MembersA Look at the Biblical Office of Judges

The biblical judge represented the nature and composition of Israelite society. And the fact that this is no longer the case has left Israelis frustrated.

By Aviel Schneider & Avshalom Kapach | | Topics: Supreme Court, BIBLE STUDY
Israel Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut. Many Israelis feel that unlike in biblical times, the court is out of touch with the people.
Israel Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut. Many Israelis feel that unlike in biblical times, the court is out of touch with the people. Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

The office of judge, as we encounter it in the Bible, and the associated selection process have undergone changes over time. King Jehoshaphat once required the judges to act in the fear of the Lord, in truth, and with a clear conscience. According to 2 Chronicles 19, neither injustice nor respect of persons nor bribery have a place before God. These were clear admonitions, not only to judges. But it is precisely on these points that today’s judges in Israel are accused of missteps. The accusations mostly come from the right-wing religious community.

Originally, the judges came from among the tribes’ elders and were men who enjoyed high social status. The Hebrew term Zaken means old people who are also wise, have life experience and knowledge. Because the judges came directly from the community, they knew the people and their character. They knew from their own experience how to deal with the divine laws of the Torah. The elders sat at the city gate, a central place where everyone...

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