Daniel D. Stuhlman

Shoftim –> Justice, Justice Aug 19, 2023

This week as we read the Torah, I am reminded of the importance of a civil society governed by Justice.  In some ways we hope that we never have disputes that land us in court.  But we all know that people cannot always do what is right, ethical, or fair.  To adjudicate disputes, we need an unbiased legal system.  People need to be treated fairly, but not necessarily equally. Judges need to be appointed for their knowledge of the law and competence not their family or social connections.  I hate how judges in Illinois must run for election and be elected to the position.  This seems antithetical to what the Torah is teaching about fairness and the pursuit of justice.

The Hebrew concept of “justice” is connected to holiness. The root צדק is usually translated as “justice.” Tzedaka  צדקה  Is not “charity” but the spreading of “justice.”  “Justice” is a part of the concept of equality.  In every human is a Divine spark.  To effect “justice” the judge needs to respect individuals as well as society. The judge can neither show partiality nor leniency as he listens to the case.

The Greek concept of “justice” according to Plato is one of a harmonious society. Plato believed that conflicting interests of the parts of society could be harmonized leading to unity and flourishing but not at the expense of others.  Plato has no connection to the holiness of the person or society.

Later in the parasha we read about the qualifications of duties of a king.  While the king is obliged to obey the Law (i.e. the Torah) we all know that power corrupted many kings. The king did not have the same rigorous standards as a judge.  A king can’t have too many horses or wives, but nowhere is a written requirement that he is the chief pursuer of justice.

The business lesson concerns judgements made within the organization. In the organization people are assigned to help with the compliance with legal regulations, ethical and social interactions.  Compliance officers within the organization act as checks and balances to prevent small errors of judgments from becoming strategic errors.  Everyone has beliefs and biases. They need to be mitigated.  Through compliance and judgments small instances of breaches in human and legal relationships can be remedied.

Discussion questions

  1. When did partiality or bias hurt someone in the workplace?
  2. Give an example of a person showing bias or unfairness. How could this person have  been guided to a better understanding of the situation?
About the Author
Lives in Chicago, Illinois USA. Academic and synagogue librarian for more than 40 years. Graduate of Columbia University in the City of New York, Jewish Theological Seminary, and Jewish University of America. MHL and DHL in Tanah. Gabbai Sheni of Kehilath Jacob Beth Shmuel in Chicago for more than 40 years.
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