Even when the topic of Jewish courts is discussed, it becomes evident that the natural place for a Jew to live is in the Land of Israel.
This week’s Torah portion is “Shoftim” (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:90), which means “Judges.” As the title implies, there’s a lot in this week’s reading about setting up a justice system, complete with policemen, judges, courts, and much more.
Yes, it’s God Himself who wants police patrolling our streets looking for speeders!
Let’s take a look at the opening verse: “You shall appoint for the people…judges and policemen in all your settlements that the Lord your God is giving you…and you shall make sure that they execute honest judgment for the people” [Deut 16:18].
The rabbis derive, from a careful reading of the verse, that it is necessary to set up courts in every village and city in the Land of Israel. Anywhere in Israel where is a settlement or gathering of people, courts, and access to the legal system are required. There were local courts and regional courts, smaller courts and larger courts, courts for financial matters and courts for capital matters. In a nutshell, even in the biblical era, the Jewish justice system was very elaborate and efficient.
That said, the system was very different outside the Land of Israel, where there was no requirement to establish courts in every city. They were only required “here and there.” It sufficed as long as people had access to the courts within a reasonable distance. They were not set up in every Jewish neighborhood, to say the least.
Why Such a Distinction Outside of Israel?
The question is asked: Why is there such a distinction between the Land of Israel and the rest of the Jewish world? Are we less concerned about justice and law enforcement in the Diaspora?
Among the answers to this famous question is a lesson regarding our attitude. To cut to the chase: Jews don’t belong anywhere in the world besides Israel.
A Jew’s home, and a Jew’s only home, is in Israel. Yes, many countries have welcomed Jews and have made them full and equal citizens, and that’s greatly appreciated. Nevertheless, Canada, the USA and all other wonderfully democratic and hospitable countries are just not where Jews belong! Jews belong in one place: Israel.
As such, the Torah minimized “establishment” outside of the Land of Israel, because a Jew’s attitude should be that life in the Diaspora is only temporary. All Jews must have their eye on moving to Israel when the time is right for them. The Torah wanted to make Aliyah, whether individual or communal, that much easier, so that when it comes time to go, there shouldn’t be too much to “disassemble.”
As Dorothy said, there’s no place like home!
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the following links.
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