Your assignment was to read Exodus 22:27 and 23:1-3, also Exodus 23:6-10 and Leviticus 19:15-16.
You shall not curse masters or a prince among your people you shall not curse…
You shall not raise empty rumors, you shall not set your hand to act with an evil person to be a witness for chamas.
You shall not go after the “many” for evil and you shall not start up a quarrel to justify going after the “many” to pervert.
You shall not favor a weak man in his case…
You shall not turn aside the justice of the poor in his case.
Stay far from a false word and do not kill the innocent or the righteous for I shall not justify the evil.
You shall not take a bribe because bribes blind the shrewd and distorts the words of the righteous.
Don’t oppress [a stranger] for you know the soul of the stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
You shall not do evil in judgment, you shall not respect the face of the poor or honor the face of the great, you shall judge your people righteously.
You shall not go about backbiting your people or stand by the blood of your neighbor, I am the Lord.
The rabbis used three verses here to derive their rulings about how to conduct a court. These verses are the basis for requiring, not a simple majority, but a supermajority, to convict and condemn somebody to death. They also used them to argue that when you are in the minority to acquit, don’t keep quiet, speak up. Finally, just because somebody is poor or a stranger or otherwise disadvantaged is no reason to let him off when he clearly is in the wrong.
Then the next set of verses starts out with the opposite proposition – just because somebody is poor or a foreigner is no reason to convict somebody who is clearly not guilty.
The first verse from Leviticus emphasizes that to judge rightly, courts have to be blind to money and influence, which goes with the prohibition on bribery in court. The second, in part, prescribes not standing by the blood of another, that is, not letting somebody off when clearly they should be convicted – but it also means not to convict under pressure from others when that would result in the death penalty.
But there’s another take on these verses that I find only part of in Talmud and that’s in the next lesson. That will be two weeks from now because next Friday is Rosh HaShanah.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved