The Bible did not know or teach democracy, so we cannot look to our touchstone text for simple, clear guidance. However, one of the key teachings in the Book of Deuteronomy is “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof – Justice, justice you shall pursue!” Any time a word is repeated in Torah, traditional commentators would ask why it was necessary to duplicate, (repeating the word “Justice”).
Over the centuries, explanations for this have been varied. Resh Lakish is cited in the Talmud as teaching that this means being careful and deliberate in reaching judgements. For example, a court should ‘sleep on it’ before bringing in a guilty verdict. Maimonides in the twelfth century taught that one person’s view of justice was not sufficient and a judge must consult others, rather than take a decision alone.
Bakhya ben Asher, living in Spain in the early fourteenth century, taught that the repetition meant justice under any circumstance – to your own advantage or disadvantage, in word or in deed, to Jew of non-Jew.
More recently, in nineteenth century, Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak of P’shischa taught, and this is my personal favourite, “The pursuit of justice must also be done justly, unblemished by invalid means”. The ends do not justify the means.
Integral to justice is transparency and accountability. This is one important reason for an AGM, for an elected Council of members to ensure that the financial and management decisions made by the community for the community are good decisions and actions, achieved by proper methods.
There are voices of concern being raised about the state of democracy in this country, and I would suggest with good reason. The current coronavirus crisis does not justify decisions being made by inappropriate methods or not being transparent. There are questions about whether people can be held accountable for their words and deeds. We might not be fully able to “justly pursue justice” in our country, but we must keep up the pressure. In our synagogue, you can play your part at 10:30 this Sunday. Please join me then.
I wish you a Shabbat shalom and hope to see you over Shabbat as well.
Rabbi Richard Jacobi