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Steven Zvi Gleiberman

Imagine Judges Unaffected by Conflicts of Interest

Imagine a world where judges, driven by their direct commitment to justice, have the strength and integrity to set aside personal biases and interests when making decisions, by prioritizing the pursuit of truth above all. Their decisions are guided by the principles of the law, ensuring that justice is served for all, regardless of social status, background, or bias. In this imagined world, judges are inspired by the principles of impartiality and integrity. They strive to be self-aware, recognizing their own biases and prejudices and actively overcoming them, as they understand that their actions and inactions have a profound impact on the world around them.

Yet this is not imaginary, but indeed the reality of previous generations.

In this week’s Torah portion, it states, “You shall not favor persons in judgment”. The Sifrei points out that this refers to bias in appointing judges. Additionally, judges must rule exclusively by the crux of the issue at hand and ignore the personalities of those before them. “You shall hear the small just as the great”. This refers to bias in judgement based on the differing claimant’s social status and “You shall not fear any man” teaches us that judges must recognize that they are agents of God, and nothing, but their fear of God, may enter their continuousness when making binding rulings. This is because the judgment itself is upon God, and the judge is simply God’s messenger. Because of this, judges are not able to excuse themselves from any case involving a potential conflict of interest, as they are simply the messenger and messengers don’t avail themselves to any sort of bias (Guy Aryeh, Taz).

In today’s day and age, if a judge were to stand up and proclaim that they are “unaffected by conflicts of interest”, we will question their judgeship, and moreover, their mental clarity. This begs the question; How far have we, as a society, fallen? As we look at the news surrounding bias and conflicts of interest in the supreme courts of Israel, the United States and around the world, shouldn’t we take a step back and wonder what our ancestors would say if they were here? Would they be impressed as to how low we’ve sunken, or would they be shocked by the lack of integrity within our legal system?

While conflicts of interest exist in various forms, whether in the legal realm or in our personal lives, we should be able to imagine a world where individuals possess the moral fortitude to rise above these conflicts. To choose honesty over self-interest, justice over personal gain, and the well-being of others over their personal interests. To be beacons of integrity, inspiring others to follow suit and creating a society built on trust, fairness, and mutual respect.

As we reflect on the teachings of this week’s Parsha, let us dream a little bit, and imagine a world where judges and individuals alike are unaffected by conflicts of interest, bias, inner dealings, or lack of integrity. Wonderful dream? Great! Now wake up. Now that we have woken up from wishful dreaming, let’s instead settle to embody the principles of fairness, impartiality, and integrity in all aspects of our lives, working towards a more just and equitable society for ourselves and future generations.

Or is that too much to ask?

About the Author
StevenZvi grew up in Brooklyn and in his professional life worked in the healthcare industry in New York City. Wishing to create additional meaning and purpose in his life, he moved to Jerusalem in November 2020, where he lives with his wife, works in the Medical Technology space and volunteers for Hatzalah. He uses his writing capabilities as a healthy outlet not to receive money, recognition or fame. It’s his hope that his articles will have some positive impact on the Jewish nation and humanity worldwide. He may not live forever, but his contributions to society might.
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