Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Parshas Yitro 5769- The responsibilities of the courts

This weeks parsha is probably best known for its contents in the sixth aliyah – the Aseret Hadibrot.  However, there is a very interesting incident that the Torah brings prior to the receiving of the Torah on Mt Sinai involving Yitro. the father-in-law of Moshe.

Yitro comes and meets up with Moshe and Bnei Yisrael when they are encamped at Refidim- he offers sacrifices and a whole load of dignitaries sit down to eat with him.  The commentators remark that the sacrifices offered were those of a convert after they have become fully Jewish (yes- when the Temple stands converts bring a korban to finalise the conversion- since we cannot offer sacrifices today, the conversion is finalised by the mikvah.)  This incident then relates how Yitro watches Moshe judging the people; base don what he sees, Yitro offers Moshe advice on how he should restructure things so that people will have better access to the court system.  What is Yitro’s issue?  with only Moshe acting as a judge people have to wait inordinately long for their case to be heard and some might forego justice (or turn to alternate remedies) because of the long wait.

His advice seems obvious- and our modern court system seems to parallel that which Yotro suggest- small courts handling minor matters, with courts of increasing authority until bringing matters to Moshe as the final judge when a matter cannot be settled by a lower court.  But why bring this matter now, before the revelation of Sinai- the culmination of our Exodus from Egypt and the realisation of the reason for the existence of Bnei Yisrael- particularly when many commentators (amongst them Ramban) state that this incident happened AFTER the receiving of the Torah!

To me, this illustrates the importance of having a society governed by the rule of law.  ALL societies, not just Jewish ones, after all, one fo the seven laws incumbent on the Bnei Noach is to set-up a court system and body of laws to govern their society.  We are being shown here that society is not just a collection of individuals- we do not just exist alongside each other.  Instead, we are being told that we are intertwined- we have to relate to each other- and we have to relate to each other in a framework that enhances existence.  A society without justice cannot work- people will resort to other ways to resolve disputes, chaos reigns.  In order to have a working society, we have to have a working justice system.

Now, living in South Africa- this is something that is very much a topic of conversation.  we have a seniour Judge in charge of one of the divisions accussed of trying to interfere with the proceedings of a trial related to a seniour politician, we have another judge accussed of drunk driving followed by abusive behaviour towards police officers attending to the scene of the crash.  And there have been other judicial scandals.  On top of that, there are continuous stories of how badly overloaded the court system is- how there are delays, sometimes for years on trials being heard, both in the civil and criminal court system.  And, if that is not enough, threats of strikes from magistrate, prosecutors and public defenders due to working conditions and low pay.  To me, this is flag for a serious breakdown in our society- we need to see this getting fixed, and soon- yet we do not see this as a pressing issue for any of the political parties with an upcoming election this year.

As always comments, corrections, dscussion and suggestions for improvement are welcome (especially since I’m planning on using this as one of my droshes this coming Shabbos)


February 10, 2009 - Posted by | Current affairs, Parshah, Torah | , , , , , , , , , ,

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