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On Judges, Kings, Priests, and Prophets: Is the Jewish-Leadership Status Quo Sufficient?

The dramas of political power and legal authority are mesmerizing. From the creation of the first civil society to today, there is no shortage of debate about how an ideal society should function. Parashat Shof'tim outlines a mulit-tiered system for the Israelites' political system that includes judges, kings, priests, and prophets. 

D'var Torah By: 
Not Blind, But Fair
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Matt Dreffin

People who search for the origins of Lady Justice might investigate 16th-century depictions of a blindfolded woman holding scales. Perhaps they might recognize an allusion to this figure in Parashat Shof’tim when the Bible commands us to dispense and uphold justice: “You shall not twist judgment. You shall not recognize any face or take any bribery, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous” (Deut.16:19). 

Set a King Over Yourself

In Parashat Shof'tim the people are told that they are free to set a king over themselves. But does the Torah command us to set over ourselves a king? And is a monarchy the best and most just form of government?

D'var Torah By: 
Rabbi Denise L. Eger
Davar Acher By: 
A Call to Do the Right Thing

Parashat Shof'tim gives the people the right to set a king over themselves. But their responsibility is to set up a just and righteous government, whether it is a monarchy or not. 

Justice and Mercy Are Jewish Love

In this week’s Torah portion, NasoYHVH reminds Moses, “Speak to the Israelites: When men or women individually commit any wrong toward a fellow human being, thus breaking faith with the Eternal, and they realize their guilt, they shall confess the wrong that they have done. They shall make restitution in the principal amount and add one-fifth to it, giving it to the one who was wronged.” (Numbers 5:6-7). The instruction to admit wrongdoing and make restitution applies to those we like and those we don't like.

D'var Torah By: 
Personalizing the Commandments Is the Beginning of Change
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Steven H. Rau

Just as we are guided to look inward at this commandment to acknowledge and make restitution to someone we have wronged, so we should look inward with every commandment in the Torah. Every directive in the Torah may be thought of in the first person — as if it were written for us. Just as at the Passover seder we recite the words, “It is because of this that God did for me when I went out from Egypt,” so, too, can each commandment be read as it were directed to each one of us individually. 

Listen to Your Prophets . . . But Don’t Be Deceived!

Our parashah this week raises a very interesting question about prophets and prophecy. It also raises an important issue about how to relate to other forms of monotheism. In Deuteronomy 18 God speaks to Moses about the people of Israel with these words: "I will raise up for them from among their own people a prophet like yourself, in whose mouth I will put My words and who will speak to them all that I command; and anybody who fails to heed the words [the prophet] speaks in My name, I Myself will call to account" (Deuteronomy 18:18-19).

D'var Torah By: 
Taking Messages of Justice to the Public Square
Davar Acher By: 
Mona Alfi

Rabbi Firestone speaks of the important role of the prophetic voice, then and now. However, American Jews often cringe when someone in the political arena claims to speak the word of God. We often have a visceral reaction against the mixing of religion and politics because we know the potential danger when there is no wall between the two.

But neither our ancient ancestors or our founding fathers (and mothers) envisioned a concrete wall between "church" and "state." For both, the understanding was that this "separation" is more of a permeable membrane. While the American government does not have the right to dictate what our religious practices should be, Judaism teaches us that our religious values should inform our political actions.

It Takes Two, Me and You

In many Jewish weddings I have officiated at over the years, the bride and groom have chosen to add to the traditional vows these words from the prophet Hosea: V’eirastich Li b’tzedek uv’mishpa

D'var Torah By: 
When Justice Trumps Mercy
Davar Acher By: 
Sarah Bassin

Rabbi Korotkin offers a perspective on Shof’tim in which God’s mercy compensates for the human need for justice—a need that can morph into an unholy vengeance.

Shof’tim: Breathing New Life into Ancient Teaching

One of the joys of Jewish life in the Land of Israel is the way ancient texts can be used in ordinary moments of daily life.

D'var Torah By: 
Another Ancient Bizarre Jewish Ritual
Davar Acher By: 
Amy L. Memis-Foler

The breaking of a heifer's neck in an ever-flowing wadi, followed by the priests' pronouncing a blessing of the Eternal God, and the elders washing their hands over the heifer and making a declarat

Respecting the Criminal

Maybe it’s the images of Abu Ghraib that remain in my mind’s eye, or the current failures of our prison system, but this year in reading the seventy plus laws of Parashat Ki Teitzei what str

D'var Torah By: 
To Free the Captive: Look Upstream
Davar Acher By: 
Mark Goldfarb

Rabbi Melanie Aron calls our attention to the challenges facing our criminal justice system.

Cities of Refuge

Several years ago I read an article by Jared Diamond in The New Yorker Magazineabout the experiences of a young man in the New Guinea Highlands in trying to fulfill the obliga

D'var Torah By: 
Pursue Justice and Peace
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Daniel R. Allen

How is one to behave if one accepts that the burden of moral responsibility can, and should, exist even where there is no legal responsibility?  In the beginning of the parashah we learn;


Woven throughout the text of this week's parashah, Shofetim (the word means "magistrates" or "officials") are many mitzvot directed at the creation of good government and a fair legal system.

D'var Torah By: 
Tzedakah Is Not a Box
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan

Not long ago, an educator friend of mine innocently asked a young student (in a public setting with a microphone in hand), "What is a sukah?" The child burst out, "A cardboard shoe box with


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