You Mean It’s Really About Justice?

And it will be, because you will heed these ordinances and keep them and perform, that the Lord, your God, will keep for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers. [Deuteronomy. 7:12]
There is a word in the first verse of this week’s Torah portion that has all the commentators buzzing. The word in Hebrew is Eikev and its translations include “after”, “end of”, “because”, “heel”, “rolling” and “purpose.” Still, most of the sages bow to seniority and agree with Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, or Rashi. “Eikev” is about all the “little” commandments that are usually minimized if not ignored.
The Torah does not identify those seemingly marginal commandments. But Rabbi Moses ben Nachman, or the Ramban, makes it perfectly clear what Moses means when he says Eikev.
“To warn greatly of the laws,” the Ramban says. “Because there will not be an entire nation warned of all the commandments that won’t ever violate them. Only in the laws will the Torah stand.”
The Torah’s choice cuts to the heart of what G-d wants from His people. Of course, all the commandments are important, but justice in the Israelite nation is paramount. The Ramban says even the most prominent will find excuses not to mete out justice. They have pity on the defendant; they say the law cannot be taken literally; they cite geopolitical reasons why justice cannot be served — in other words, fear of the outside world.
What is probably the worst excuse is something that Israeli judges have used to abdicate responsibility: What does it mean anyway?
In 1950, the Knesset passed the Nazis and Nazi Collaborators Punishment Law, which exposed hundreds and perhaps thousands of Israelis who helped the Germans oppress the Jews during the war. The law was more practical than ideological. After World War II, hundreds of Jewish immigrants in Palestine were suspected and accused of serving the German extermination machine. They were chased and beaten in the streets. Actually, their punishment was light. In post-war Europe, hundreds of Jews recognized as kapos were killed by survivors.
In 1961, Hirsch Barenblatt, the deputy conductor of the Israel National Opera, was arrested after he was recognized by a survivor as being the former Jewish police chief of the Bedzin ghetto in Poland. He was accused of handing over dozens of Jewish orphans to the Gestapo in 1942. He was also identified as playing a major role in the deportation of 7,000 Jews to Auschwitz from May to August of that same year.  [1]
Barenblatt, who had friends in high places, was sentenced to five years although the judges insisted that Jewish quislings were not dishonorable and that their actions did not come under the Nazi collaborators law. Their verdict was facilitated by an order to the prosecution to drop a key charge — of belonging to a hostile organization — on the eve of the trial.
On appeal, the Supreme Court entered the picture. In 1964, the justices ordered the release of Barenblatt. The court essentially adopted the argument by the Nazis and their supporters at Nuremberg: They were only following orders, and had they not carried them out, somebody else would.
“Let’s not fool ourselves that if the acts done by persecuted brothers will be judged criminally by the standards of pure morality, this will ease the agony in the heart of the horrible blow received by our people.” [2]
The trials of suspected Jewish collaborators ended in 1972. They are not mentioned in Israeli history textbooks. For good measure, the state locked up the transcript of these trials for more than 50 years.
In this context, Eikev means “sole purpose.” Justice is the sole purpose of society, particularly for the Chosen People. The judges cannot ignore the law for any reason, particularly in fear of the defendant and his powerful friends. If justice is compromised then then the collective falls under the dead weight of corruption. Militaries once thought mighty prove to be no more than a paper tiger.
The Ramban says when the Jews conduct justice out of love for G-d, then He, in turn, loves us, including the families of the defendants, regardless of their crimes. G-d will also ensure that the people will follow the commandments which the judges are sworn to honor.
The failure of the judicial system is not new. King David challenged the judges in his day to be courageous and obey G-d’s law. Do not show any favor — whether to the powerful or the poor. This cannot be defended as reasonable.
How long will you judge unjustly and favor the wicked forever? Judge the poor and orphan; justify the humble and the impoverished. Release the poor and the needy; save [them] from the hands of [the] wicked. [Psalms. 82:2-4]
The king’s tone is harsh: Do you judges understand that you are not ordinary people? You hold the lives of people in your hands. You are “angelic creatures,” not politicians. You have been appointed in G-d’s world. You must show wisdom, mercy — but above all, you must act in truth. Otherwise, you will plunge the world to darkness.
Indeed, as man, you will die, and as one of the princes, you will fall. [Psalms. 82:7]
Few people have ultimately benefited from the corruption of justice. Rudolf Kastner, the Zionist leader in Hungary who worked with the SS to bring nearly 500,000 Jews to Auschwitz, was turned into a hero by the Israeli Supreme Court. That was after he was gunned down by a squad that included an agent of the General Security Services.
Despite his freedom, Barenblatt, who became deputy conductor of the Israel National Opera, did not feel safe. He moved to the West German city of Munich and obtained jobs as a conductor. He remained active into the late 1990s, identifying himself as a Holocaust survivor.
Every commandment that I command you this day you shall keep to do, that you may live and multiply, and come and possess the land that the Lord swore to your forefathers. [Deuteronomy. 8:1]
1.  “Collaborator or Would-Be Rescuer? The Barenblat Trial and the Image of a Judenrat Member in 1960s Israel.” Avihu Ronen, Hadas Agmon, and Asaf Danziger. Yad Vashem Studies. 39(1)117-167. 2011.
2. Supreme Court decision on Barenblatt. May 1, 1964.
About the Author
Steve Rodan has been a journalist for some 40 years and worked for major media outlets in Israel, Europe and the United States. For 18 years, he directed Middle East Newsline, an online daily news service that focused on defense, security and energy. Along with Elly Sinclair, he has just released his first book: In Jewish Blood: The Zionist Alliance With Germany, 1933-1963 and available on Amazon.