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Pirkei Avot 1:8 – Guilty or Innocent?


Pirkei Avot 1:8

יְהוּדָה בֶן טַבַּאי וְשִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן שָׁטָח קִבְּלוּ מֵהֶם. יְהוּדָה בֶן טַבַּאי אוֹמֵר, אַל תַּעַשׂ עַצְמְךָ כְעוֹרְכֵי הַדַּיָּנִין. וּכְשֶׁיִּהְיוּ בַעֲלֵי דִינִין עוֹמְדִים לְפָנֶיךָ, יִהְיוּ בְעֵינֶיךָ כִרְשָׁעִים. וּכְשֶׁנִּפְטָרִים מִלְּפָנֶיךָ, יִהְיוּ בְעֵינֶיךָ כְזַכָּאִין, כְּשֶׁקִּבְּלוּ עֲלֵיהֶם אֶת הַדִּין

Judah ben Tabbai and Shimon ben Shetach received [the oral tradition] from them. Judah ben Tabbai said: do not [as a judge] play the part of an advocate; and when the litigants are standing before you, look upon them as if they were [both] guilty; and when they leave your presence, look upon them as if they were [both] innocent, when they have accepted the judgement.

One of the Seven Noahide Commandments is[1]:

Establish courts and provide justice in our world.

The seventh commandment should ensure that the other six commandments, and its details, are observed to the best of our ability.

You can extend this to every small act of justice. By doing so, we restore harmony to our world and synchronize it with a supernatural order. This creates a just society in which G-d can dwell.

We should not only obey the Seven Noahide Commandments, but we should also obey the laws instituted by our government for the stability and harmony of our country if they are in line with the Seven Noahide Commandments.

As is true for all judges, so is true for Noahide judges. That they do not favour people when they judge. As Bartenura[2] says:

“they should be like evildoers in your eyes”: so that your heart not incline to one of them, saying, “Such and such a one is important, he is; and he would not make a false claim.” Since if you say this, you cannot see him as guilty.

As a teacher, I know this is not always easy. Regularly, for example, arguments have to be resolved in the schoolyard. Who started it, who continued it, who did nothing? It is not always easy to find out who was the guilty party and who was the victim. How easy it is to blame the pupil who is often the one playing pranks. Each situation must be judged separately, apart from the pupil’s history.

Bartenura says also:

“when they received the judgment”: such that you should not suspect the guilty party saying, “This one was a robber.” But [rather] say, “maybe he was mistaken and did not intend to rob.”

This way of thinking and talking, makes your judgement, fair but milder. If a student in class snatches a pencil from another student, it is easy to react angrily to it. But it is more effective if you assume he made a mistake. Naming this as well: “I don’t think you intended to keep the pencil, but that you wanted to borrow it, but even if you want to borrow it you have to ask permission”. This course of action benefits the classroom atmosphere and angry reactions back and forth between children will disappear more quickly.

May we all be mild in our judgement towards others, but just. So that we all contribute to a just society.

By Angelique Sijbolts


[1] Chabad Article: The 7 Noahide Laws: Universal Morality
[2] Bartenura on Pirkei Avot 1:8:2

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