A Jewish view: Do we need police? Opinion

People who have stopped setting limits on personal behavior would like to do the same on a societal level by defunding police.

Rabbi Carmi Wisemon ,

Police surveillance of Jewish school
Police surveillance of Jewish school
צילום: רויטרס

American cities are seeing an unprecedented wave of demands from individuals and public officials to Defund the Police. Why is this happening now and what does Judaism have to say regarding the concept of police-free societies?

Most of us are aware that the Torah declares “Justice, justice you shall pursue…” (Deuteronomy 16:20) but not everyone remembers the preceding verse. “You must place judges and law enforcement officials for yourselves in all your gates….and they shall judge the people righteously.”

Establishing a court system and a police force to enforce the courts laws and decisions is an absolute necessity. Even Non-Jews who are only required to keep the Seven Noachide Laws are required to establish systems of justice, because every civil society must have a justice system. Without a court system and the law enforcement officials required to enforce the law, anarchy and injustice will run rampant and only the strongest or most brutal will survive.

Immediately after the verse requiring the establishment of a justice system, the Torah teaches us that this system must be fair and impartial, “You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show favoritism, and you shall not take a bribe….”. An unfair justice system is certainly not just and becomes a tool to oppress weaker members of society. Yet, a justice system and its requisite law enforcement personnel are a basic
The Torah’s policy of self-policing and its benefits are sorely lacking in American culture today, where doing what’s right for me is sacrosanct to some and the damage this causes individuals and society is staggering.
requirement for any society. If a justice system is biased or corrupt it should be reformed, but it cannot be dismantled, because without it chaos will reign.

So why is there a call to defund the police and create police-free societies? The American justice system may have some biases, but it has more freedom and is more impartial than most countries in the world today or any other time in history.

Regarding the verse mentioned earlier, “Judges and police you shall place on all of your gates…” there is a hassidic teaching that explains it as follows, the gates are the openings in our bodies: our eyes, ears, mouth and reproductive organs. The Torah requires us to police ourselves, to be careful regarding what we allow to enter and exit our minds, souls and bodies. These are the guards that we must place at the gateways to our being. The Torah’s policy of self-policing and its benefits are sorely lacking in American culture today, where doing what’s right for me is sacrosanct to some and the damage this causes individuals and society is staggering.

In a similar vein many of these same people want to remove police from society, because as they no longer set limits on personal behavior they want to copy this model on a societal level. An individual that doesn’t self-police themselves is a nuisance to society and destructive to themselves, but a police free society will be destructive to individuals and to society as a whole.

We need to return to the basic human understanding that individuals and societies must restrain themselves and take responsibility for their actions or we will all suffer the consequences.

Rabbi Carmi Wisemon is the director of Sviva Israel and an Israeli high-tech professional.



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