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Shoftim in a Nutshell

Shoftim in a Nutshell

Deuteronomy 16:18–21:9


Moses instructs the people of Israel to appoint judges and law enforcement officers in every city. “Justice, justice shall you pursue,” he commands them, and you must administer it without corruption or favoritism. Crimes must be meticulously investigated and evidence thoroughly examined—a minimum of two credible witnesses is required for conviction and punishment.

In every generation, says Moses, there will be those entrusted with the task of interpreting and applying the laws of the Torah. “According to the law that they will teach you, and the judgment they will instruct you, you shall do; you shall not turn away from the thing that they say to you, to the right nor to the left.”

Shoftim also includes the prohibitions against idolatry and sorcery; laws governing the appointment and behavior of a king; and guidelines for the creation of “cities of refuge” for the inadvertent murderer. Also set forth are many of the rules of war: the exemption from battle for one who has just built a home, planted a vineyard, married, or is “afraid and soft-hearted”; the requirement to offer terms of peace before attacking a city; and the prohibition against wanton destruction of something of value, exemplified by the law that forbids to cut down a fruit tree when laying siege (in this context the Torah makes the famous statement, “For man is a tree of the field”).

The Parshah concludes with the law of the eglah arufah—the special procedure to be followed when a person is killed by an unknown murderer and his body is found in a field—which underscores the responsibility of the community and its leaders not only for what they do, but also for what they might have prevented from being done.

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Helen Dudden United Kingdom August 27, 2017

Justice and law are the foundation of society. Without the above, society would not exist. I find this incredible that Moses played an important part in law so many years ago. Judaism has strong moral values we should take care, we value those values. Respect, and caring about those who are around us, we should not stand by, when injustice enters our world.

To do nothing is not an option. Reply

Ezra San Diego August 26, 2017

Man is a tree of the field. Understand this verse, and one shall understand the depth of our souls.
HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Reply

Bob E USA September 9, 2016

Fallow Field The reminder of the fallow field is a reminder of justice delayed. G-d will render judgement and the field will sprout in due time. Reply

Anonymous Los Angeles September 9, 2016

Thanks so much, this helps a lot. Shabbat Shalom! Reply

irit in pgh Pittsburgh, pa October 16, 2015

It feels like we are the only people who take this as seriously as it was intended! It's amazing to see how the energy of the Torah portion relates to the energy of the week personally, and even in this case, geopolitically; as in the case of Israel where the world's journalistic lack of interest in presenting evidence honestly and with witnesses, but I digress. Reply

Olga rosanoff Now Quito Ecuador via August 20, 2015

I enjoy this article. ! It's the only way to continue understanding the meaning of this Parsh. Thank you... Reply

Helen Dudden Saltford August 24, 2014

How wise. Even though the laws of Talmud were written a long time ago, how wise they were.

I have read some Talmud on how you should tread your neighbor, and respect him. Reply

Anonymous August 19, 2014

These summaries are great! Thank you so much for posting them! Reply

Larry B San Jose, calif. August 10, 2013

Terms of peace I selected the link for terms of peace and there is a discussion on time. Can anyone give me the link to the discussion "terms of peace" before attacking a city? Reply

Anonymous seattle, wa August 25, 2012

justice most gracious duke the term justice can mean fairness or equality and yet, we live in a world of unfairness and inequality. therefore, we must tread carefully and realize there's no absolute justice except hashem, but that we as his first creation-must strive to find the justice while understanding our own human frailty and limited capacity to be just. we are people, striving to do just, in an unjust world. amen. Reply

Jordan Weiss Bluefield, WV 24701 January 15, 2012

2 people to bring justice? How did we (American Justice System) go from 2 people must see the murder of a person before a person can be found guilty? Now people can be put to death with no witness at all? And why do we have 12 people of our peers which also not true (the peers part) when G-d said 2 make the decision and then the person is killed with rock.?
How do we explain this change of 12 people making the decision and not having 2 true witnesses to murder?

Sincerely, Reply

Richard Spring Valley, N. Y. via September 4, 2011

Shoftim and American Jurisprudence To all those who may not know, "Justice,justice shall you pursue" has been acknowledged to be the basis of "due process: in American Jurisprudence and the 14th Ammendment to the US Constitution. Not only must the court render a Just determination, it must do so in a just manner. Reply

Richard Lennard Glasgow, Scotland September 4, 2011

Execution of offenders ! ArtScroll Chumash The Stone Edition Shoftim Chapter 17 verse 7, 'The hand of the witness shall be upon him first to put him to death, and the hand of the entire people afterward, and you shall destroy the evil from your midst.' Comment attributed to Rambam; 'It is proper that the witnesses take the initiative in carrying out the court's verdict because they were the ones who saw the sin being committed, whereas everyone else knows about it only secondhand. In Judaism there is no professional 'executioner' to shield society from unpleasantness'
Not really a practical procedure for carrying out an execution! So what does this verse teach us? Is it that, we are all share the culpability, or better, share the responsibility for judgments taken, on our behalf, in our name, by the duly appointed officials? Reply

Richard Lennard glasgow, Scotland September 2, 2011

Justice ? What is Justice? Any action taken must be just to both the perpertrator and victim alike. If not justice to both then it is not justice. How to define and decide what is justice and not only expedient, in any situation is almost impossible Reply

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