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Beit Midrash Series Parashat Hashavua

Are There Criteria for Rabbinical Judges in Israel? – part II

Last week we saw that in addition to excellence in Torah knowledge, a dayan needs general knowledge, including in languages (Rambam, Sanhedrin 2). In Sanhedrin 2:7, the Rambam says: “And known by your tribes” – this teaches that the spirit of people must find them pleasant. “In what way will they be loved by others? When they possess a ‘good eye,’ a low spirit, they are good friends, and their speech and transactions with people are in a way that is pleasant.”
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Last week we saw that in addition to excellence in Torah knowledge, a dayan needs general knowledge, including in languages (Rambam, Sanhedrin 2). In Sanhedrin 2:7, the Rambam says: "And known by your tribes" – this teaches that the spirit of people must find them pleasant. "In what way will they be loved by others? When they possess a ‘good eye,’ a low spirit, they are good friends, and their speech and transactions with people are in a way that is pleasant."

A dayan should be someone who finds chen and sechel tov (approximately, favor) not only in the eyes of G-d but also in the eyes of people (see language at the end of Birkat Hamazon). Therefore, the process of choosing a Rabbinical judge included receiving public feedback on the people whom the great scholars recommended as worthy scholars. That is the reason that someone could not be chosen as a dayan behind closed doors. Rather, the people had to be gathered and lend their approval. One whose characteristics and manners did not bring honor to His Divine Name should not be appointed. Because of the need for the appointment to be public, it was possible for the Romans to intimidate the people and thereby stop the continuation of semicha, as they would kill the people of any city in which it would be carried out (see Sanhedrin 13b-14a). A responsible, calm approach to the matter of adjudication is also included in this requirement.

The Rambam (ibid.) continues that we learn from "anshei chayil" (men of valor) that the dayanim must be strong in keeping mitzvot and discerning about their actions – conquering their evil inclinations so that nothing bad can be told about them. Included in this is that they have the bravery to save a litigant from someone who is trying to harm him. The Rambam gives two meanings to anshei chayil. One is that he fulfills, "Who is brave? One who conquers his inclinations" (Avot 4:1). The second is that he is not afraid of the consequences of taking a righteous stand.

It is clear that the Rambam did not mean to uproot the simple meaning of the term, i.e., one who has served in the army and has been brave in defending his compatriots from dangers, as this is what the term means throughout Tanach. The Rambam does not mention it because this application was not operative in his times. In our days, not serving in the army precludes one from being accepted among the entire community. That is the reason that, more than three decades ago, when we founded Eretz Hemdah, our mentor, Rav Shaul Yisraeli, made service in the army for all those who were obligated in the draft, as a requirement for acceptance to Eretz Hemdah. Serving in the regular army and continuing in reserve duty do not take any greatness in Torah away from our young rabbis; to the contrary, they only give greater meaning to this status.

Finally the Rambam explains "those who hate reward," as one who is not preoccupied with his finances and does not run after the accumulation of money. That is the reason that we set a consistent policy that any service we provide for the public is without demand of pay. This includes delivering lectures, officiating at weddings, and answering halachic inquiries. Despite the fiscal challenges, our fellows and their wives put all their stress on growing as broad scholars, not on accumulating a nice livelihood.

We hope that we will succeed in returning things to the way they once were, where the judicial system was our pride, with dayanim who care only about justice.

heaven and earth and thereby sanctify Hashem’s Name through a knowledge that "its ways are ways of peace
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