Judges must not be afraid to administer justice

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, August 18, 2014

When the Torah describes the mitzvah of establishing a court system in the Land of Israel and appointing judges, it adds, “You shall not fear any person”. Judges must decide on the basis of the facts and evidence and not to succumb to fears and threats of intimidation from the accused.

Maimonides includes this admonition to judges not to be afraid in his list of the 613 mitzvot. He quotes a midrash (Sifrei) that the judge should not express fear that the defendant will kill him or his child, or burn his property.

Does a judge really have to risk his life for justice? May he or she recuse him or herself when there is real danger? Some authorities, eg the Rama in 16th century Poland, said that judges may refuse cases involving sinners who would denounce the judge to non-Jewish authorities. Others, however, said a judge must bear this risk for the sake of upholding the law. Where judges guard the frontier between law and barbarism, they need real courage.

Last updated: 10:52am, August 20 2014