Kenneth Cohen

Proper Judges

The commandment to appoint judges in our cities, is followed by an apparent unrelated verse. The Mitzva that follows is that we must not plant an “Asheira,” which is translated as a certain tree that is worshipped and is in the category of “Avoda Zara,” or idol worship.

We consistently look for a message when we carefully look at the order that the Torah presents.

The Rabbis explain this by saying that if a corrupt judge is appointed, it’s just as bad as planting an Asheira, used for Avoda Zara.

The judges for any society, set the moral and ethical tone for that society. If one reaches the conclusion that going to court to settle a dispute, is like rolling the dice, it is a sad commentary on the status of things. It creates a very unsettled and frustrating scenario.

We are further warned not to be fooled by the apparent outward demeanor of a judge. He may be a nice person and well mannered, but it does not mean he is qualified to judge. This is especially problematic if he is a political appointee.

The Torah is very clear that in order to judge fairly, the judge must posses fear of Heaven and Divine wisdom that comes with a vast knowledge of Torah sources. If he does not have these traits, he will render an incorrect decision.

It is appalling that in Israel today there are judges who openly admit that they are atheists. This is a classic example of where they may be nice people, but they are not capable of judging effectively. This is why the Rabbi gave their warning that the appointment of an improper judge, is like planting an Asheira.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at