Equal Justice for All – even in Israel?

The Torah introduces the injunction to appoint judges and officers of the court in the just society the Children of Israel are to build and maintain, it provides an explicit mandate and raison d’être: צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף – Justice, justice shalt thou follow (Devarim 16:20). While the repetition of a verb or noun is not uncommon in the Bible, it always comes for extra emphasis or to hint at something. While the source escapes me, I do recall a most worthy explanation of the doublet “justice, justice shalt thou pursue”: it is not sufficient to achieve a just result, the court must also act justly to arrive at those means. Another injunction in the same passage is: לֹא־תַטֶּ֣ה מִשְׁפָּ֔ט לֹ֥א תַכִּ֖יר פָּנִ֑ים – Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons (ibid. v. 19).

These two principles are the basis upon which justice is carried out in enlightened societies. Justice must apply equally to all, and the ends do not justify the means.

Hence, it behooves us to decry violations of these principles, regardless whether or not we sympathize with a defendant. Haaretz, a strongly left leaning Israeli daily, has done exactly that in publishing the following opinion piece by Israel Harel, in defense of R’ Eliezer Melamed, a rosh yeshivat hesder who would not incline before the Israeli defense minister (selected quotes included below). R’ Melamed stands accused of tacitly supporting or at least not condemning insubordination in the IDF, which is a grave accusation. Ehud Barak tried to hard handedly compel R’ Melamed to toe the Defense Ministry’s line, which he refused, whereupon the Defense Ministry cancelled R’ Melamed’s yeshiva’s cooperation agreement with the IDF. I do not desire to dwell here on whose position has more merit. However, it is reasonable to assume that many Haaretz readers would rather sympathize with Barak and the academics than with the Hesder yeshiva movement. The Haaretz article both a powerful wakeup call for impartial justice, applied fairly and equally. It also puts R’ Melamed’s actions in perspective.

One can imagine the uproar that would have ensued if 350 hesder-yeshiva rabbis issued a petition calling on their students to disobey their military commanders’ orders, say, for the uprooting from the Gaza Strip. Such a document has never been released, nor will it be, of course. But 350 university “rabbis” have signed a petition calling on soldiers to refuse to serve in the territories. And this was not the only petition.

The education minister did not summon these institutions’ heads for a hearing, nor did he suspend the subverters’ leaders. These people take advantage of their academic, state-financed prestige to revile the state and encourage insubordination.

In what way is the “academic freedom” of 104 Tel Aviv University lecturers or some 100 Hebrew University lecturers – who in the petition of the 350 encouraged insubordination to prevent soldiers from serving against the enemy – preferable to Rabbi Melamed’s? He objects to evacuating settlements, but encourages his students to report to the front before all others. Is this, perhaps, why he has been targeted?

“How can you even compare?” academics will probably ask, trying to legitimize this abominable situation. But those who lit the fire must understand that the long-winded specious arguments they use to prove that academia is permitted what the yeshivas are forbidden infringes on thousands of people’s most basic sense of justice, especially young people. If this feeling continues to be impinged upon, the protest started by two young recruits from the Shimshon Battalion could sweep thousands in its path, unless someone stands up and ensures that justice is done. The rope could tear. (by Israel Harel, in Haaretz)

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