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Parashat Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)

“You must be wholehearted with the Lord your God.”  (Deut. 18:13)

California recently announced it was closing 77 courthouses in small towns, due to budget constraints.  Apparently, state governmental officials do not read the weekly parasha (portion).

Parashat Shoftim opens with the admonition to appoint judges in all the Israelite settlements (Deut. 16:18) and continues with a list of ethical standards for judicial conduct  (Deut. 18: 19).  Separately, each of these commandments represents a necessary, but insufficient requirement for a just society.  The appointment of judges throughout the land provides distributive justice.  That is, it ensures every person has access to the justice system.  The ethical standards provide procedural justice. They ensure every person who comes into contact with the justice system will be treated equally.  A just society requires both equal access to the law and equal standing before the law.  This explains why the famous verse that follows, “Justice, justice shall you pursue…”  (Deut. 16:20), doubles the word tzedek, or justice.  Each instance represents one of the two types of justice and the repetition emphasizes the necessity of both for a just society.

Now, California is a big state and most people aren’t affected by these closings. Government officials claim they have no choice, because they must balance the budget.  Still, those living in Coalinga who now must travel to Fresno for legal proceedings may no longer be able to “have their day in court.”  Where’s the justice in that?

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom


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