Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Shoftim
To dedicate this lesson



Rabbi Berel Wein

Elul 5768
Though most of the attention in the opening parsha of Shoftim is devoted to judges and the judicial system of Israel, the Torah does specifically mention the necessity for shotrim - police to enforce the law and the decisions of the judiciary. In fact one may make a clear argument that a just, fair, impartial and efficient police force is as equally necessary for the proper functioning of society as is a judiciary blessed with those qualities. A corrupt police force is the hallmark of a doomed totalitarian society. A lawless country that has no proper police enforcement of just and mutually agreed upon statutes is a place of chaos that no one should ever wish to live in. Thus all of the standards of righteousness, fairness, impartiality and holiness that are listed in the Torah regarding judges apply in the same vein and intensity to police personnel as well. A society that cannot trust its police force to be fair and honest is a society of fear that only breeds mistrust and eventually crime within itself. The examples of this truth in past history and current events are too numerous to warrant mention. Since police are usually armed and are empowered to use necessary physical force when they deem the occasion warrants it, police who do not subscribe in practice to the moral code that the Torah sets for them become a danger instead of a blessing to the general welfare of society. The social fabric of our own society has been badly frayed by instances of police misconduct. The Torah holds police to a high standard of behavior and morality. We should not agree to a lower standard for the sake of some sort of expediency.

Jewish police are still something of a rarity in the Jewish psyche. The Germans used them in the ghettoes of destruction that they established. The police themselves were eventually also liquidated by the Germans but they were widely viewed by the limited number of survivors of the ghettoes as being reprehensible people. The police in Israel were originally viewed as an heroic group, part of the ethos and culture of the "new Jew" fostered by the early secular Zionist pioneers. Over the past few years some of this original luster has dimmed due to police misconduct, corruption and inefficiency. Petty personal squabbling among the leaders of the police has also led to the tarnishing of the police image. The police claim to be underpaid and overworked which certainly may be true. The Torah’s admonition of creating an effective police force nonetheless remains in place. The public perception of the police is as important many times as is the actual effectiveness of the police itself. A lack of public trust in police behavior and probity endangers the entire balanced structure of a law abiding society. As such the Torah’s declaration in this week’s parsha regarding the judiciary and the police remains intensely relevant in our time and place as well. There is a special prayer in the Amidah for the welfare of our judiciary. The police are also subliminally included in that prayer.
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