Parashat Shoftim

We Are All Judges

In the contemporary Jewish community, judging goes beyond adjudicating.

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Provided by the Jewish Outreach Institute, an organization dedicated to creating a more open and welcoming Judaism.

This portion contains lots of rules--especially for those in positions of judgment, shoftim, that is, judges. Some will say that this portion is about judges and therefore mostly irrelevant to the common folk. But why would the Torah include such material if it were only for a small, limited group of people? Perhaps the material is included so that everyone is aware of what is to take place. It reminds me of the "government in the sunshine" of my Florida youth.

jewish outreach instituteIt may be the responsibility of those who are in charge--but it is always the responsibility of everyone to safeguard the basic values on which our communities are built and sustained.

The text appears to be straightforward. This is how it directs the people:

"You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice. You shall not judge unfairly: you shall show no partiality" (Deuteronomy 16: 18-19).

But it is not only those who are charged with the responsibility of judging the people who are in positions of judgment. Judging goes beyond adjudicating, especially in the context of the contemporary Jewish community and especially as we invite people of other backgrounds to join us. Perhaps it is actually this sense of constantly being judged that keeps people out. Who wants to enter a community only to be made to feel different, inadequate, or less than equal?

Perhaps if we keep this in mind, maybe we can stop judging others and welcome them to share the journey together.

Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky

Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky is executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute and the author of numerous books about Jewish spirituality.