Shabbat Parashat Yitro| 5763
“Open Your Eyes, Then Shut Them”Harav Yosef Carmel
Our parasha spells out the characteristics of ideal dayanim (rabbinical judges): “men of valor, G-d fearing men, men of truth, those who hate money” (Shemot 18:21). In Sefer Devarim, three more characteristics are mentioned: knowledgeable, wise and known by your tribes (1:13). The stress on intellectual and moral qualifications is quite straightforward, but we will soon see that there is another factor which Chazal stressed.
One of the principals which guide modern “western” legal systems is that “justice not only needs to be done, but needs to be seen.” In other words, there is an idea that trials should be open to the public. This situation creates very difficult challenges, particularly in the realm of loshon hara and rechilut, which seem to have been put on the back burner by the popular call for “the public’s right to know.”
It is felt that public trials ensure just judgements, but they often cause a great blow to a person’s right to privacy. Often, a defendant or litigant is publicly humiliated, even though, at the end, he is found innocent of the charges. According to Torah law, the trial is not supposed to be open to the public. How then do we ensure the public’s trust in the judicial process?
Before one’s appointment as a dayan, he is expected to stand up to the scrutiny of the populace. “Place for yourselves men (anashim) (ibid.) implies public involvement in the eventual appointment of the dayan. Rashi explains àðùéías ëñåôéí. The commentaries on Rashi explain that they should be people for whose tenure as judges the community longs. (Divrei David). Ibn Ezra explains “G-d fearing” as “rumors should not have been spread about them.” In other words, they stand up to public scrutiny. Rashi expounds on “known by your tribes” by saying: “If he [a judge] comes before you wrapped in a talit, you don’t know who he is. But these [judges] you know since you grew up with him.”
Indeed, the judges we choose should stand up to public scrutiny before they are appointed, so that justice can be ensured. Subsequently, we should allow them to handle matters in a discreet manner which protects the dignity of the litigants.
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