Israel Supreme Court justices
Israel Supreme Court justicesPhoto: Flash 90

Rabbi Raymond Apple was for many years Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesman on Judaism. After serving congregations in London, Rabbi Apple was chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, for 32 years. He also held many public roles, particularly in the fields of chaplaincy, interfaith dialogue and Freemasonry, and is the recipient of several national and civic honours. Now retired, he lives in Jerusalem and blogs at


When Prime Minister Menachem Begin was given a hard time in the United States, he retorted, "There are judges in Jerusalem".

He was probably saying, "Don’t talk to me about Jews needing to behave with a sense of justice".

In the last few months we needed Beginesque ethics to provide Israel and the Jewish people with a balanced judiciary and a firm sense of justice.

Here is not the place to lay down the sort of judiciary that Israel should have… but it is the right forum to agree on a compromise and formulate who should control appointments of judges and how the judiciary and the Knesset should interact.

The ideal judicial system needs deep and wide scrutiny, and Parashat Shoftim ("Judges") is a suitable context.


This week we read about the cities of refuge to which a person who had inadvertently committed bloodshed could flee and find sanctuary.

There is a hassidic idea found in the writings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe that – over and above the cities of refuge for an inadvertent lawbreaker – the month of Ellul is a month of refuge.

People are never perfect and they commit transgressions without intending to. They need somewhere for spiritual refuge. Just as an inadvertent manslayer needed somewhere to escape to, an accidental sinner needed somewhere to sit and rediscover himself and rededicate himself to a life of honesty and goodness.

This is a wonderful way of preparing for Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur.


The concept of prophecy is a fundamental part of Jewish theology. It is found in the Torah in this week’s reading where we are told that any purported prophet who does not speak the word of God does not deserve the title of prophet (Deut. 18:19-22).

Rashi says that a true prophet says only what God commands him; if he does not have a sense of responsibility towards God he is a fake.

The word "navi" – a prophet – comes from a root that indicates "utterance". But the utterance must come from God, not from an idol. Even if the prophetic message from an idol appears to be valid and true, the "prophet" must be put to death – the death penalty in this case being strangulation (Sanh. 89a).

An alternative word, "ro’eh" (seer) denotes someone who sees miracles and whose spiritual sense shows him to be a Divine messenger.