Rabbi Shlomo Sobol
Former Rosh Kollel in Detroit
This week’s Parasha deals with a number of public policy issues that will guide the life of the Jewish People, as they are about to begin their life as a nation in Eretz Yisrael. One of these commandments is to establish a judicial system.
The Parasha opens with the command, “Judges and officers shall you appoint in your cities – which Hashem, your God gives you – for your tribes . . .” (Devarim 16:18) This seems to indicate that the judicial system is decentralized, spread throughout Eretz Yisrael and found in the cities of the each of the tribes of Israel.
Yet the power and authority to judge comes from the Holy Temple in Jerusalem specifically from the Sanhedrin, the High Court that sat in the Lishkat HaGazit. The Torah teaches that, “If a matter of judgement is hidden from you, between blood and blood, between verdict and verdict, between plague and plague, matters of dispute in your cities – you shall rise up and ascend to place that Hashem, your God, shall choose.” (Devarim 17:8)
Which legal matters were brought before the High Court in Jerusalem? The Babylonian Talmud explains the above verse in the following manner:
Matter – This is Halacha
Between Blood and Blood – Between pure and impure blood
Between Plague and Plague – Between a pure and impure plague
Matters of Dispute – When the sages of the city disagree on issues of purity and impurity and the innocence or guilt of an individual.
The Jerusalem Talmud (Sanhedrin 11:3) explains this verse in a similar fashion ascribing to the words “between blood and blood, between plague and plague and matters of dispute, various Halachik issues. On the word matter, the Jerusalem Talmud differs and explains that it refers to Aggada.
Although the commentary Mareh HaPanim attempts to define Aggada here as Halachot which were given to Moses at Sinai about which there is disagreement as to the details and are brought before the High Court, the simple understanding is that Aggada here refers to non-Halachik issues. If this is so, we learn from this that the High Court not only judged cases of Halacha but also heard and debated issues of philosophy and belief.
It is significant that the Jerusalem Talmud and not the Babylonian Talmud interpreted the word matter in this fashion. The Babylonian Talmud was compiled in Galut after the destruction of the Holy Temple where “God is left with the four cubits of Halacha”. Therefore, the Babylonian Talmud interprets the word matter to refer to Halacha. On the other hand, the Jerusalem Talmud, the Talmud compiled in Eretz Yisrael, understands the role of the High Court to be broader, hearing disputes on all aspects of the life of the Jewish People including issues of philosophy and belief.
Yehi Ratzon – May we merit the rebuilding of the Holy Temple and the re-establishment of the High Court, where the spiritual concerns of the Jewish People can once again be addressed.