Who Are You to Judge?

Who Are You to Judge?

Aug 18, 2023 By Ellie Gettinger | Commentary | Shofetim

Writing about Shofetim (Judges) feels like too much at this particular moment, when the judiciary of both the United States and Israel are beset by challenges. In Israel, judicial reform pursued by the ruling party is shifting the balance of powers, pushing Israeli society to a schism. In the US, questions of judicial ethics are at the forefront. What does it mean to have a lifetime appointment, and what is the line between friendship and bribery? Shofetim positions the need for righteous people to preside over courts while acknowledging the ever-present challenge human nature presents to this ideal.

Read More
Prophets of Faith

Prophets of Faith

Sep 2, 2022 By Amy Kalmanofsky | Commentary | Shofetim

I often distinguish between faith and belief and consider myself to be a person of faith. Whereas belief implies a degree of certainty that I am uncomfortable with, faith embraces doubt. To my ear, the statement that I believe something to be true communicates that you know something is true. The statement that I have faith that something is true suggests that you desire or suspect something is true. Belief seems restrictive to me—confined by only what is known or can be known—and is at risk of dogmatism.

Read More
Making Space for Community

Making Space for Community

Aug 13, 2021 By Rafi Cohen | Commentary | Shofetim

For two weeks this summer, I was a visiting educator at Ramah Sports Academy. My responsibilities were fairly typical for a visiting rabbi at camp: leading classes for campers and staff, supporting a particular edah (age group). But I also had an opportunity to assist the summer mashgiah in assessing and repairing the eruv before Shabbat. The camp’s eruv—a ritual legal enclosure fixed for the purpose of allowing activities such as carrying from one domain to another on Shabbat—was constructed using some of the natural boundaries around camp. To identify the sightline of the trees at the far end of a field or a stream of water that connects one part of camp to another as part of the created boundary, string and small wooden posts (lehim) were affixed along parts of the camp periphery.

Read More
Appoint Judges and Officials

Appoint Judges and Officials

Aug 21, 2020 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Commentary | Shofetim

The year was 1752, the place Copenhagen, and Rabbi Yehonatan Eybeshutz, Chief Rabbi of Hamburg, Altona, and Wandsbeck, was on trial before the royal court of Denmark. King Frederick V himself was acting as the presiding judge. Altona was legally a province of Denmark, and the Altona City Council had turned to the king to resolve a controversy among the Jews that was breaking into violence in the streets. They had already tried placing Eybeshutz’s opponent in the matter, Rabbi Yaakov Emden, under house arrest. Emden’s escape to Amsterdam under cover of darkness made matters worse. The intensified presence of the city watch among the Jews only increased tensions. In desperation the burghers of Altona had turned to the king of Denmark.

Read More
Prophets of Faith

Prophets of Faith

Sep 6, 2019 By Amy Kalmanofsky | Commentary | Shofetim

I often distinguish between faith and belief and consider myself to be a person of faith. Whereas belief implies a degree of certainty that I am uncomfortable with, faith embraces doubt. To my ear, the statement that I believe something to be true communicates that you know something is true. The statement that I have faith that something is true suggests that you desire or suspect something is true. Belief seems restrictive to me—confined by only what is known or can be known—and is at risk of dogmatism.

Read More
A Diligent Inquiry

A Diligent Inquiry

Aug 17, 2018 By Malka Strasberg Edinger | Commentary | Shofetim

The main theme in this week’s parashah, Parashat Shofetim, is justice. One of the many legal matters discussed is false witnesses. Deuteronomy 19:16–20 reads:

If an unrighteous witness rise up against anyone to bear perverted witness against him; then both people, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before Hashem, before the priests and the judges that shall be in those days. And the judges shall inquire diligently…

Read More
Fourth haftarah of consolation

Fourth haftarah of consolation

Aug 17, 2018 By Jan Uhrbach | Commentary | Shofetim

This fourth and middle haftarah of consolation and comfort begins with a challenge to the people: why do you allow a mere mortal, however seemingly powerful, to send you into a tailspin of fear and anxiety? Isaiah points out that the people are suffering not only from externally imposed oppression, but from their own internal response—dread, reeling like a drunkard, despair. This hopelessness that denies or ignores unforeseen possibility and unexpected redemption is called “forgetting God.”

Read More
Limbs

Limbs

Aug 25, 2017 By JTS Alumni | Commentary | Shofetim

Gavriella Kornsgold, Student, The Rabbinical School, and JTS Alumna (LC ’17, DS ’19)
Limbs (2017)
Sharpie, colored pencil, and acrylic on plexiglass

Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city? (Deut. 20:19)

Read More
The King’s Torah and the Torah’s King

The King’s Torah and the Torah’s King

Aug 25, 2017 By Barry Holtz | Commentary | Shofetim

This week’s Torah portion focuses on a wide array of topics, but underlying virtually everything we can see a thematic coherence well reflected in the parashah’s name (“judges”). The sidrah contains one of the most famous lines in the entire Bible, tzedek, tzedek tirdof: “Justice, justice shall you pursue” (Deut. 16:20). And throughout the parashah we see the Torah outlining various aspects of the pursuit of justice.

Read More
Corruption Begins at Home

Corruption Begins at Home

Sep 9, 2016 By Hillel Gruenberg | Commentary | Shofetim

Only here are three prime ministers
investigated and don’t cooperate.

Only here do I feel belonging,
Even though I’m angry about the corruption.

Read More
Our Eyes Did Not See

Our Eyes Did Not See

Sep 9, 2016 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Shofetim

The history of murder begins with Cain’s slaying of Abel. That murder itself has a prehistory. When Adam and Eve ate forbidden fruit, God called them to account, and gave them the opportunity to acknowledge their sin and seek forgiveness. Instead, they chose obfuscation and recrimination. Adam shifted blame to Eve, who in turn argued that the serpent was culpable. As when they ate the fruit (Gen. 3:7), their eyes again were opened; each now saw that the other was capable of sin without remorse, and indifference born of self-interest.

Read More
The Purpose of Ritual

The Purpose of Ritual

Aug 21, 2015 By Richard Kalmin | Commentary | Shofetim

Deuteronomy 21:1-9 describes the ritual performed when a murder victim is discovered in the open field and the perpetrator is unknown. The elders of the city closest to the body ask God to absolve Israel from bloodguilt by accepting, in place of the murderer, a heifer killed as expiation for the crime. This ritual serves as the backdrop of the Tosefta’s chilling story about the Temple in Jerusalem.

Read More
Judging the Individual, Guiding the Community

Judging the Individual, Guiding the Community

Aug 21, 2015 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Commentary | Shofetim

The 2016 US presidential election primary season has begun with over two dozen potential candidates competing for our support. Keeping track of their positions on the issues feels impossible, but watching them as they present themselves to the American public helps sharpen our thinking, not only about the individual candidates, but also about the leadership qualities we both esteem and eschew in our elected officials.

Read More
Who’s Judging?

Who’s Judging?

Aug 29, 2014 By Danielle Upbin | Commentary | Shofetim

In the opening verses of our Torah portion, the Israelites are commanded to establish a fair, impartial, and moral judicial system upon settling the Land of Israel.

Read More
Dependent? Yes, but on Whom?

Dependent? Yes, but on Whom?

Aug 29, 2014 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Shofetim

The Cairo Genizah, a rich treasure trove of Jewish history (60,000 fragments of this repository are housed in The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary) rediscovered by Solomon Schechter toward the end of the 19th century, attests to the rich Jewish life that flourished in Egypt and beyond.

Read More
Roads to Nonviolence

Roads to Nonviolence

Aug 7, 2013 By Ofra Arieli Backenroth | Commentary | Shofetim

Is there a way to wage war in a humane way?

Read More
Leave Egypt Behind

Leave Egypt Behind

Aug 7, 2013 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Shofetim

The Cairo Genizah—a treasure trove of Jewish history rediscovered by Solomon Schechter toward the end of the 19th century (43,000 fragments of which are housed in The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary)—attests to the rich Jewish life that flourished in Egypt and beyond.

Read More
“Alas, Poor Yorick”: A Grave Affair

“Alas, Poor Yorick”: A Grave Affair

Aug 25, 2012 By Robert Harris | Commentary | Shofetim

I wish to call your attention specifically to the Torah’s prohibition of “inquiring of the dead.” Rashi seems to adumbrate Shakespeare, when he includes “one who asks questions of a skull” among the possible actions that would represent a violation of the biblical commandment. But the Torah is not imagining a philosophical discourse about life when it prohibits “inquiring of the dead,” but rather, in what is likely its original context, necromancy.

Read More
The Roots of Our Ideals

The Roots of Our Ideals

Sep 3, 2011 By Andrew Shugerman | Commentary | Text Study | Shofetim

“Peacetime” may seem today like a distant memory, yet ancient texts like the midrash above show how far we have advanced from the conflicts of biblical times. If our Sages could express that insight in their generation (nearly two millennia ago and just centuries after Israel conquered Canaan), it behooves us to appreciate how our Torah has inspired us and our non-Jewish allies to pursue peace in this global age.

Read More
The Pursuit of Justice

The Pursuit of Justice

Sep 3, 2011 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Shofetim

Rousseau opened his famous essay on the ideal political order, “The Social Contract,” by stating his intention to “imagine men as they are and laws as they might be.” The same could be said of Moses’s objective in the book of Deuteronomy and particularly in this week’s parashah.

Read More
Reset Search

SUBSCRIBE TO TORAH FROM JTS

Our regular commentaries and videos are a great way to stay intellectually and spiritually engaged with Jewish thought and wisdom.