Monthly Archives: August 2015

Parshat Shoftim – Is it just justice?

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“Justice, justice you must pursue”. This is one of the first mitzvoth in our Parasah. A short and powerful sentence, clear words, things are pretty understood: all what you have to do is justice; never capitulate – you must pursue it.

Is it so clear, indeed?

What justice really is?

And why pursue it and not, let’s say, search for it? (some translations of the Bible render “follow”, but this is not the exact sense of the original Hebrew “tirdof”, which means pursue or chase).

Justice? Let’s say it is doing what is good and right, giving to each one what each one deserves, acting with truth and for the sake of truth. And doing it according to the principles of equality.

All this is true. But what is right for you, is it necessarily right for me? What is good for me, is it so for you? If you deserve something, maybe has it been taken from somebody else? And what about equality? Is it that we both are to have the same thing? What if you worked hard and I did nothing? Maybe I did nothing because I couldn’t? Maybe you haven’t worked as hard as you may have done? And if we both get it, does it mean that a third one, or a forth one will get it, too? And if it si not possible for everybody to get it? Then nobody gets anything of it, following a strict equal way? Does the good prevail here?

The definition of what is good and right, of what each one deserves, of truth and equality is different for each person. If the definition is to be general and not individual, then the individual will feel that this is not justice. He or she may take it as a forced justice, but not as a just justice.

It is then very difficult to get justice.

A clear example of this is the “Judgment of Solomon”, where two women claim a baby to belong to each one of them. The King decides to split the baby in two, each woman receiving half of the child. One of them begs the King not to kill the child and she gives up her rights for the sake of the other one. The other woman says: “It shall be neither mine nor yours; divide it!” King Solomon declares finally the merciful woman, who didn’t want the baby to be killed, to be the real mother and gave her the child (see Kings I 3:23-27).

Where is the justice here? One woman considers that dividing equally is justice – everybody loses, but there is equality. The other woman considers justice giving up the rights for the sake of the baby’s life – she does good to the other one, but no good to herself. The King considers justice to give to the one who gave up – it is not equality, but it is the right thing to do.

For us it is completely clear that justice was made in this case. As for the other woman, however, she considers it to be a great injustice, since she was ready to give up the baby on the condition that the other one gives up, too (it may had been given in adoption, instead of being killed, for example).

So, this justice is not perfect. It is good, but it is neither perfect, not complete.

There’s no possibility of arriving to a complete justice. Even if we hypothetically do arrive to it, it will not last. It will solve one problem, but soon another injustice will come up in another area, another place, another situation.

Should we then desist and stop our efforts for arriving to justice?

God gives us as a mitzvah: “You must pursue it”. Pursue justice because it evades you, because it never stays with you. At the very moment you find it, it evades you and you must search for it again. Pursue it! Never capitulate!

Justice must be an ideal in your society. The eternal quest for it, this pursuit, this not being satisfied by having found it once, this not stopping and declaring “I’ve done justice, I’ve already done what I had to do”, this is what allows you to live and to inherit the land: “Justice, justice you must pursue; so that you will live and inherit the land the Lord your God is giving you”. (Deut. 16:20)

There’s no society that is just. There is a society that tends to justice and checks itself permanently so as to regain the justice that has evaded it.

A society that defines itself as being just isn’t anything else but pretentious and it becomes at that very moment a society of injustice. A society that considers itself as the only one which really knows what justice is and that blames other societies of being unjust, isn’t but getting away from what is good, right and correct.

Let’s continue discovering justice at every moment, because even if “it is not your responsibility to finish the work, you are not free to desist from it either” (Pirke Avot 2:16).

I am not embarrassed

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Last week two crimes, product of hatred and fanaticism, were perpetrated in Israel: the arson of a house in Kafr Duma, a village of Palestinians, where a baby was burnt to death, and the stabbing attack during the “Gay Parade” in Jerusalem, which resulted in the death of a 16-year-old girl.

The perpetrator of the crime in the Gay Parade is an ultra-Orthodox fanatic Jew, who had already been sentenced to 10 years in prison for a similar offense.

Those who set fire to that family house in Duma are apparently Jewish religious extremists identified with “tag mehir” (“price tag”, in reference to the price to be charged after Palestinian terrorist activities), a terrorist ideology policy responsible for several attacks since 2008. This last one is the first to claim a life, pointing to an exacerbation of violence in this group.

The motives were different, the murderers are not related to each other, but both crimes are connected by an ideology of extremism that advocates violence justified on Jewish religious principles.

There are those who might argue (in fact, they already do) that this is what Jewish religious sources lead to: narrow-mindedness, exclusion of those who are different, fanaticism, violence.

There are those who might argue (in fact, they already do) that all this makes them embarrassed about Jewish religion and about being Jews.

Now, let’s take a look at the other side: the response of the people.

After having witnessed the unrestrained violence of these individuals, blinded by their religious fury, there are millions (literally millions!) of Jews who condemn the attacks, who are outraged at the violation of the sacredness of life, who actively denounce and teach, so that these phenomena will never happen again. These are millions who write, demonstrate, preach, moved and alarmed by deeds they clearly define as “not Jewish”.

This response appeared all over the world – Jews of all the religious and secular trends, most of the Israeli society and the Israeli political leadership, together with the majority of committed Jews all over the world. There was almost no synagogue in the world where this had not been the topic of discussion and outrage, be it by the rabbi’s address, be it by the attitude and talks of the congregants.

But these are not more than two murders! It sounds no good, I know. But from an objective point of view, these are only two murders motivated by extremism and fanaticism, like hundreds or thousands of the same kind perpetrated every week all over the world!

But for us, Jews, there is not such a thing like “it is only two”. The violation of a single human life, be it a friend’s or an enemy’s, either we agree or we disagree with the victim’s way or view, the violation of a single human life is experienced by the Jew as a deep human failure.

This is what we have learnt from our own Jewish sources: the Torah, the Prophets, the Talmud, the medieval exegetes, the rabbis (philosophers and legislators) of all generations. This is what we have learnt from all that is Jewish religion and tradition. Yes, the very same Torah that establishes death penalty has made us understand that we mustn’t use it. The very same Talmud that specifies the types of executions, calls “killer” a tribunal that condemns to death. The sanctity of life – that is the Jewish religious principle.

The Jewish religious sources lead to: broad-mindedness, the acceptance of those who are different, respect, the perpetual quest for peace.

There is a minority of Jewish extremists who does not understand this and does not understand the Jewish sources. They diminish the glory of God in the Universe.

There is a constant Jewish majority, in all the centuries, in every place, who understands it and puts it into practice. We are those who augment the glory of God in the Universe.

I am never embarrassed about being Jewish. In situations like this one, may God help us not letting them recur, in situations like this one my People reacts sanctifying life and I am not embarrassed at all. Moreover, I thank God for He made me being born into this People.