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Shabbat Parashat Mishpatim 5774

Parashat Hashavua: These Are the Judgments

Harav Yosef Carmel

As we do every year on Parashat Mishpatim, we will focus on matters that relate to the operation of our network of rabbinical courts, Eretz Hemdah-Gazit. With Divine Assistance, our eight branches throughout Israel are functioning to increase the honor and love of religion and consequently the honor of Heaven. Our parasha, which deals with many topics that are related to the operation of a beit din, opens with the pasuk: “These are the laws that you shall place before them” (Shemot 21:1).  Our Rabbis expounded greatly on these words, and we will discuss some rules and how we apply them.

The gemara (Sanhedrin 7b) points out in this regard that the dayan should not “step on the heads of the holy nation.” Directly after commanding, “Do not go up to the altar with stairs,” it says “These are the laws…” This idea of not elevating their status as above the people is what Israeli’s like to call “looking at someone at the same eye level.” Rashi (ad loc.) says that not only should the dayanim not actually relate to themselves with over-importance, but that it should not even look as if they do so. The first part of the derasha is talking about the situation of one giving a Torah lecture with the assistance of a meturgeman, who repeated the scholar’s lesson loudly. Just as in that case, one who walked through those who were seated looked as if he was stepping on them, dayanim should follow this principle as well. In other words, there should not even be an appearance of putting down the litigants.

Based on this idea, we set up our courts differently than every court of the State of Israel (rabbinical or secular), in which the dayanim sit on a platform. All of our courts have the judges on the same level as the litigants. Besides how this looks to the litigants, it also sends a reminder to the judges that they are sitting in justice as a servant of the public, not as one who uses his role to be above others.

Another derivation (ibid.) from our opening pasuk is that the judges have to “show the face” of the case. Rashi explains that this is derived from that which it says “place before them” and not “teach them.” A judgment should be presented in such a way that reconciles the ruling with teachings (Rashi ad loc.). In other words, the students who were studying to be dayanim should understand how what they were being taught was being applied correctly. Our implementation of this idea is that all our rulings come with clear explanations of the ruling’s basis. Halachically, not every ruling has to come with reasons. That is necessary only when the litigant seems to not trust the dayan or when he asks explicitly for the reasons (Choshen Mishpat 14:4), and even then, the requirement might only exist if the beit din adjudicated without the request of both sides. However, since we are big believers in the concept of transparency as a basic rule of operation, every ruling is given with full written reasons. We do this in a way that even the laymen who is not deeply familiar with halachic reasoning will understand its basics.

We pray that Eretz Hemdah-Gazit, along with the Forum for Rabbinical Courts for Monetary Matters, including Rav Ratzon Arusi’s Halichot Am Yisrael and Rav Avi Gisser’s Mishpetei Eretz will prove to be a major beginning to the proper performance of “These are the laws that you shall place before them.”

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