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    Are the judges divine? – Shof’tim

    A depiction of a Jewish court (the Sanhedrin) in session

    A depiction of a Jewish court (the Sanhedrin) in session

    The opening of this week’s portion tells us that a community must have judges (shof’tim) who must administer justice fairly and properly.

    Elsewhere in Tanach (e.g. Ex. 21:6), for example in the Psalm for Tuesday (Psalm 82:1), a highly complimentary word for judges is used: they are called elohim.

    One might be forgiven for imagining that there is something Divine about judges, and indeed the rabbis say that a judge who gives just decisions is doing God’s work (Deut. 1:17; Mechilta to Ex. 18:13). But it is impossible for anyone to believe that a human judge is God, even though Almighty God is certainly the ultimate judge.

    The use of this name for judges has to be examined in the light of the root of the word, which is connected with power. Making decisions about human beings and the human community is to wield the most awesome power there can be.

    Can it be any wonder that the Talmud says that a judge should always imagine there is a sword hanging over him and Gehenna gaping below (Yev. 100b)?

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