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    Just means & ends – Shof’tim

    It is one of the most famous verses of the Torah: Tzedek tzedek tir’dof – “Justice, justice shall you pursue” (Deut. 16:20).

    Doubling the word “justice” means, says Bachya ben Asher, “Justice, whether to your profit or loss, whether in word or action, whether to Jew or non-Jew”. Or, as another view has it, “Justice – by just means”.

    This raises the old issue of whether the ends justify the means. If the ends are just, does it matter how we get there?

    Judaism is not too impressed with the person who performs a mitzvah by means of a sin. Hence if you are anxious to make a blessing over the lulav but you steal the lulav, or you wish to benefit a charity but you embezzle the money in order to do so, your intentions may be good but your methods are both illegal and immoral.

    But what about what Reinhold Niebuhr calls “moral man and the immoral situation”? May the moral man ever act immorally?

    The Torah shows that he may; for example, Jacob gains the birthright and blessing from his brother by using some guile.

    It seems that an emergency can be an exception to the rule, but only if it is clear that the whole enterprise is in jeopardy, where all other options are unviable, and what is at stake is of tremendous seriousness (Norman Frimer in “Tradition”, vol. 13 part 4/vol. 14 part 1, 1973). But the general rule remains that justice must be pursued justly.

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