Latest update: March 12th, 2015
The articles in this column are transcriptions and adaptations of shiurim by Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, zt”l. The Rav’s unique perspective on Chumash permeated many of the shiurim and lectures he presented at various venues over a 40 plus year period. His words add an important perspective that makes the Chumash in particular, and our tradition in general, vibrant and relevant to our generation.
The Torah commands us to appoint shoftim v’shotrim (this appointing is referred to as minuy dayanim) in each city and district. Rashi translates shoftim as legislature and judiciary. Shotrim is the executive branch that enforces the law. Lishvatecha lends itself to a double interpretation. Each tribe must have shoftim v’shotrim, however their placement in districts and cities are secondary details. Rashi’s other interpretation is that the appointment must be in accordance with the tribes, every tribe must have its own judiciary.
Does minuy dayanim apply outside Eretz Yisrael as well? During those times when Diaspora communities were autonomous would they have to establish such a system? Ramban said the mitzvah to appoint judges in cities did not apply in the Diaspora and added that Rambam agrees with this opinion. Yet he quotes the Gemara in Makos (7a) that says there is a mitzvas minuy shoftim, to appoint people to render decisions in accordance with Torah Law even in the Diaspora. We can’t delay the appointment of judges till the need arises; we need people in place before the conflict develops. The difference is that in Israel we must appoint judges in each city and district. In the Diaspora we appoint judges for the districts but not the cities.
Eretz Yisrael has an exclusive characteristic as to the number of judges appointed and their distribution. If there is a mitzvas minuy dayanim in the Diaspora, then why is there a difference between Israel and the Diaspora in the number of judges and their distribution? And if there is no mitzvas minuy dayanim in the Diaspora, then why require a court in either Diaspora cities or districts?
A simple answer is that there is no mitzvas minuy dayanim in Diaspora. There is a requirement that Torah Law be enforced so that the Diaspora does not disintegrate into anarchy. We appoint judges in each Diaspora district to implement Torah Law and fulfill the Mitzvah of “va’asisa hayashar v’hatov.” Why do we need so many levels of judges in each city and in each district in Israel? Because the Torah requires judges in both cities and districts to fulfill the dual requirements of minuy dayanim and va’asisa hayashar v’hatov.
According to Rambam (Hilchos Sanhedrin 1:1) there is a mitzvah to appoint judges in cities and districts. In the next halacha he limits the dual judicial system to Israel. However, outside Eretz Yisrael there is an obligation to appoint judges in each city and not in each district. Ramban interprets Rambam as there is no mitzvas minuy dayanim in each Diaspora district, however there is a need to enforce yashar v’tov. Why does Rambam require judges in the cities while the Gemara requires them in each district?
In the Diaspora it is sufficient to appoint judges in each city to satisfy yashar v’tov. One requires accessible judges to resolve conflicts. If they were restricted to the districts, they would be less accessible. Perhaps the Rambam had a variant text in the Gemara that required judges in cities and not districts. But in either case, as the Ramban says, in the Diaspora we appoint judges to fulfill va’asisa hayashar v’hatov. One could interpret that in the Diaspora there is no mitzvas minuy dayanim, rather we prepare judges so they are available when necessary. However Ramban interprets that there is minuy dayanim in the Diaspora, as well Israel, based on the Gemara in Makos. If so, why distinguish between Israel and the Diaspora as to the number and distribution?
About the Author: Rabbi Joshua Rapps attended the Rav's shiur at RIETS from 1977 through 1981 and is a musmach of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan. He and his wife Tzipporah live in Edison, N.J. Rabbi Rapps can be contacted at email@example.com.
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