When appointing Judges, fear no man

Representatives of the Jewish Home party should stand firm on Torah principles, in opposition to the Haredi veto

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed,

מצווה. הרב מלמד
מצווה. הרב מלמד
פלאש 90

Choosing Judges

In the last year a solution to a longstanding impasse was found – partly through compromise, and partly owing to capitulation to the Haredi veto – and twenty-two judges were appointed to the regional Rabbinical Courts, and ten judges to the Supreme Rabbinic Court. This was not easily accomplished, and who knows if a decision on the appointment of judges to the Supreme Rabbinic Court would have been reached without the intervention of the secular High Court.

Currently, however, a blessing can be recited over the successful completion: on a small-scale version, the State of Israel has merited fulfilling the mitzvah of appointing judges, as the Torah says: “Appoint yourselves judges and police for your tribes in all your settlements that God your Lord is giving you, and make sure they administer honest judgment for the people”(Deuteronomy 16:18).

True, the judges have jurisdiction only over family laws, but if we are deserving, and the judges sanctify God’s name, the public will call for the expansion of their areas of jurisdiction, until the country is governed completely by Torah law.

Do Not Delay Justice

Thanks to the new appointments, the judges will be able to fulfill their job properly and decide cases quickly for as long as justice is delayed, disputes rapidly escalate, as our Sages learned from the verse: “Starting a quarrel is like opening a floodgate, so stop before a dispute breaks out”(Proverbs 17:14): At first, a dispute is similar to a small trickle of water that drips out of a dam, and if it is not clogged immediately, it widens into a strong current, destroys the dam, and becomes a terrible flood (Sanhedrin 7a). Likewise, our Sages said in the Mishna: “The sword comes upon the world for the procrastination of justice” (Avot 5:8). Procrastination of justice is when ruling on a law is postponed and suspend for several days (Rashi and Rambam, ibid). This is why we were commanded to appoint judges in each city, so that people with quarrels could have immediate access to them to settle their disputes.

The Flaws in Electing Judges

After expressing satisfaction about the very appointment of the judges, it must be noted that the process of selection of judges and rabbis by their ethnic origin and party affiliation is extremely flawed. True, it is a mitzvah to appoint for each and every tribe judges from of their own tribe, because, coming from the same tribe, they can better understand their fellow kin. Thus, the court system should comprise judges of various ethnic groupings, because an Ashkenazi Haredi dayan (judge) can better understand an Ashkenazi Haredi litigant, and a Moroccan dayan can better understand litigants of older Moroccan heritage.

But since the majority of various ethnic groups live together, reasonable judges who grew up in communities comprised of members of all the various ethnic groups should be able to understand the majority of the public, and consequently, there is no need to be so precise about ethnic assignment. Besides, even in cases where it would be fitting to refer litigants from a certain ethnic group to judges who understand them better, this is not done, because the composition of presiding judges is determined by region and surname.

In any case, there is clearly no place for the appointment of judges according to political affiliation.

The Sin of the Haredi ‘Herem‘: The Uprooting of Torah

Even worse, during the election process it became clear that the Haredim imposed a total veto the appointment of Zionist rabbis who they felt tended to rule leniently on certain laws. In this manner, the Haredim are destroying the Torah world, because judges and rabbis are commanded to be faithful to the Torah without fear of any person. This is the only way they can arrive at the truth. If rabbis who tend to rule leniently are afraid to learn and draw conclusions because of the price they may have to pay due to their decisions, their voices will be silenced. And when the voices of lenient rabbis are silenced, the voice of the machmirim (stringent) are also harmed, because they will not be able to thoroughly clarify their own positions. This is how the Haredi ‘askanim’ (wheeler-dealers) and rabbis who back them uproot substantial portions of the Torah from Israel.

This morally flawed position is not new. The colossal disputes between the different Haredi groups and sects, the derogatory terms used against rabbis from opposing Haredi camps, and above all, the practice of humiliating Zionist rabbis have turned the haramot (censures) and the uprooting of portions of the Torah into sins which they tread upon without remorse. As our Sages said: “Once a man has committed a sin once and twice…
it appears to him as if it were permitted” (Yoma 86b).

What to Do In the Future

The dilemma that reliable public officials faced was understandable. Had they insisted on the truth, the court system would have reeled and collapsed. Henceforth, however, they should never capitulate to the Haredi veto, but rather, place the principles of the Torah above all, and refuse further compromises on Torah positions which certain members of the Haredi public are mistaken.

It is advisable for public officials to announce that from now on they will totally oppose any appointment of a rabbi or dayan who is not faithful to the Torah, including things that the ‘askanim’ of the Haredi public and some of their rabbis disregard. Let us reiterate the positions upon which a candidate for the Rabbinate or Dayanut (rabbinical judge) should be clear:

1) His stated position that according to halakha (Jewish law), the conversion of any rabbi of an accepted Orthodox community who is recognized as being faithful to Torah cannot be annulled, and he approves the conversion as valid. A candidate for the post, of course, is entitled to believe that l’chatchila (from the outset), such gerim (converts) should not be converted; he can also believe that the State of Israel has the authority to determine whose conversions will be recognized for civilian registry; but from a halakhic point of view, he must admit that conversions performed by Orthodox rabbis cannot be annulled.

2) His stated position that settling the Land of Israel is a great and all-inclusive mitzvah upon which the future of Clal Yisrael depends, and consequently our Sages said that this mitzvah is equal to all the other mitzvot.

3) His stated position that there is a great mitzvah to serve in the I.D.F. This does not contradict the provision of postponement for yeshiva students, and does not contradict the position that as long as the army fails to allow a religious soldier the opportunity to properly observe mitzvot, it is reasonable, or even appropriate, to postpone army service. However, someone who says there is no mitzvah to serve in the army to protect the people and the country, denies the Torah and is not fitting to serve as a rabbi or a dayan.

4) His stated position that there is great value in learning secular studies both to understand the wisdom of the Creator, and for the purpose of earning a livelihood and bettering the world, and that there is no prohibition to study core subjects at an elementary age. Of course, one can argue whether it is worthwhile to learn secular studies at an elementary age, or for whom it is appropriate; but anyone who claims that it is forbidden, adds a prohibition to the Torah – in contradiction of the Torah – and is not fitting to serve as a rabbi or a dayan.

This is the most just response, balancing and correcting the sin of the Haredi ‘askanim‘ – disqualification in exchange for disqualification, and correcting the misrepresentations.

In my estimation, many Haredi rabbis agree to some extent with the principles I mentioned, realize that this is the position of the Torah, and therefore, such a position does not entail prior disqualification of all representatives of the Haredi public for rabbinical positions and dayanut.

The Likud’s Position

It turns out that in practice the Likud party, because of practical considerations, supports the position of the Haredim. With the support of the Likud, two judges who invalidated a private conversion of Rabbi Lookstein were just elected to the Supreme Rabbinical Court – Rabbi Elimelech and Rabbi Nahari. They acted in contradiction to the position of the Chief Rabbis, and moreover, in contradiction to the position of halakha, and contrary to the Jewish tradition of generations. This is a phenomenon that has spread throughout the Haredi community. The Likud party supported dayanim who represent this phenomenon (afterwards, they claim it’s impossible to get along with the Chief Rabbinate, and support the recognition of Reform Jews).

And despite this being the position of the governing party, officials of the Bayit HaYehudi (Jewish Home) party should publicly express their position, and let the Likud representatives make their own accounts. Should it please the Likud, let them continue selling the Rabbinate and the rabbinical courts to the Haredi wheeler-dealers; let the public see, and judge who to vote for at election time. In all likelihood, precisely a clear position such as this will straighten-out the Likud party. In the meantime, while positions are unclear, the Likud permits itself to support dayanim that invalidated private conversions by recognized rabbis, such as Rabbi Lookstein.

The Position of the Yesh Atid Party

The voice of the opposition, and foremost the Yesh Atid party, has also been silent. They are making political calculations that it is better to curry favor with the Haredim, or at least, not to criticize them harshly. They fulfill the “mitzvah” of their “secular religion” in the meantime by denouncing Zionist rabbis, such as the Chief I.D.F. Rabbi-elect, Rabbi Eyal Karim, who formerly was an officer in Sayeret Matkal (General Staff Reconnaissance Unit), and commander of the Sayeret Tzanchanim (elite unit of the Paratroopers). It’s important to take note of this method of the Yesh Atid party and inform the public, so as to minimize their ability of deceiving voters and harming the State of Israel.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting and thought-provoking articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at:
http://en.yhb.org.il/



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