Parshas Devarim
Deuteronomy 1:1 - 3:23
Wanted: Partial Judge ©
By Dr. Akiva G. Belk

This study of the weekly parsha is dedicated in the loving memory of Mr. Donald Wayne Belk And Mr. Gary Lee Belk, may they rest in peace.

"I took the heads of your tribes, wise and respected men, well known, and I appointed them as heads over you -as commanders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens and as tribal officials. I instructed your judges at that time saying, Hear the disputes between your brothers and judge fairly, whether the case is between a Jew and a Jew or between a Jew and a non Jew. Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of any man, for judgment belongs to G-d. Bring me any case too hard for you, and I will hear it. And at that time I told you everything you were to do."

When visiting a courtroom, it is so essential that one feels the judge, the judges and the jury are impartial. It is indescribable to express how one feels when a decision is rendered that feels tainted or partial.

Legal Injustice
There was a couple seeking to defend the father's and stepmother's right of seeing his children. The children's mother petitioned the cour with an accelerated hearing to move out of state. The court granted thirty minutes for this life changing event. The father and stepmother sought legal assistance through the Jewish community because they had little means for paying for an attorney. Numerous attorneys were contacted and only two were willing to assist on a pro bono basis. One attorney was disqualified because another attorney in the firm had handled the divorce representing the mother, unbeknownst to the attorney at the time he offered to assist. The other attorney who did offer legal counsel spent numerous hours filing motions, petitioning the court and doing all that he could to see that justice was accomplished. He even assisted in certain costs. He was a very kind and gracious man.

The story goes that in every issue, every petition, every filing, everything the court responded in an untimely and unfavorable way including a court appointed counselor for the children. Without belaboring the point, this was a dirty process for the father, the stepmother and the children. On the day before the hearing, the attorney for the mother of the children indicated he was going to file before the court that the father had failed to pay thousands of dollars in medical bills for the children. It was a lie, it was an extremely dirty tactic and unfortunately much of the court time that needed to be used for preventing the children from leaving the state was used to defend against the false claims by the mother's attorney.

Needless to say, the father and stepmother lost miserably in court. And it certainly wasn't due to a lack of effort on their kind attorney's part. All that one can say in looking back on this situation is that the court seems to stamp fathers with an unfavorable classification.

This father and stepmother borrowed against their future and the future of their children on the advice of their community rav. The children were never mistreated, they were integrated into Jewish life, spent many Shabbosim and Yom Tovim in the community for years. Then, with one flick of the pen, one hammer of the gavel, all of that was changed. I am sure that the father and the stepmother would convey their deepest feelings of judicial partiality seeing as the attorney who represented the mother before the court was also a magistrate within the same court system.

Now, returning to Moshe's charge to the judges, it is vital to understand the importance of their obligation.

Why would Moshe Rabbeinu find it necessary to charge judges to render righteous judgment and impartial decisions, seeing as these were wise men, these were righteous men, these were men respected by the community? Simply put, no one is beyond suspicion.

If a judge is righteous, as I understand righteousness, then why would it be necessary to issue such a charge? The point is, partiality has many faces, faces of friends, faces of relatives, faces of serious contributors that can have an effect on a judge's decision. Moshe was seeing the many masks associated with judicial partiality when he made his charge. He was addressing one of the many temptations of the position of authority.

In the best way that I could find, I tried to encourage this couple who lost their children, even though today the good seems very, very distant in what happened and one could even cry out, Where is the Rebono Shel Olam in this legal injustice? We still must find comfort and justice in the fact that meda knegga meda applies to all. This injustice or what appears to be an injustice now, years after the fact will be righted. The pain will be righted, the suffering will be righted, the years of separation, the disconnection and on and on and on. All will be righted. One must not lose hope of that fact.

Yet, that does not alter the charge, the command, the responsibility of righteous judgment and impartial decisions. Any judge who sits on a bais din, any judge who hears a matter will answer for their decisions.

That is why Moshe Rabbienu's charge is to the bais din and others in positions of authority that they should not judge with favoritism... Jews seeking a bais din or approaching someone in a position of authority that they should not seek favoritism...

Wishing you the best.

Dr. Akiva G. Belk

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