“You shall not side with the mighty — or the crowd — to do wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd and do not show favouritism to a person just because this person is poor” Exodus 23:2-3


These verses are, I believe, the foundation-stone of the whole Torah legislation. It is aimed at those who are designated to judge cases and it urges them to attach no consideration to the social status of the petitioners.

History is littered with unfair judgments and more than often people received justice based on their position in the society. One may think that equality was a value endorsed only in the 18th century, with the Enlightenment philosophers, but this verse proves that, at least in matter of justice, judicial integrity is as old as Torah.

Torah is an ancient witness of an attempt to set up rules and regulations and to create a legal system. Its primary purpose was to defuse violence in society. When two people bear a grudge against each other, the easy path would be to seek justice by themselves.

That is the theme of a page in the Talmud, Sanhedrin 82b, where the rabbis examine the case of Pinchas, who exerted justice himself against Cozbi and Zimri, who had intercourse in the Tent of Meeting. Because God seemed to endorse this act, the rabbis couldn’t contradict the divine judgment. They acknowledged it and said if someone comes to us and seeks justice for himself, we will forbid him. Justice must go through a certain process.

Another reading of acharei harabim, siding with the mighty, or crowd, opens a new line of interpretation. Once we have agreed on common rules, on a law for all of us, the judicial system must be able to operate without feeling pressured by the ideas fashionable at one particular moment. Crowds, as we know, are very volatile and they are not immune to populists.

A strong, stable and sound system is the best protection against tyranny. When strong emotions flow through a society, prompted by uncertainty, fear of the future, lack of a common purpose or a national crisis, some people lurk in the dark and try to ride on them by feeding those difficult sentiments. Wisdom of Torah, and later on of the rabbis, teaches us that a group of humans needs to adhere to a common set of principles that will protect them in turbulent times.


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