Jewish Judges

Who are they? What are their qualities?

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Reprinted with permission from The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions, by Ronald L. Eisenberg, published by the Jewish Publication Society.

According to Maimonides, Judges must be wise and understanding, learned in the law, and versed in many other branches of learning…such as medicine, mathematics, astronomy and astrology; and the ways of sorcerers and magicians and the superstitious practices of idolaters [so as to be competent to judge them];…[a judge must be] neither a very aged man nor a eunuch … or childless; … just as he must be free from all suspicion with respect to conduct, so must he be free from all physical defects, … a man of mature age, imposing stature, and good appearance, and able to express his views in clear and well-chosen words and be conversant with most of the spoken languages…[so there is no need] of the services of an interpreter.
jewish law
The seven fundamental qualities of a judge are “wisdom, humility, fear of God, disdain of gain [money], love of truth, love of people, and a good reputation.” A judge must have “a good eye, a lowly [humble] spirit, must be friendly in intercourse [pleasant in company], and gentle in speech and dealings with others; he must be very strict with himself and control his passions; he must have a courageous heart to rescue the oppressed from the hand of the oppressor, cruelty, and persecution, and eschew wrong and injustice.”

According to the Talmud, those who “are ineligible [to be witnesses or judges include] a gambler with dice [i.e., any type of gambler], a usurer [one who loans money at interest], a pigeon trainer [who races birds], and traders [in the produce] of the sabbatical year” (Sanh. 3:3).

Judges must be scrupulously fair and honorable to preserve the integrity of the judicial system, not departing from the Torah-mandated principles of guilt and innocence. “He who does not deliver judgments in perfect truth causes the Divine Presence to depart from the midst of Israel” (Sanh. 7a). A judge is forbidden to handle a case if he is related to one of the litigants or has any other personal relationship (Sanh. 3:4-5).

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Ronald L. Eisenberg, a radiologist and non-practicing attorney, is the author of numerous books, including The Jewish World in Stamps.

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