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Shabbat Parashat Shoftim 5779

Parashat Hashavua: A Just Judgment As Opposed to What?

Harav Yosef Carmel

The famous first pasuk of the parasha, commanding to appoint judges, is followed by the goal: “and they shall judge the nation a just judgment.” The idea of a just judgment seems a little obvious – did we think that we would want an unjust judgment?

We will try to explain with the help of the words of one of the great rabbis. Every dayan is bound by the rules of jurisprudence and Halacha, as they appear in the works of Chazal, and brought as halacha by such poskim as the Rambam, Tur, Shulchan Aruch, and their commentators. This is agreed among all observant Jews. However, this is apparently not sufficient – the judicial system has to also convey a message of honesty and justice. Let us give an example from a ruling from Eretz Hemdah’s court system (the full ruling can be found on our website):

A man had signed a rental agreement. The rental period ended, and a new contract was not signed. At first, the landlord agreed that the rental would continue without a contract. After a year, the landlord requested of the renter to vacate the apartment because the landlord wanted to live in it himself. The renter presented various strange claims to justify his refusal to leave, while he continued paying rent. The landlord sued for penalty payments for refusal to vacate, as had been spelled out in the original contract. The renter claimed that this provision does not apply to him because that contract lapsed.

The Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 312:9) rules that if the parties did not negotiate after the contract was over and the renter stays in the house, we assume the intention was to continue with the old conditions. Later (ibid. 14) he rules that if the renter stayed for even one month, he is required to stay for a whole year (when that was the original rental period). In other words, not only the rate of rent stays the same, but other conditions as well.

The Rama (CM 333:8) discusses a similar situation of continuing a business relationship without negotiation, regarding employment. He says that if they renewed the agreement without mentioning its details, the conditions continue, but if he continued working without any discussion, the worker is not entitled to his original privileges. Does the Rama argue on the Shulchan Aruch above? We will cite an idea of the Netivot Hamishpat whose importance Rav Yisraeli stressed. Only regarding continuing in the house, in which if there is no agreement the renter is a thief, do we say that the renter continues to obligate himself. In other words, Halacha has to work with the assumption that when the alternative to agreement is that someone finds himself in an unethical situation, the pursuit of just judgment means that we have to assume that the ethical solution is the correct one.

At the time of Mashiach, a major part of the world leadership that we will be able to achieve is not only in the spiritual realm but also in adjudicating between the nations. This is described as leading to turning swords into plowshares (Yeshayahu 2:2-4). May we merit not only to see it but also to help it occur.
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