Friday, October 3, 2014

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Telekh rachil

We’re discussing Exodus 22:27 and 23:1-3, Exodus 23:6-10 and Leviticus 19:15-16.  I said there was another take on this for which there is some basis in Talmud.

Talmud takes Leviticus 19:16 and defines telekh rachil as follows:  This is a judge who voted to acquit but the accused was convicted, or the opposite, and the judge leaves the court and when news about the verdict gets out, he says, I didn’t agree with the court but it didn’t go my way.

We’re used to this kind of thing nowadays: judges often can get a leg up in politics from the bench.  Some of them do it by picking their target voter group and publicizing what they would do in opposition to what the court did.

This helps call courts into disrepute and breeds and feeds political dissatisfaction on which some politicians have preyed, time out of mind.  Creating divisiveness is a well-known tactic for political power and Jews know about it all too well because of events in the 20th century that started this way.

This gets people to curse leaders and judges, which is prohibited by the first Exodus verse referred to above.

The anger generated to gain political power gets people to herd together and once you get a herd of people, you get rumors, which always get out of hand as far as facts are concerned, becoming “empty” in the wording of the second verse.

This causes demonstrations and every demonstration, no matter how peaceful its start, becomes a screen for people who want violence.  They will commit violence on the edges of the group and when the police move in to stop the violence, the peaceful demonstrators get in the way because they are too naïve to understand what is going on.  Then they get arrested for obstructing the police and they get angry and you get news stories.  If you remember the demonstrations in Ferguson Missouri, you have a perfect example of what I’m talking about.  Out of 50 people arrested on one of the nights of rioting, only one lived in Ferguson and was part of the original peaceful demonstration.  People came from as far away as New York to get in on the violence.

Jewish law, in the verses listed above, rejects mob rule.  Courts are not run by elected judges or by juries.  They are run by experts in the law.  Talmud specifies that people in the audience can be allowed to render opinions in court during the trial, and the previously selected judges have to listen to them to determine if they have relevant, probative information to give or understand the law better than the judges previously did, and then “they seat him among them.”

But if he’s just mouthing off or can’t prove that he understands the facts, and then he leaves court and complains about it, he’s violating Jewish law.

You can complain all you want about people not being tried by their peers, but we all know of cases where the jurors felt compelled by law to render a verdict that the public didn’t agree with.  Sometimes the jurors also don’t agree with it, as in the Zimmerman trial of 2013.  We wouldn’t know about it except that the jurors yelkhu rachil, talked negatively about it out of court.  So this is a law limiting speech.  There isn’t free speech in Jewish law?

© Patricia Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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