Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Should We Have a Sanhedrin?

Today is Day 14,277 of the Maintenance of the Immoral (and Illegal) West Bank Settlements and almost the 40th anniversary of the start of the immoral (and illegal) occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Micah.6:8 “He has told you, O man, Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God

Hi Scott

Thank you for posting your comment to my recent post.

When you said

“Theoretically, the Diaspora, together with the brethren in Israel, constitute a Judaic Court, but as such they seem to ignore the imperatives of the passages you cite, which would be precedents in common law, I suppose, and statutes in Roman Law. I prefer to keep law and religion separate, but I acknowledge with great respect the early writings which probably reflect centuries of earlier tribal 'golden' rules of behavior."

I have read frequently about the Sanhedrin. Shira Schoenberg in the Jewish Virtual Library describes it as follows: “The ancient Jewish court system was called the Sanhedrin. The Great Sanhedrin was the supreme religious body in Palestine during the time of the Holy Temple. There were also smaller religious Sanhedrins in every town in Palestine, as well as a civil political-democratic Sanhedrin. These (local) Sanhedrins existed until the abolishment of the rabbinic patriarchate in about 425 C.E. Tannaitic sources describe the Great Sanhedrin as a religious assembly of 71 sages who met in the Chamber of Hewn Stones in the Temple in Jerusalem. It was the final authority on Jewish law and any scholar who went against its decisions was put to death as a zaken mamre (rebellious elder). The Sanhedrin was led by a president called the nasi (lit. "prince") and a vice president called the av bet din (lit. "father of the court"). The other 69 sages sat in a semicircle facing the leaders. The rabbis in the Sanhedrin served as judges and attracted students who came to learn their oral traditions and scriptural interpretations. Local Sanhedrins consisted of different numbers of sages, depending on the nature of the offenses it dealt with. For example, only a Sanhedrin of 71 could judge a whole tribe, a false prophet or the high priest. There were Sanhedrins of 23 for capital cases and of three scholars to deal with civil or lesser criminal cases."

Every few years I have at one time or another proposed with no depth that the Jewish community establish a Sanhedrin. The substance of my argument is that iif one has faith in the rule of law, one would not have to do extensive research to conclude that Judaism, like any other comprehensive guide to how to live a loving and caring and just life, would benefit greatly by the rulings and opinions of a thoughtful, credible, reputable judicial body on complicated, controversial and divisive major issues of the day; i.e., are clothes made in a sweatshop kosher, is the occupation legal, is there any objection to intermarriage, should we send our children to public schools, should circumcision be discontinued, are the Jewish Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal?

In his review of James Carroll's Constantine's Sword in the May/June 2001 issue of Tikkun, Rabbi Arthur Green made this comment ‘It is also at moments like this when we Jews tend ever-so-briefly to envy Catholics for the centralization of authority that so characterizes their tradition... Yes, we live happily without fears of a vindictive hierarchy or threats of excommunication. But not a few of us experienced a strong sense of aggiornimento (bringing up to date)-envy after Vatican II

I have a message that is probably not more than a few years old which contains a rumor being spread with much excitement that a Great Sandredim has been formed in Israel, the rulings of which are likely to be more favorable to the halakhic-conscious Hareidim and the settlers than those of the Supreme Court of the State of Israel.

On the other hand, I read in Tikkun Magazine a few years ago a debate in which the head of the Reform Movement argued that it was positive that there is no authority for Jewish people because we could each decide on our own what is right and what is wrong.

I understand your comment about not wanting to combine religion with law but, I wonder.

Is it possible that the Jewish community would welcome some guidance from a respected Sanhedrin on difficult moral and ethical issues, accept and endorse their opinions about the application of the laws and teachings of Judaism to present day problems, and unite to become more of a force for social justice?

What do you think? Should we have a Sanhedrin? Who would serve on it? How would the 71 be chosen?

Thanks again, Scott

Deuteronomy 16:20 – “Justice, justice shall you pursue that you may live and inherit the land which God gave you” and the footnote in the 1980 Hertz Edition “(T)here is international justice, which demands respect for the personality of every national group, and proclaims that no people can of right be robbed of its national life or territory, its language or spiritual heritage.

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