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JAn. 9, 2024-28 tevet 5784

01/09/2024 01:17:54 PM


On the first day of 2024, just short of three months into the war Hamas launched on October 7, 2023, by invading Israel and slaughtering more than 1200, the Supreme Court of Israel overturned the Knesset Law that sought to limit its authority, independence and the stability of the country. 

“The Knesset amended the Basic Law: The Judiciary on July 24 when 64 MKs voted in favor of the amendment. Following the legislation, several petitions were filed against it, claiming, among other things, that the Knesset misused its constituent authority, that the legislation deprived the State of Israel of its democratic character, and that the legislative process was seriously flawed. Israel's Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, argued that the law should be struck down.”[ High Court strikes down reasonableness amendment - Globes]

Judicial reform has a long history. In the early years of FDRs presidency [1933-45], his efforts to increase the size of the US Supreme Court were rebuffed as ‘packing the court.’ In Poland, the previously elected government moved to limit the Constitutional Tribunal in 2015, one possible reason for the defeat of the Law and Justice Party in 2023 elections. In Hungary, changes implemented by Viktor Orban led to the European Commission withholding funds in 2022. Following a 2016 coup attempt, Turkish leader Erdogan has reduced the role of the courts in a series of widely reported actions.

Concerns with the implementation of justice are a central message across time. In Torah, we read several significant messages that deal with legal ethics. Examples include the words of Genesis describing the nature of humanity: “(27) And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” [Genesis 1:27] This is reaffirmed by Abraham in his debate with God about the destruction of Sodom:

“Far be it from You to do such a thing, to bring death upon the innocent as well as the guilty, so that innocent and guilty fare alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?”[emphasis added] [Genesis 18:25]

Other familiar references in Torah include the Leviticus 19 “Holiness Code” stating rights for disabled individuals, consumers, and strangers [Leviticus 19:9-16, and further]. Most notably, in Deuteronomy, a weekly Torah portion opens with instructions foundational to a judiciary system:

שֹׁפְטִ֣ים וְשֹֽׁטְרִ֗ים תִּֽתֶּן־לְךָ֙ בְּכׇל־שְׁעָרֶ֔יךָ אֲשֶׁ֨ר יְהֹוָ֧ה אֱלֹהֶ֛יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לְךָ֖ לִשְׁבָטֶ֑יךָ וְשָׁפְט֥וּ אֶת־הָעָ֖ם מִשְׁפַּט־צֶֽדֶק׃לֹא־תַטֶּ֣ה מִשְׁפָּ֔ט לֹ֥א תַכִּ֖יר פָּנִ֑ים וְלֹא־תִקַּ֣ח שֹׁ֔חַד כִּ֣י הַשֹּׁ֗חַד יְעַוֵּר֙ עֵינֵ֣י חֲכָמִ֔ים וִֽיסַלֵּ֖ף דִּבְרֵ֥י צַדִּיקִֽם׃ צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף לְמַ֤עַן תִּֽחְיֶה֙ וְיָרַשְׁתָּ֣ אֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לָֽךְ׃ {ס}         

You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements that the ETERNAL your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice.  You shall not judge unfairly: you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just.  Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the ETERNAL your God is giving you. [Deuteronomy 16:18-20]

That pursuit of justice, of regulated courts with principled rules for a number of judges required, witnesses, and the application of law to specific cases are detailed over centuries of discussion. The late Shulchan Arukh [arranged table] and its commentaries [Arukh haShulchan—the setting of the table; HaMappah—the tablecloth] include the major division Choshen haMishpat—the Shield of Justice, one of the four divisions of Jewish proposed in the 14th Century code Arba’ah Turim—Four Pillars.

Entire Talmudic tractates are devoted to discussion of legal matters, especially Sanhedrin, but with important sections in Shabbat and Bava Kamma. Law, just courts, true witnesses, and honest, unbiased judges form the core of this vision. It continues to be significant in democratic nations and has informed court legislation for centuries.

It is not surprising that despite Israel’s lack of a written constitution since its establishment in 1948, the Beit Din Tsedek—High Court of Justice—has reliably ruled to the benefit of all Israelis, maintaining the Zionist vision of a just state.

Of course, this is but a scratch on the surface of a major internal concern for Israelis, hundreds of thousands of whom marched weekly to protest the July 2023 enactment (before October 7). Although their attention was diverted, the case already in the Court, proceeded. The law stands as it did from 1948—and as Halachah proclaims: Make no laws that the community will not obey.

Thu, July 18 2024 12 Tammuz 5784