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The Foundation for Constitutional Democracy » Should Israel Establish A Sanhedrin?

Various people want to reestablish the Sanhedrin. With all due respect to the many fine rabbis in Israel, can we find 71 judges who meet the qualifications laid down by Maimonides in the Mishneh Torah?

As summarized in my book Beyond the Secular Mind, the judges must not only be expert in Torah, they must also be versed in many branches of science, such as astronomy, mathematics, logic, anatomy, and medicine. They must possess knowledge of many languages and of non-Torah doctrines and practices so as to be able to deal with cases requiring such knowledge. If only to maximize public confidence in their decisions, the judges must have a reputation for wisdom and reverence. They must be of spotless character, even as youth, so as not to give cause for recrimination. They must be of mature age, imposing stature, good appearance, and free from all physical defects—again to command respect and authority.

This partial list of qualities required of the judges of the Sanhedrin puts to shame the judges of Israel Supreme Court—quite apart from their ignorance of the Torah.

Maimonides remarks that a judge learned in the Torah will not sit in a Sanhedrin of ignoramuses, lest he lend dignify to their rulings. This has obvious implications for any religious member of Israel’s present Supreme Court. It may also have implications for the Knesset. I do not know whether Maimonides would advocate separation of religion and state in what passes today for the Jewish State of Israel, but I cannot but wonder whether any rabbi should sit in the Knesset in view of the laws enacted by this secular assembly.

Viewed in this light, establishing a Sanhedrin today, even if that were possible, may be premature. Rabbi Bezalel Naor recalls “the fears expressed by great rabbis of yesteryear, such as Rabbi Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, that if the Sanhedrin be instituted in our time, it may play into the hands of reformers. The blessing of a Sanhedrin would be its ability to resolve controversies in Jewish law, by bringing them to a vote; the downside would be that reformers might manipulate this power to wantonly rescind time-hallowed practices.”

Of course, those thinking about establishing the Sanhedrin are prompted by the deplorable character of Israel’s present Supreme Court. Many of the court’s rulings, especially under its president, Aharon Barak, violate not only the Torah but common sense. Here are some examples:

  1. The court has made it a crime to spank children, thus criminalizing a majority of Israel’s population!
  2. In the midst of the Arafat War, the court enjoined the demolition of buildings used to shield Arab terrorists firing at Jewish soldiers.
  3. While suicide bombings had become an almost daily occurrence in Israel, the court quashed the Attorney-General’s indictment of Arab Knesset Member Talib a-Sana who, in an interview on Abu-Dabai TV, not only praised a suicide bombing attack in Israel, but also called for more of the same. Judge Barak maintained that a-Sana could not be prosecuted (for incitement) because he was not a member of a terrorist organization!
  4. The Barak court overruled the Central Elections Committee’s decision to bar from the Knesset Azmi Bishara and Ahmed Tibi, who, in addition to violating the law prohibiting any party that negates the Jewish character of the State, engage in sedition by inciting Arab citizens of Israel to emulate HizbAllah terrorists!

Contrast the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 1955 that “judges are not given the task of running the Army,” and again in 1983, “centuries of experience have developed a hierarchical structure of discipline and obedience to command, unique in its application to the military establishment and wholly different from civilian patterns….” As stated in one legal brief: “The Constitution places the nation’s armed forces under the civil authority and jurisdiction, not of the judiciary, but of the Congress, and then the president, when properly acting as commander in chief. U.S. courts consistently defer to the judgment of military leadership under the doctrine of ‘military necessity.’”

One may conclude, therefore, that even an inferior Sanhedrin would be preferable to the existing Supreme Court. Thus, those advocating a Sanhedrin should make their case by exposing the many rulings of the Barak court which are undermining the Jewish character and survival of the State of Israel.

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