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Beit Midrash Series Parashat Hashavua

Are There Criteria for Rabbinical Judges in Israel? – part

Discussion of the praise of Eretz Yisrael (also called Eretz Hemdah) is a worthwhile thing to do during the Shabbat of Parashat Shelach – to counteract the sin of the spies. Happiness about the rebuilding of the “Desired Land” atones for the crying on the night after the evil reports were given, which became set as the day for national mourning (Tisha B’Av).
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Discussion of the praise of Eretz Yisrael (also called Eretz Hemdah) is a worthwhile thing to do during the Shabbat of Parashat Shelach – to counteract the sin of the spies. Happiness about the rebuilding of the "Desired Land" atones for the crying on the night after the evil reports were given, which became set as the day for national mourning (Tisha B’Av).

One of the areas in which Eretz Yisrael is unique is the appointment of batei din staffed by dayanim with authentic semicha (which no longer exists). There was a central beit din of 71, which sat in the Beit Hamikdash complex, batei din of 23, which could handle cases of corporal punishment, and there were batei din of three in all cities.

Let us discuss the characteristics that are required for each dayan, according to the guidelines set for us by our mentor, Harav Shaul Yisraeli z.t.l. and how this impacts on the choice of rabbinic fellows for Eretz Hemdah’s program to produce rabbinical judges. The Rambam (Sanhedrin 2:1) rules: We appoint to the Sanhedrin (high rabbinical court), whether the grand one or the smaller one, only men who are knowledgeable and wise, who excel in the wisdom of the Torah, and have great wisdom."

It is clear that the first, necessary condition to receive this ordination is to have deep and broad knowledge of Torah, specifically in Shas and poskim. That is the reason that Eretz Hemdah’s curriculum covers all of Seder Nezikin and the Choshen Mishpat section of Shulchan Aruch and Seder Nashim and the Even Ha’ezer section of Shulchan Aruch.

However, this is not enough. Notice that the Rambam (ibid.) mentions: knowledgeable, wise, excellent in the wisdom of the Torah, and who have great wisdom. Aren’t these redundant?

The Torah, in discussing the laws of tzara’at afflictions, mentions the kohen’s coming to see it twice (see Vayikra 13:3). What is the difference between the two inspections? The Meshech Chochma suggests that the first inspection determines whether there are physical grounds for the affliction to be defiling. The second one is whether the circumstances are proper for him to be rendered impure, as we do not do this to a groom during Sheva Berachot or people during the Jewish holidays. This is based on "Its ways are the ways of pleasantness." We learn from this how such considerations impact a ruling. This turns the Torah into a "Torah of life," which requires the dayan to have a broad perspective.

The Rambam continues in presenting qualities of a dayan. He says that they should "know a little bit about non-Torah areas of wisdom, such as medicine, mathematics, and astronomy." He believes that scientific and general knowledge are crucial characteristics of the complete dayan.

The Rambam also says that knowledge of foreign languages is crucial. Nowadays, one who is fluent in English can understand most people who will come his way even if they do not speak Hebrew. Apparently, at the time of the Rambam, there was no universal language, and therefore he was more demanding (most languages). Therefore, a high percentage of Eretz Hemdah-Gazit’s dayanim have broad knowledge, fluency in a foreign language, and even an academic degree. Let us pray that Eretz Yisrael/Eretz Hemdah will be able to unite heaven and earth and thereby sanctify Hashem’s Name through a knowledge that "its ways are ways of peace.
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