Parashas Devarim

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Leadership:  The Key for a Successful Nation

Taste of Talmud

“One who may be a Judge may be a witness” (Mishna in Tractate Nidda 49b).  Tosafos says that since Jewish law states that a woman may not be a witness, we can derive from this Mishna that she may not be a judge.  The question is: What is the source for the fact that a woman may not be a witness in a Jewish court?  The Mishnah in tractate Sh’vuos (30a) says that a woman will never have to take the “vow of testimony” (due to the fact that she cannot be a witness).  The Talmud asks, “From where do we learn this law?”  The Talmud answers that this is learned from the verse in Deuteronomy 19:17 that says, “And the two men shall stand before the court.”  The Talmud goes on to question whether this exclusion could be referring to the litigants. As it is not clear that this verse is specifically speaking about witnesses, maybe it is referring to the litigants.  The Talmud answers that from the similar and unique conjugation of the word “shnei” (two) in this verse and in verse 15, “By the word of two witnesses,” we learn that verse 17 is also referring to witnesses.  Therefore, a woman may not be a witness in a Jewish court and, by extension, cannot be a judge as the Mishna in Nidda teaches:  In order to be a judge in a Jewish court one must also qualify to be a witness.

Taste of Halacha

“A woman may not be a Judge” (Shulchan Aruch CM 7:4).  This is in conflict with the fact that in the book of Judges (4:4) it says, “Devora the wife of Lapidos was a prophetess; she judged the Jewish nation at that time.”  The classic answer given by Tosafos is that she was not a judge in the formal setting of a court, although she did issue Halachic rulings.  The Ran offers a different approach. In this case, the word “judged” is not being used in terms of adjudicating legal disputes.  Rather, it refers to her being a political and spiritual leader, as witnessed by her taking the lead in the fight against the Canaanites in her time. Another answer given by the Ran is based on the fact that the Shulchan Aruch says that a relative may not be a judge because he will naturally have more mercy toward the litigant and not review the case objectively. There is however, an exception to this rule: When both litigants agree to accept the verdict of a relative.  The Ran suggests that just as in that scenario, a consensus by the litigants allows for a judgment by a person ordinarily not permitted to judge, so too Devora only adjudicated disputes between litigants who agreed to accept her judgments.   The B’er Hagolah has a novel approach. He suggests that Devora adjudicated disputes with her prophetic vision, not through the typical methods of a court of law.  Even though we do not usually rely on prophetic vision in a court of law, this was an exception. Therefore, the Jewish nation was indeed blessed to have Devora in this leadership position.

Taste of Parasha

In the book of Deuteronomy, Moshe Rabbeinu recounts and elaborates upon many of the previous events of the Jewish nation’s sojourns in the desert.  The Chasam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Sofer) points out that when a congregation is disinterested and not involved it is easy to have one spiritual guide.  When everyone is enthused it becomes necessary to delegate responsibility to others in order to provide everyone with the proper guidance.  It was for this purpose that Moshe Rabbeinu appointed judges to assist in guiding the nation.  The judges provided readily accessible guidance to the entire nation.  What were the attributes that he looked for in these judges?  In Deuteronomy (1:13), it says: Moshe Rabbeinu looked for righteous, wise, understanding, and “well known” men.  Later, in verse 15, it says that he installed judges who were righteous, wise, and “well known” men.  Rashi comments that Moshe Rabbeinu could not find men with the attribute of understanding, so he settled for men that had three out of the four qualities.  What is meant by the attribute of being “well known”? The Maharal of Prague says it means that they had a “Shem Tov” (a good name).  This is what our sages in Pirkei Avos teach us as being the crowning achievement of any man.  It is a title befitting only those who have performed many good deeds.

About tasteofyeshiva

RABBI YAIR FRIEDMAN teaches at The Torah School of Greater Washington, and Yeshiva L' Baalei Batim. He is the owner and director of Camp Gevaldig LLC.
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