In the previous blog about the impact of identity in the Jewish society, I tried to show the importance to treat Jewishness with much respect and to listen to the voices and advices of those who have been in charge of the Jewish spiritual development until nowadays.
It may at times irritate us when we consider the way some members of the Rabbinate take peculiar decisions or, on the contrary, are not able to upgrade the numerous problems that arise out of a quick-changing Jewish manner of considering faith, life, death, involvement in the society, work, learning, birthing babies, getting married, divorced or taking care of pets and wildlife.
Nonetheless, whatever positive or negative opinion we may have, the rabbis did preserve and save over ages the reality of the Jewish realm of the Mitzvot/Commandments and the treasury of Judaism. Thus, the Orthodox Jewish movements have to upgrade, but they did protect and did safeguard a heritage whose coherence in imperiled in Israel as abroad because of the dramas caused by secularization and the after-Shoah memory-deleting tragedy.
The Eastern-European Yiddishkayt civilization was put at the stake forever, which does not mean at all that Jewish Laws and Commandments would not outlive for the ages. They are indeed words of eternity that cannot pass. Our challenge is to pass it to each generation and to enhance the quality of reflection, understanding and knowledge of God as co-Worker of humankind.
This is why – whatever streams existing at the present in Judaism, all of them deserve to be respected as a part of the House of Israel/Klal Israel – the rabbis have played and continue to play a major role beyond any “clerical freezing behaviors”. This is one of the pending issues that we have to face: we need “dayanim – rabbinical judges” who must be spiritually credible. We need justices and men and women of righteousness and still, this is the hardest part of witnessing to our vitality.
The parshat hashavua / reading portion of the week is to be found in the Book of Devarim/Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9: “Shoftim – you shall appoint judges (said the Lord to Moses)”. The process of “Mishney Torah – repeatedly repeating the Torah” shows how God knows as Moses feels with insight that the Israelites are at pains with accepting to observe the Mitzvot. Jewish memory can easily be compared to some elephants whose trunks transfer the stored memorized elements to the trash out of some odd boredom.
True, we can be so lazy, on the verge of sloth, about learning the Mitzvot and then teach them adequately. They are not virtual games, twisty or tricky monologues or simply a way to reside in Israel without having to make a living, defense the country, avoiding active involvement in the essential questions that they raise: good and evil, the profundity of unreachable God’s Commandments and projects with regards to daily life without living like zombies or bee’s knees or in-crowd trendsetters of remote speculations.
It gives the impression that exerting judgment and being a decision-maker, a manager, sort of heading a ruling entity is a knock-out activity full of prestige and might. Most of the soap operas and serials would rely on recurring patterned events: wedding and divorce, lawsuits and court quibbling. When Moses followed the advice given by his father-in-law, Jethro, to appoint “anshey chayil – men of value, discernment” and councils to resolve the problems that were raising inside the Israelite community as they were a bit lost in the wilderness, he humbly found the wise manner to avoid quarrels among the people.
He was the leader, heading the nation but, as Jethro told him, he could not handle or govern everything. We do see in many countries how politicians or economists, whatever profession indeed may be driven to power; life-long presidents or Chief High Guides of the People. Sometimes the period would legally be reduced to four-five-seven years but there is a real thirst of might. These people of power do exist of course in the world of laws and regulations that vary in different countries. But Moshe Rabbenu humbled himself. He listened to Jethro’s voice of wisdom and assigned the first “judges or justices”.
At this point, from the Sinai Revelation and Giving of the Torot (Oral and Written Torah) onwards, God’s righteousness is the main goal targeted by the Israelites and these activities are broken down into peculiar occupations: Words (writing, reporters, journalists), Law (lawyers, justices, attorneys, judges), Health or language of the body & soul (physicians, surgeons, psychotherapists, therapists, nurses).
Legal matters cover all these activities because it may either cause harsh sufferings or deliver individuals and groups from serfdom and make them feel and act freely. Thus, Law is at the heart of every Jewish prayer and non-Jews would even be astounded of the “legal aspect” of many Jewish demands made to the Lord. “Atah Honantanu –You have favored us with the knowledge of Your Law” (on Shabbat, Berachot 33a), which means that the believers except that God will bless with order the peaceful commencement of a new week, withheld from any sin.
But the striking and constant call to memorize the earlier times of God’s and Moses’ decision for the Israelites is shown in the benediction included in the Amidah (18 Blessings): “Hashivah shofteynu kev’rishonah / Restore our judges (justices) as in prior times, veyoatseynu kev’techilah / and our counselors as of yore; remove from us sorrow and sighing (yagon veanachah) and reign Alone over us, Lord, with kindness and compassion, righteousness and justice (betsedek uvmishpat) (during the ten days of penitence/slichot = Melech HaMishpat – King of Judgment).
The first phrase is taken from Prophet Isaiah 1:26-27, which presupposes that they were able to exert a compassionate legal authority that allowed the removing of grief and suffering. On the other hand, the second part of the blessing suggests that the ancient wilderness appointment of the judges-advisors implied a correct monitoring of the society. This was not the case when foreign dominion and judges were arbitrarily ruling over the Jewish nation, in particular the Romans by the time of the Second Temple. The Palestinian version of the benediction has “Ohev mishpat – Who loves judgment” instead of (Melech/King of judgment) as in Isaiah 61:8.
Indeed, there is a strong connection between the Amidah blessings 9 to 11 about Redemption, the ingathering of the exiled and the restoration of the judges. Curiously enough, the demand was not introduced after but before the destruction of the Temple as explained in Talmud Sanhedrin 41a, seemingly written forty years before 70.
Are we thus so legal-oriented? The State of Israel is repeatedly insisting till some parroting that we live in a “medinah chukit = state of legacy”. The police and the soldiers acting as policemen, but also all kinds of “courts – batey hamishpat” or “beyt shalom – court of peace” for marital and penal disputes constitute a major part of the Israeli stand of justice.
Or, at least there is a genuine and firm purpose to act and resolve any pending societal or individual issue with a sense of righteousness. Of course, people would be tricky, cheating each other, would fall out with best friends for bargains or haggle. We are a friendly nation, rather spoiled somehow like churlish children. Money… money… “kessef/massar oder gelt” and some would know how to get loaded while other can be skint. So what is robbery, eh? It can evolve into a sort of democratic mental and secular mitzvah that fell down to the street or a ditch. A lawless rule can be a spiritually fallen commandment. We see at the present the legal bodies: the Supreme Court, then new Attorney General embattled in upgrading the power of legacy.
Now, there are also the rabbinic tribunals and the dayanim – rabbinic judges. This should be good provided that nobody is corrupt or twisty. The problem with the twist is that it hardly can be detected overtime. As we grow foxy, crooked, we insidiously leave and forget what is at the core of the Mitzvot and we get misleading. Funny how at times we can get astonished or amused to get misled in return. It is correct that Israeli society is going through rising hooliganism, opportunism, self-ruled and self-autonomous decisions taken with less and less respect of the State regulations.
This is a real problem and we caught a glimpse at that with the previous blog about “Identity”. Indeed, Israel has become for some people like the “shalosh arim – the three cities (of refuge)” determined in our reading portion of the week. These three cities existed in order to protect the “rotz’chim - murderers” who had killed or harmed somebody “by mistake”, unwillingly. By the time the mitzvah was decreed, it is evident that legality was respected. And it was a ver humane provision to secure a murderer who had not killed or wounded somebody intentionally.
One of the formulas used for the ancient ordination of the rabbis is: “Yadin – yadin: you want to exercise judgment, you will judge / yattir- yattir: you want to deliver, release, make free – you will authorize / Yoreh – yoreh: you want to teach (the Laws), give birth to souls: you will open them so that they can reach their goals”. In Hebrew “Din, dinim” often corresponds to what the Christians would call “grace, blessings”. Because we have forgotten that a judgment is not only a penalty nor a punishment.
It has a prophetic aspect that enables a society to comply with the rules and still be aware of how to trespass without harming its development. Thus, the moral commandments “You shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery,…” are composed of very subtle points that are daily infringed by most people. The question is how to correct public life as to induce freedom, release and a spirit of prophecy! And enable some good will to teach the commandments with a spirit of kayf.
It is intriguing that the Noahide Laws require the setting-up of tribunal in every town. Justices, lawyers, shoterim/officers-policemen and women as the rabbis and pious people do have an immense preventive responsibility to bring forth the value of Laws.
Jesus said: “Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. For, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven”. (Matthew 6:19-20). The realm of the Mitzvot is far beyond any denomination, party, judgment. It calls to be cool.
1. Amazing that we are now quoting Jesus. If Judaism gave the world nothing else but Monotheism, Justice in all of its aspects may have sufficed as our contribution to humanity. Too bad that Christianity does not teach Jesus's respect for the rightiousness of the scribes and pharisees and the admonition to Justice which includes feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, helping the sick and the downtrodden, but focuses the teachings of Paul.
Stanford Newman, Warren, Michigan USA 48088, Aug 17 6:08PM