major ones that were too hard to deal with would be brought to him. This made good sense to Mosheh, who we read listened and did just as Yitro said (see Exodus 18). Actually, Mosheh at one point totally broke down. And after much complaining from the people he admits that being responsible for everything and all of them is too much, and he even asks G-d to do him a favor and kill him because he’s even disgusted with himself. We read that Hashem approved the idea of appointing judges in his place, and commanded him to implement it accordingly:

“And Hashem said to Mosheh:

Gather for Me seventy men

of the elders of Israel

that you know to be

the wise men of the people

and their officials

and bring them to the Tent of Meeting

that they may stand there with you.”

| Vayomer Hashem el-Moshe

| esfah-li shiv’im ish

| miziknei Yisra’el

| asher yadata ki-hem

| ziknei ha’am

| veshotrav

| velakachta otam el-Ohel Mo’ed

| vehityatzvu sham imach

Numbers 11:16

So here, at the Ohel Moed – the place where Mosheh normally heard all the issues and concerns of the people, as well as made all his judgments from – he was no longer to stand alone, but with seventy men standing with him in an official capacity. These were not priests or sacred people such as a Levite, they were people of all the tribes of Israel. Mosheh was to choose these leaders, thus it was required that he know them and their reputation personally.

To be an elder – a zakein – in this sense does not necessarily mean that one is old man with a zakana beard. But this is the image one normally gets, even in the Talmud where the term usually means ones grandfather. But in actuality this term means something more than one who has aged; it can often means one who is aged, thus in everyday speech this often can mean a person who is old-fashioned, or as we say old-schooled. They are a wise person from having some life experience under their belt. Thus to be a zakein also means one that is a wise man and or a sage.

Thus we read of the setting up of the assembly of the elders at the Ohel Moed – which would later be incorporated into the Beit HaMikdash – The Temple, as the Lishkat haGazitThe Chamber of Hewn Stone. This body which was established by Mosheh at the command of G-d would later become known as the Sanhedrin, who functioned in the capacity of hearing the most complex and high-profile cases. Most often the difficulty in trying these cases was because they dealt with the most extreme cases and people. As we will see the situations presented to us in this parsha concern false prophets, rebellious leaders, and cities of idolatry. Mosheh was not alone in dealing with these issues any more. G-d promised to speak to him from there, and the people would also be given some of the spiritual mantel that only Mosheh wore up until now so that they help share the responsibility and he not go at it alone. G-d and his fellow man would advise him.

But there is one point that is often missed by people when we read this. It does not say that they will be given a spirit like Mosheh, that would suggest that they would be like minded to Mosheh. No, instead we read that G-d would atzaldelegate spiritual responsibility to the elders. Nor does it say that they will just stand there merely supporting him, it says that they will “vehityatsvu sham imach / and they will present themselves there with you.” To hityatzeiv not only means to present oneself, but it also means to face, or to stand before one. Mosheh as he heard these cases would be advised by these elders who also would present Mosheh with issues and advice, each being wise in many matters and able to contribute. Mosheh and any successive leader that headed this body would would listen to these 70 sages, and they in tern would oversee the legislative process of enacting the Torah law. Not even Mosheh was above the law, nor able to act willfully he was kept in check by the elders and G-d. In this sense we can understand why the word hityatzeiv can also mean to stabilize. They didn’t just support him to help from falling over, their functions was one of bringing moderation and balance to the legal system.

In this parsha Mosheh now lays out how this is going to effect the body of elders and the people’s relationship to them once they are established within the Promised Land. It also gives us some pretty good insight into how things worked during those days as very little changed, the system was just incomplete before the nation was established.

Now for the sake of time I will paraphrase some of the text to bring us up to speed on how this system functioned. When there was a cases that arose that were too difficult such as judgment “between blood and blood” (presumably capital cases), between conflicting laws and please, causes of assault, plague like epidemics arise, or when there is controversy boiling over in that place, they are to get up and go the place G-d will choose (it’s contentiously refereed to this way because Jerusalem is not yet the capital, as they have not even entered into the actual country yet). They are to approach the Levite priests and unto the judges that are there in those days to ask questions, and the judges will declare the sentence to the people. The case may already be tried, but this is in place for cases in which there is dispute or a ruling of capital punishment. To show impartiality and settle the issue once and for all, the approval of a supreme court was prescribed for judgment to be sentenced and then carried out.

Like I said, it doesn’t sound a whole lot different from Mosheh’s style of governing, but it does assure the people that they will still have continuity of government that they have depended on. Even though it will change, it will still be able to serve their needs in the same way. In fact just in case anyone questions if they have to listen to these leaders since they aren’t like Mosheh who spoke with and for G-d we read the following words:

“And you shall do according to the sentence

which they shall inform you

from the place which Hashem shall choose

and you shall observe to do

all that they shall instruct you.”

| Ve’asita al-pi hadavar

| asher yagidu lecha

| min-hamakom hahu asher yivchar Hashem

| veshamarta la’asot

| kechol asher yorucha.

Deuteronomy 17:10

The people are going to be able to approach the judges and know that they represent G-d just as much as Mosheh who stood and spoke with G-d’s Presence in a mere tent, as their leaders would be instructing them from the House of G-d where His Presence dwells. They were not inventing the law, their function was to yigidu, to inform people of the law in laying down the sentence. So this system would continue until in function until the 3rd century CE; seventy plus one judges just as in the days of Mosheh Rabbeinu – Moses our teacher

But their job went much further than just being judges. And this is where the role of the Sanhedrin goes far beyond being just a senate or an over sized supreme court. As wise men, as sages and as men of great experience, their brilliance was to find its use for more than just laying down the law. Yes it was in their capacity as judges, but here as a mature institution we see that a Sanhedrin goes one step further and is to instruct the people. The job of the sages should also be to teach you (yorucha).

“According to the Torah

which they shall interpret

and according to the law

they shall tell you,

you shall do.

Do not deviate from the sentence

which they shall declare to you

to the right hand, or to the left.”

| Al-pi haTorah

| asher yorucha

| ve’al-hamishpat

| asher-yomru lecha

| ta’aseh

| lo tasur min-hadavar

| asher yagidu lecha

| yamin usmol.

Deuteronomy 17:11

We are to follow through with the commands given to us by the leaders of the Sanhedrin because they are hereby being charged to interpret and legislate law. They are to determine the law according to the Torah, not that of their own will. Because they are commanding people to be in obedience of the Torah, and also because the consequences of failing to follow through results in judgment, the people must be properly instructed so that it is clear and there is no misunderstanding. As person is often ignorant of what is correct it is commanded that for all capital cases there must be warning first be given before being sentenced to judgment. As we see here this warning also comes with instruction in how they are to practice the Torah correctly. Thus if a person breaks the law from here on out it is out of willfulness and not merely a case of ignorance.

The Presumptious Man: The Willful Sinner

This point of willful sinning, in rebellion to the Torah and the sages must be understood in order for us to make sense of the next few verses. It is also essential in understanding the Talmudic interpretation of these verses.

“And the man who does presumptuously

and does not listen to the priest

who ministers there before

Hashem your G-d,

even to a judge, that man shall die

and thereby exterminating evil in Israel.”

| Veha’ish asher-ya’aseh vezadon

| levilti shmoa el-hakohen

| ha’omed lesharet sham

| et-Hashem Eloheicha

| o el-hashofet umet ha’ish hahu

| uvi’arta hara miYisra’el.

Deuteronomy 17:12

The key word here that is difficult for many to understand is the word vezadon – to be presumptuous, as it says in most of the classic English Bible translations. The word itself is quite rare, used only a handful of times in the scriptures. We can only come to this understanding of the word by interpreting in accordance with tradition, as in the Talmud where we find that this means a man who is actually a judge or elder who acts in rebellion to the sentence of the Sanhedrin. This makes sense because the Sanhedrin was not a court to try cases but to interpret if the law was prescribed correctly and appropriately, therefore only other judges and officials would be heard by the Sanhedrin. Therefore it is interpreted by the great rabbis that as insinuated by the text, even a man who is a judge shall be executed if he goes against the law. No one is above the law, or too good for capital punishment.

But the crime that he is understood to be guilty of in this case is not enacting the sentence of the elders. Thus the archaic 14th century word presumptuously does have a purpose, one that is missed today; it means to overstep the one’s bounds, to take liberties regarding something. In this case it is someone overstepping their authority and/or taking liberties regarding their application of law that goes against what was commanded them by the sentencing court. Instead of laying down Torah law they insist on their own will and thus distort the commands of G-d. We will see this same term used in Deut. 18:20 regarding the prophet who speaks presumptuously in G-d’s Name, though he was not commanded to say anything. So too is the judge that twists the law, they speak what they want instead of what is right. They both are to be executed

Now one might wonder how it could be so, that leaders and officers of the people could be guilty of such things. The Talmud contends this only applies to members of the Sanhedrin who were able to bring issues before them to be heard and thus reject; whereas I could suggest that this means any man at all by a plain reading of the text. None the less the position of the Talmud is true for their usage, as the Sanhedrin did not make habit of trying individuals but only other leaders that did not act in accordance with the ethics of their profession. They were not to be lenient towards them, but punish according to the full extent of the law even if it meant death. We are told doing this would exterminate evil in Israel, in all levels of society. So the next verse reads in summary:

“And when the entire people hear of this

they will fear

and do not more presumptuously.”

| Vechol-ha’am yishme’u

| veyira’u

| velo yezidun od.

Deuteronomy 17:13

Or as we can understand this word now, they shall not act rebelliously anymore. By enacting judgment against those in authority the people were also taught to not act willfully and out of rebellion. This type of attitude is something that is not just found in the common man, it is even found in the most learned and men of status; maybe even more so, some might suggest. The term zid in the purest sense of the word means to boil over, to seethe; we see this used of when describing the lentil soup made by Yaakov and given to Eisav. (Gen. 25:29) But figuratively when used to describe people it means to be proud, and thus unbending (see Neh. 9:16,29; Jer 50:29). It can also be used to describe how a person acts towards someone else, as in Nehemiah 9:10 we see that G-d enacted judgment against Egypt because they “ki hatzidu alechem,” meaning they acted arrogantly towards the children of Israel. The teachers and sages of the Sanhedrin understood that such attitudes were surely more prevalent in the ruling class, and not nearly as much among the humble average citizen. And their actions had greater consequence and must be treated according.

However, I should point out that the Torah itself does say that all people, even the common man, was able to be proud and arrogant. But why do do rabbis focus its application to leadership instead of all people? It is because they understood their place. Their decisions as leaders had greater consequence, effecting many lives not just their own. And when the laws was applied to the great then even the modest man clearly understand there was no way he is above the law himself and thus will become too afraid to willfully do evil anymore.

Again, I stress. This negative attitude could be found in any class person. Anyone could seethe in their own pride and become arrogant and haughty in the themselves as to rebel against the authority of the law. We should all be careful to not let our pride and arrogance arise, letting it bubble over to the point that we show contempt for the law.

To have a healthy society it is essential that the people respect the law, and this could only be if it applied to everyone. Whereas the law does not play favorites, it does however take into account the status of the individual in order to hold them to a higher level of accountability. This is contrary to the norm among the nations to instead provide immunity for officials. In this sense the Torah is very unique.

In having a system of accountability to others and not just doing what is right in one’s eyes, there was a mechanism for checking to make sure that a verdict was correct. But even more so it demanded one of the virtues of true justice, that at some final point people must accept the sentence of the law and end their claim once and for all; not to assume they are the only one that is right. I believe this is the wrong of being presumptuous; being sure in your mind you’re the only one that is right.

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