10 Minutes of Torah -  Jewish Ethics
 October 3, 2008
Week 255, Day 5
4 Tishrei 5769  

The Days of Judgment
Jessie Weiser, RAC Program Associate for Judicial Nominations

Next week is the start of the 2008 term of the United States Supreme Court. On Monday, October 6th, the nine Justices will begin hearing arguments on the various cases that they have agreed to consider.

Every year, the Court considers cases related to issues of importance to our Movement, including, but not limited to, the separation of church and state, protection of civil rights and civil liberties, women’s reproductive freedom, and protection of the environment. This year will be no exception.

The Justices will spend their time making judgments that establish legal precedents and dictate the freedoms and rights of the people of our nation. These judgments have the potential to advance or threaten the crucial gains that we have made and will continue to make in the legislative arena.

The start of the Supreme Court term appropriately coincides with the Days of Awe and Shabbat Shuva. This holy time, set aside for personal reflection and repentance, is in essence, a time for judgment—we judge ourselves and we open ourselves up to God’s judgment. We take these ten days to evaluate our behavior and actions over the past year and to determine how we have transgressed or “missed the mark.” And, taking our repentance into consideration, God makes the ultimate judgment—whether our names will be inscribed in the book of life or the book of death.

Earthly judgment is also part of our holy day liturgy. On Yom Kippur afternoon we will read the command, “you shall not render an unfair decision; do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich; judge your kinsman fairly” (Leviticus 19:15). This text reminds us to evaluate the ways that we have judged others when we are considering whether we have “missed the mark.” And it reminds us of the incredible challenge of finding true justice that favors no individual or group, regardless of any characteristics, qualities, advantages or disadvantages they may possess.

While the Days of Awe are particularly focused on judgment, we are obligated to pursue justice and fairness throughout the year. In an often-quoted passage in Deuteronomy, God proclaims to the people of Israel, “you shall not judge unfairly: you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just. Justice, justice, shall you pursue” (16:19-20).

The responsibility to pursue justice extends beyond ensuring that we, ourselves, are behaving justly and judging fairly. We also have a responsibility to create a legal system that strives for balance and that treats all people equitably. Unfortunately, in recent years, appointments of judges, and particularly Supreme Court nominations, have become highly politicized and subject to partisan interests. Our fight for a fair and independent judiciary has become more important than ever and the responsibility to speak out for justice bears heavily on our shoulders.

Despite an enduring and unequivocal commitment to social justice, many of us forget that speaking truth to power includes engaging with the Judicial Branch of our government. We forget that we have avenues for making our voices heard when we learn about judicial nominees whose records indicate that they may not uphold the values we espouse. In some states, there are opportunities to cast a vote for or against judges based on their qualifications and records. At the federal level, we can contact the Senate Judiciary Committee and our own senators to express our concerns about or outright opposition to the confirmation of these nominees.

Of course, this requires a commitment on our part to learning about nominees and taking the time to study their records and histories. By becoming actively engaged in the selection of judges, we truly fulfill the obligation to create a more just society.

During these Days of Awe, as we pray that God will judge us mercifully, let us also consider whether our own personal judgments are fair and balanced. And let us do our part to guarantee that our judges and courts will be true beacons of justice and fairness.

Next year, when we hear the words of Leviticus on Yom Kippur, may we be able to look back and conclude that we have, in fact, made progress in the pursuit of justice.

To learn more about judicial nominations and the federal court system, visit the RAC’s judicial nominations issue page or contact Jessie Weiser, Program Associate for Judicial Nominations.

 

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