I'm giving a dvar Torah this Shabbos at my shul. I thought I would post the outline, since it includes some thoughts I'd like to work through.

צדק צדק תּרדף
Parshes Shoftim

I. Tsedek tsedek tirdof: Justice, justice shalt thou pursue!
צדק צדק תּרדף למען תּחיה וירשתּ את־הארץ אשר־ד´ אלוקיך נתן לך

A. רשי: צדק צדק תרדוף הלך אחר בית דין יפה. למען תחיה וירשת, כדאי הוא מינוי הדיינין הכשרים למען להחיות את ישראל ולהושיבן על אדמתן.
Rashi: Go after a fine beys-din . . . The appointment of proper judges is worthwhile in order to ensure life for the Jewish people and to return them to their land.

B. רמבן: . . .וטעם הכפל לומר הדיינין צריכים שישפטו את העם משפט צדק, וגם אתה צריך לרדוף הצדק תמיד שתלך ממקומך אל מקום חכמים גדולים, אחרי רבן יוחנן בן זכאי ליבנה, אחרי רבי לבית שערים. ור"א אמר צדק צדק פעמים, שירדוף אחרי הצדק שירויח בו או יפסיד, או פעם אחר פעם לחיזוק, אבל במדרשו של ר´ נחוניא בן הקנה ידרשו בו סוד, אמרו צדק זו מידת דינו של עולם . . . עם תדין עצמך תחיה, אם לאו הוא ידין עליך ותקיים בעל כרחך
Ramban: The reason for the double wording is to state that judges must judge the people with a fair judging, but you too must always pursue justice – so that you go to a place of great scholars, following after R’ Yokhanan ben Zakkai to Yavneh, or after Rabbi to Beit Shearim. . . . But in the school of R’ Nakhunya ben Hakane they commented upon this verse in the manner of “sod”, saying that “justice” is God’s attribute of justice with regard to the world . . .If you judge yourself, you will live, but if not He will judge you and the sentence will be carried out against your will.

II. The justice tug-of-war

A. On one side: the beys-din, i.e. the institutions of justice (the interpretations of Torah and its application).

i. Choose a good beys-din means both
1. constructing well-functioning institutions of justice and training administrators;
2. founding those institutions on well-grounded principles.

B. On the other side: the “you”, i.e. the community articulating these principles of justice.

i. If you judge yourself you will live, but if not . . .
1. Judging yourself means articulating principles of justice apart from administrative particulars, i.e. based on moral priorities.
2. If not: there are systems of justice (religious, national, and communal) that operate without reference to such principles (“that’s the way things are done”)

III. Conservative batei-dinim: not just for ritual purposes but for communal deliberation?

A. Led by (learned) laypeople and rabbis; egalitarian

B. Binding and non-binding decision-making

C. A Conservative but decentralized approach to halachic ajudication

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