Carnegie Shul Chatter – August 9, 2013

Candle lighting time is 8:07


This week’s parshah, Shofetim, deals with several issues including the appointment of a king, cities of refuge, and the rules of war.  But the one area of the parshah that is perhaps the most relevant in our times is the administration of justice.  “Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates, which the LORD thy God giveth thee, tribe by tribe; and thou shalt judge the people with righteous judgement…Justice, justice shalt thou follow.”

And later on in the parshah we find, “One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin that he sinneth; at the mouth of two witnesses, shall a matter be established.  If an unrighteous witness rise up against any man to bear perverted witness against him; then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges that shall be in those days.  And the judges shall inquire diligently…”

The importance of a fair and impartial system for administering justice was to be  paramount in the governance of the new Promised Land.  It was so important that the word “justice” was repeated twice.  And two witnesses were to be required.  And yet, in our society today, do we always have the type of justice that we deserve?  Are our judges as fair and honorable as they should be?

In Pennsylvania, Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin was recently convicted of corrupting the election process while campaigning.  In 1994, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Rolf Larsen was convicted of two counts of criminal conspiracy and was removed from office.  Is this the kind of righteous administration of justice that we as citizens deserve?

I remember when the minor judiciary in Pennsylvania was referred to as JP, or Justice of the Peace.  The running joke was that JP meant justice for the plaintiff.  Not very funny, was it?

It is a sad commentary that many times judges are appointed to the bench not because they are the most competent judge or the most righteous judge available, but because they are a conservative or liberal who is politically compatible with the President or Governor who is appointing them.

And if the President is disappointed with the rulings of the courts, what should he do?  Well, Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to increase the number of Supreme Court justices so he could appoint more who were sympathetic to his causes.

Yes, the Torah stressed the importance of judges who reallly deserve the title, “Your Honor.”  There have been many outstanding judges in our history, but, unfortunately, not all judges and politicians have taken this matter as seriously as we deserve.  Perhaps all judges should be required to read Shofetim before they take the oath of office.

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