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Faces on Faith: Justice, justice shalt Thou Pursue

By Staff | Apr 18, 2013

Rabbi Selwyn Geller

We were ordered to create a judicial system in Deuteronomy and to make it just in Deut. 16:20.

“Justice, justice shalt thou pursue, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”

Recent examples of false and wrongful imprisonment in the United States turned my attention to the Jewish idea of justice. In Leviticus chapter 19, verse 15: we read: “You shall commit no injustice in judgment; you shall not favor a poor person or respect a great man; you shall judge your fellow with righteousness.”

The Ethics of Our Fathers, Pirkei Avot, related this biblical verse to individual behavior and urged us to assume the virtues of others in judgment (Pirkei Avot 1:6).

Why we judge at all is a legitimate question. The answer is that we have to judge people and things for social reasons. Do we want to be their friends or not? Do we want to take prescribed drugs or not? We are social animals. We should not presume that others desire to hurt us. But if the evidence is incontrovertible, and they are willing to violate customs, traditions and civil practices, we are forced to judge. I find that I am more judgmental than I should be and remind myself of the texts of Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Pirkei Avot.

It is not generally known that due process of Jewish law is stricter than due process of American law. Jewish law attempts to obviate the problem of intention by requiring warning before a person commits a religious or civil crime that can be punished. How do we know that the person intended to commit the sin or crime? Perhaps it was ignorance or error that provoked the sinful or criminal behavior. Warning beforehand eliminates the possibility that the crime was committed in ignorance or error.

The apostle, Paul, criticized Jewish law and wanted to live by its Spirit. He taught the Gentiles to live by its Spirit. It would be good if we could relate the law and the Spirit empirically and use them to serve the needs of humanity.

Unfortunately, we are frequently ignorant of the facts, err in judging them, and forget that all people are Children of God.