Equal Justice for All – even in Israel?

December 17, 2009

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). Read the rest of this entry »