- Parshat Shoftim
Justice and the separation of powers shall you pursue
Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald
In memory of the late Mr. Moshe Nissim Shrem, father of the late Lt. Harel Shrem (The Yeshiva is named after him)
The Parasha in the everyday life- Parashat Shoftim - 5780
A reformed society has always needed to be made up of several basic authorities. And the resilience of a free society has always depended on the separation of powers. The separation and balance that exists between the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary in Israel, has been in the eye of the storm for a long time.
What can we learn about this from our Parasha?
Parshat Shoftim opens with the commandment to establish a judicial authority worthy of the name, which will do justice:
שֹׁפְטִ֣ים וְשֹֽׁטְרִ֗ים תִּֽתֶּן־לְךָ֙ בְּכָל־שְׁעָרֶ֔יךָ ...וְשָׁפְט֥וּ אֶת־הָעָ֖ם מִשְׁפַּט־צֶֽדֶק... צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף לְמַ֤עַן תִּֽחְיֶה֙ וְיָרַשְׁתָּ֣ אֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ ...
“You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements… and they shall govern the people with due justice… Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land “… (Devarim 16:18-20)
The emphasis is on doing 'justice', as a goal of the legal system and as a social duty to pursue justice - Justice, justice shall you pursue.
The emphasis on the duplication ‘Justice, justice shall you pursue’ is intended to set before the judiciary a high standard of adherence to justice: "and the pursuit of absolute justice" (Rabbi Saadia Gaon ibid)
As they say: demand the justice in justice - that the judge's system of deliberations be completely free of any foreign consideration, whatever it may be, and be subject solely to justice. And it is also the guarantee for the existence of society in the land: לְמַ֤עַן תִּֽחְיֶה֙ וְיָרַשְׁתָּ֣ אֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ, such qualities are of even greater importance in the Land of Israel, as a failure to comply would result in the ancestral right to that country being denied to you. (Sforno ibid).
After the commandment to appoint the judges, the Torah brings the commandment to appoint the King (Devarim 17:14), the law of the priests (18:11), and the prophets (18:18). These four basic authorities are the infrastructure of the society of the people of Israel and a guarantee that there will be a proper Jewish society:
שופטים ושוטרים אחר המצות לההמון צוה עניני מנהיגיו והם המלכי' והשופטים והכהנים והנביאים אשר בתקונם יתוקן ענין ההמון ובקלקולם יקולקל כמו שהעיר הנביא באמרו 'שָׂרֶיהָ בְקִרְבָּהּ אֲרָיוֹת שֹׁאֲגִים, שֹׁפְטֶיהָ זְאֵבֵי עֶרֶב לֹא גָרְמוּ לַבּוֹקֶר, נְבִיאֶיהָ פּוֹחֲזִים אַנְשֵׁי בֹּוגְדוֹת, כֹּהֲנֶיהָ חִלְּלוּ קֹדֶשׁ חָמְסוּ תּוֹרָה:
שופטים ושוטרים, after Moses had addressed a number of commandments to the people at large, he now turned to instruct the leaders of the people in commandments of special concern for them. By paying especial attention to observing these laws, the leaders, especially the judges, kings and prophets, would be able to maintain the spiritual level of the people at large, and thus ensure the people’s continued tenure of the Land of Israel. In the words of the prophet: “when the lion roars who does not tremble?” (Amos 3,8) Tzefaniah phrased it somewhat differently, providing degrees of reactions to people in varying degrees of authority. (Tzefaniah 3,3 describes the princes, leading authorities as being feared like roaring lions, whereas the judges who have no executive powers are feared in the manner one is afraid of wolves.) (Sforno on Devarim 16:18)
In order to maintain a civilized society, it is not enough to have these authorities, a separation and balance between them is also required.
Although it is common to think that Montesquieu was the one who conceived the idea of separation of jurisdiction but as it seems the principle already exists in the Torah albeit in different ways.
The separation between the judiciary and the 'government' and the 'kingdom' is also the guarantee of justice in the spirit of the commandment Justice, justice shall you pursue: in the ruling, the judge must be faithful only to choose justice without prejudice and without a personal touch. Therefore, the 'judge' must not be both the 'ruler' nor the 'legislator'. He must be far from any expression of governmental authority and carrying on governmental responsibility that obliges him to involve in his ruling foreign considerations that are not just justice in his purity. He also needs to be freed from the need to control and dominate the people, the need to stand up for his word in order to maintain his position vis-à-vis the public controlled by him. In order to maintain his trust as an objective judge, he must refrain from political action that will make him part of a particular sector.
It is true that one of the functions of the government and the king is to deal with law and justice:
וּבְכָל יִהְיוּ מַעֲשָׂיו לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם. וְתִהְיֶה מְגַמָּתוֹ וּמַחְשַׁבְתּוֹ לְהָרִים דַּת הָאֱמֶת. וּלְמַלְּאוֹת הָעוֹלָם צֶדֶק. וְלִשְׁבֹּר זְרוֹעַ הָרְשָׁעִים וּלְהִלָּחֵם מִלְחֲמוֹת ה'. שֶׁאֵין מַמְלִיכִין מֶלֶךְ תְּחִלָּה אֶלָּא לַעֲשׂוֹת מִשְׁפָּט וּמִלְחָמוֹת. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שמואל א ח כ) "וּשְׁפָטָנוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ וְיָצָא לְפָנֵינוּ וְנִלְחַם אֶת מִלְחֲמֹתֵנוּ "
“This is as long as all his doings are done for the Sake of Heaven, and his orientation and thoughts are to promote the True Religion, fill the world with righteousness, break the arm of the wicked, and fight G-d’s war. For we do not, a priori, appoint a king except to execute justice and fight wars, as it says, “and that our king will judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles” (I Shmuel 8:20). (Mishneh Torah Kings and Wars 4:10)
However, the intention is not to engage in ordinary law but to exercise governmental tools, in order to preserve the social and governmental framework according to justice and fairness.
And not to allow the powerful to take from others and exploit their power illegally. For this purpose, a parallel legal system called the "King's Law" משפט המלך was established. (Drashot HaRan 11). The King and the governmental authority are also in charge of the legislation, and of ensuring the existence of the judicial system in the kingdom; in his hands rest the authority to pardon and appeal.
Another example of the need for separation of powers is given in the Ramban, which explained the abomination of the Hasmonean monarchy and its punishment when they did not make the required separation between the priesthood and the monarchy:
וזה היה עונש החשמונאים, שמלכו בבית שני, כי היו חסידי עליון, ואלמלא הם נשתכחו התורה והמצות מישראל, ואף על פי כן נענשו עונש גדול.… ואפשר גם כן שהיה עליהם חטא במלכותם מפני שהיו כהנים, ונצטוו (במדבר יח ז): "'תִּשְׁמְרוּ אֶת כְּהֻנַּתְכֶם לְכָל דְּבַר הַמִּזְבֵּחַ וּלְמִבֵּית לַפָּרֹכֶת וַעֲבַדְתֶּם עֲבֹדַת מַתָּנָה אֶתֵּן אֶת כְּהֻנַּתְכֶם", ולא היה להם למלוך, רק לעבוד את עבודת ה'…. וראיתי בירושלמי במסכת הוריות (פרק ג הלכה ב): "אין מושחין מלכים כהנים. אמר רבי יהודה ענתוריא על שם לא יסור שבט מיהודה. אמר רבי חייא בר' אבא למען יאריך ימים על ממלכתו הוא ובניו בקרב ישראל, מה כתיב בתריה לא יהיה לכהנים הלוים". הנה, שנו בכאן שאין מושחין מלכים מן הכהנים בני אהרן. … ורבי חייא בר אבא פירש, שהוא מנוע מן התורה שלא יהיה לכהנים הלוים כל שבט לוי חלק ונחלה במלכות…
“And that was [the cause for] the punishment of the Hasmoneans who reigned during [the time] of the second Temple - as they were [otherwise] lofty pious ones; and, but for them, the Torah and the commandments would have been forgotten from Israel. And nonetheless they were punished a great punishment… And it is also possible that their reign was a sin for them because they were priests (Kohanim) and they were commanded (Bamidbar 18:7), "guard your priesthood in everything pertaining to the altar and to what is behind the curtain; I make your priesthood a service of dedication" - and they should not have reigned, [bur rather, just] served the service of Hashem. And I saw in Yerushalmi Horayot 3:2, "We do not anoint priests as kings. Rabbi Yehudah of En Tor said, 'Because of "shall not depart."' Rabbi Chiya bar Abba said, '"To the end that he and his descendants may reign long in the midst of Israel" (Devarim 17:20); what is written after it? "There should not be to the Levite priests."' Behold, they learned here that we do not anoint kings from the priests, the sons of Aharon… And Rabbi Chiya bar Abba explained that it is prevented by the Torah, [such] that 'the Levite priests - the whole tribe of Levi should have no share and inheritance' in the kingdom”. (Ramban on Bereshit 49:10)
This also required the regulation of the relationship between the various authorities: between the King and the government and between the priesthood and the prophets. On the one hand the prophet is the one who anoints the King, but the prophet also owes him honor:
וְכָל הָעָם בָּאִין אֵלָיו בְּעֵת שֶׁיִּרְצֶה. וְעוֹמְדִין לְפָנָיו וּמִשְׁתַּחֲוִים אַרְצָה. אֲפִלּוּ נָבִיא עוֹמֵד לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ מִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה אַרְצָה. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (מלכים א א כג) "הִנֵּה נָתָן הַנָּבִיא וַיָּבֹא לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ לַמֶּלֶךְ". אֲבָל כֹּהֵן גָּדוֹל אֵינוֹ בָּא לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶלָּא אִם רָצָה. וְאֵינוֹ עוֹמֵד לְפָנָיו אֶלָּא הַמֶּלֶךְ עוֹמֵד לִפְנֵי כֹּהֵן גָּדוֹל. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (במדבר כז כא) "וְלִפְנֵי אֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן יַעֲמֹד". אַף עַל פִּי כֵן מִצְוָה עַל כֹּהֵן גָּדוֹל לְכַבֵּד אֶת הַמֶּלֶךְ וּלְהוֹשִׁיבוֹ וְלַעֲמֹד מִפָּנָיו כְּשֶׁיָּבוֹא לוֹ. וְלֹא יַעֲמֹד הַמֶּלֶךְ לְפָנָיו אֶלָּא כְּשֶׁיִּשְׁאַל לוֹ בְּמִשְׁפַּט הָאוּרִים…
“The entire nation comes to him when he wants, and stands before him and bows to the ground. Even a prophet stands before the king and bows to the ground, as it says, “…behold, Nathan the Prophet; and he came in before the king and bowed down to the king with his face to the ground” (I Kings 1:23). However, the Kohen Godol does not appear before the king unless he14 wants to nor does he stand before him. Rather, the king stands before the Kohen Godol, as it says, “and he stood before Eliezer the Kohen” (Numbers 27:21). Nevertheless, the Kohen Godol is commanded to honor the king, he seats him, and stands before him when he comes to him. The king should not stand before him unless he is there to ask of the Urim…” (Mishneh Torah, Rambam- Kings and Wars 2:5)
וְאָשִׁ֤יבָה שֹׁפְטַ֙יִךְ֙ כְּבָרִ֣אשֹׁנָ֔ה וְיֹעֲצַ֖יִךְ כְּבַתְּחִלָּ֑ה אַחֲרֵי־כֵ֗ן יִקָּ֤רֵא לָךְ֙ עִ֣יר הַצֶּ֔דֶק קִרְיָ֖ה נֶאֱמָנָֽה׃
צִיּ֖וֹן בְּמִשְׁפָּ֣ט תִּפָּדֶ֑ה וְשָׁבֶ֖יהָ בִּצְדָקָֽה׃(ישעיהו א' כו-כז).
"I will restore your magistrates as of old, And your counselors as of yore. After that you shall be called City of Righteousness, Faithful City. Zion shall be saved in the judgment; Her repentant ones, in the retribution”. (Yishayahu 1:26-27)