Monday, August 29, 2011

Appointing Judiciary Bodies

The Chinuch goes on to say: Judges are to be appointed over cities and, also, over the entire Jewish nation. Here is how it works. Each and every city is to have a judiciary body consisting of twenty-three appointees. Assembled in one central location within the city, they are referred to as sanhenderei ketana. They are to be chosen from amongst the choicest of the city’s intelligentsia. In addition, a body called the beis din hagadol, consisting of seventy judiciary appointees, is to be assembled into a central location in Yerushalayim. Atop the seventy is to be appointed an additional one who is to serve as Rosh Yeshiva or, as he is also referred to, the Nasi – making for a total of seventy-one. Importantly, they are all to function in the singular location especially designated for the purpose. Now, it will happen that some locales will be too small in size to purvey sanhederei ketana (small judiciary bodies) of their own. In such a case, a panel consisting of three judges should be appointed in lieu of a full-fledged (small) judiciary body. To the extent that they are able to adjudicate an issue on their own, they are empowered to do so. If, however, the resolution of an issue should be beyond their reach, they should then escalate the matter to a higher court.

Similarly, a contingent of law enforcers should be stationed along the periphery of a city, to oversee the goings on in the city’s streets and byways. They should exercise oversight over the commercial dealings of the city’s inhabitants, making sure that they are not infected by improprieties of any kind. The command from which these injunctions derive is that expressed by the verse shofetim veshoterim titein lecha bechal she-arecha. Thus the Sifri: “From where it is derived that a judiciary body is to be appointed with jurisdiction over the entirety of the Jewish people? In this regard is it written shofetim veshoterim. And from where it is derived that one judge should be appointed to stand above all the others? It is derived from titein lecha. And from what source, further, is it known that each and every tribe should have its own body of judges? The textual source in this regard is bechal she-arecha. Raban Shimon ben Gamliel contends that the source is from the juxtaposition of the words lishvatecha veshaftu. This is understood as meaning that a command is imposed on each and every tribe to carry out the judiciary function over itself. And what is the intention behind the phrase veshafetu es ha-am? It connotes that the people are to be judged forcibly.”

This is not a transient mitzva, but a permanent one.

What is the mitzva’s rationale?

It is to get people to conduct themselves in a righteous way. Ideally, people will be self-motivated to conduct themselves properly; they will not need to be prodded by external forces – such as a system of judges and law-enforcers.

However, conformance to the desirable way does not come naturally; it needs to be induced. Imposing it on the people, by force, acclimates them to it. Arousing fear in people makes them dread the consequences of ill-begotten behavior. It helps get them accustomed to doing good.

Once having become accustomed to conducting themselves properly, the people will acquire a natural propensity toward exemplary conduct. The point will be reached where they lovingly embrace justice and lawfulness, requiring no externally imposed inducement. Such is the power of habituation through compulsion. It is as effective as nature itself in bringing people to a state where the motivation to do right comes from within.

With the state having been reached where people are following in a just and faithful path and choosing to do good, the good with attach itself to them; and the Al-mighty will derive satisfaction from them.

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