JUDGES MUST NOT FEAR

The Jewish Chronicle - - JUDAISM - RABBI JU­LIAN SIN­CLAIR

WHEN the To­rah de­scribes the mitz­vah of es­tab­lish­ing a court sys­tem in the Land of Is­rael and ap­point­ing judges, it adds, “You shall not fear any person”. Judges must de­cide on the ba­sis of the facts and ev­i­dence and not to suc­cumb to fears and threats of in­tim­i­da­tion from the ac­cused.

Mai­monides in­cludes this ad­mo­ni­tion to judges not to be afraid in his list of the 613 mitzvot. He quotes a midrash (Sifrei) that the judge should not ex­press fear that the de­fen­dant will kill him or his child, or burn his prop­erty.

Does a judge re­ally have to risk his life for jus­tice? May he or she re­cuse him or her­self when there is real dan­ger? Some au­thor­i­ties, eg the Rama in 16th cen­tury Poland, said that judges may refuse cases in­volv­ing sin­ners who would de­nounce the judge to non-Jewish au­thor­i­ties. Oth­ers, how­ever, said a judge must bear this risk for the sake of up­hold­ing the law. Where judges guard the fron­tier be­tween law and bar­barism, they need real courage.

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