The Other Gate of Justice

I recently read a compelling article by Prof.  Chaim Saiman in Cross Currents.  In his piece If Trayvon Were Tuvia: The Orthodox (Non)response to the Zimmerman Verdict Prof. Saiman lays out a compelling thought experiment. If Trayvon was a Tuvia would the Orthodox Jewish community have reacted the same way?  He concludes that while he thinks it is legitimate for the Orthodox community to start with our own interests showing some concern for this case would have gone a long way in the larger community. Saiman writes, ” Orthodoxy creates a community that is strong enough to reach beyond its comfort zone and empathize with the Other—even when the Other is distant indeed.”

I was thinking about this while I was looked at this week’s Torah portion, Shoftim. There we read:

You shall make judges and officers in all your gates, which the Lord your God gives you, tribe by tribe; and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. “(Deuteronomy 16:18)

We all understand the importance of law and its enforcement. In the wake of the Zimmerman case we are all hard pressed to overlook the issues with law enforcement in maintaining social order and the inherent issues of the lack of justice with our existing social order. What is the significance of the Torah having these judges stationed at the gates?

It seems that elsewhere in the Bible we see the gate as the sight of law.  For example, Boaz took Ruth to the gate to announce their getting married (Ruth 4:1). In the world before websites, the city gate was the best sight to communicate information to the masses. But, it also seems that the Israelite judges were philosopher kings who were charged to not only to know the law, but to administer it. In the book of Judges, the judges seem to be better warriors then jurists. In light of this we might think that the judges were stationed at the gates to protect the people inside the city walls. We might conclude that the role of the judge is to stand his or her ground and protect the city. Is the job of today’s judge to keep the denizens of the law safe from the outsiders? Prof. Saiman’s comments stir us to ask who is the insider and who is the outsider to the law. In our society is Tuvia included in the same ways that Trayvon is excluded from the law? For so much of history we were the outsiders to the law. How could we stand idly by as others are excluded?  In the seeking of justice, the judge cannot pervert the law, but how can s/he do so without seeming judgmental?  In my mind, today’s judges should stand there at the gate trying to wave down passers-by and to usher them into the law.

With the advent of Elul, I believe we all need to be thinking about how to include more people in the law and not exclude them. It is the time when  Ha Melech B’Sade- the King is in the field  (Likkutei Torah, Re’eh 32b). God is not in God’s castle , hiding behind the gates of the law, or even standing guard at the gate. God has gone out beyond the gates welcoming us back . In order for us all to do teshuvah, and return, we need to figure out ways in which we can help include everyone equally under the law even or especially the Other.

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