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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Shoftim

Parashat Shoftim

The Place of the Sanhedrin

The Sanhedrin - our Supreme Court; the Sanhedrin can only hear capital cases when it is seated in its Jerusalem venue; understanding this anomaly.
3292
Dedicated to the memory of
Amram son of Sultana
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Parashat Shoftim follows the pattern of much of Sefer Devarim in presenting the mitzvot and institutions that were to be established upon the settlement of our forefathers in Eretz Yisrael. As the name of our Parashah ("Judges") indicates, a local and national judicial system was to be established, with the Supreme Court - the Sanhedrin of seventy-one judges - located in Jerusalem in a chamber (the Lishkat HaGazit) that was part of the Temple complex.

Actually, non-Jews - who are obligated to fulfill the seven universal laws referred to as "the seven mitzvot of the descendants of Noah" - are also required by Torah law to establish courts of law. While the administration of justice applies equally to all peoples, the Sanhedrin's status is radically different from that of any other judicial body. Our Parashah teaches that the Sanhedrin can only hear capital cases when it is seated in its Jerusalem venue.
"If any case should arise for you to decide in a matter of bloodshed..., you shall go up to the place which the Lord your God shall choose...."(17:8). The Talmud (Sanhedrin 14b) derives from this verse "shehamakom gorem", that the PLACE of the Sanhedrin grants it the authority to try capital cases. If the Sanhedrin moves from its seat of judgment, as was the case forty years before the destruction of the Second Temple, capital cases can no longer be adjudicated. Such a phenomenon is found in no other court system in the world, because in all other judicial systems, judgments are rendered solely on the basis of the evidence presented.

To understand this anomaly, we must invoke the words of the prophet Isaiah, "...for out of Zion shall go forth the law and the word of God from Jerusalem" (Isaiah 2:3). A full measure of justice can take place only in the presence of God - "...in the midst of the judges, He gives judgment" (Psalms 82:1). Jerusalem is the source of full revelation and it is from there that the rest of the world is sustained. Thus, we can understand why Chazal gave preference to Torah study in Eretz Yisrael over that in any other country (Sifre-Ekev) and why they equated residency in Chutz La'aretz with living without a personal God (Ketubot 100b). Through residency in Israel, we identify with the focal point of our destiny as a people; only there are we able to reach our full spiritual potential. And this is why immigration to Israel was referred to throughout the ages as "aliyah" - an act of ascending.

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