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    Judges in Jerusalem – Shof’tim

    August 13th, 2023

    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 Shof’tim (“Judges”) is a suitable context.

    A month of refuge – Shof’tim

    August 13th, 2023

    Fleeing to a city of refuge

    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 Chassidic 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 HaShanah and Yom Kippur.

    Prophets & prophecies – Shof’tim

    August 13th, 2023

    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.

    See & hear – Re’eh

    August 6th, 2023

    Recently when writing about the Shema I said that when we hear (“Hear, O Israel”), the verb is not always to be taken literally. We hear with our ears but also metaphorically, with our mind.

    “To hear” is thus to perceive with our mental capacity for understanding. “I read you” means “I comprehend what you are telling me”.

    Likewise this week (Deut. 11:26) when God says “See”, we do not limit ourselves to the literal meaning of the verb, but using our mind’s eye we grasp the situation.

    When we are told to walk in the path of the Almighty, the verb has two nuances, literal and metaphorical. The second nuance is where we get the idea of halachah, the Jewish way.

    Everything in Jewish life emphasises this principle; we think as Jews, we act as Jews, we do the Jewish thing. We are Jewish Jews.

    Keep it kosher – Re’eh

    August 6th, 2023

    A major section of the weekly portion sets out the kosher laws.

    The word “kosher” is generally understood as connected with food, but in fact its true meaning is “fit” or “correct”, as we see from its one and only instance in the Bible, where in Megillat Esther the queen asks the king whether something if kosher in his eyes.

    The notion is that if something is kosher it is acceptable. If it’s not kosher, there is something wrong with it.

    Hence when I gave a funeral address for a relative who chaired the Kashrut Commission in Britain, I said that over and above his concern with kosher food, he was a kosher human being, a kosherer Mensch, known for his probity and integrity.

    It’s good to have a word like “kosher”, because it shows that we have standards and (to use a contemporary term) red lines.