Shoftim (Deut. 16:18 – 21:9)

No matter what your encouraging teachers told you, there are indeed stupid questions.  Examples from Yahoo Answers, compiled by BuzzFeed:

“I know it’s bad to look at the sun, but what if I took a picture of it with my phone?  Would it still ruin my eyes?”

“I slept with a girl and now she’s pregnant.  There’s two possible fathers though and neither of us think it’s us anyways.  What if she’s really not the mom to begin with?”

A recent Washington Post Style Invitational asked for similarly amusing stupid questions along these lines (rules here, results here [scroll down].  I got an honorable mention:

“When the Soviet Union went back to being Russia, did the people have to learn how to speak Russian again after being Soviets all those years? (Irene Plotzker, Wilmington, Del.)”

And how does this tie in to this week’s Torah portion, Shoftim? (OK, I wanted to share my 2nd WaPo honorable mention with you, but I actually thought of a connection.)   Shoftim concerns appointing judges and the need for fair treatment, impartiality, thorough fact-finding, accepting the final verdict, rejecting bribes, providing appropriate compensation for those wronged, and, for a capital case, requiring testimony from two witnesses, while providing cities of refuge for those who kill in error.  All of that requires a lot of questions.  Though one hopes otherwise, at times there will be stupid questions, stupid answers, and stupid laws.

But we’ve heard about fair judging several times already in the Torah, in Exodus, Leviticus, and earlier in Deuteronomy.  The rabbis even consider a judicial system to be one of the 7 Noahide laws incumbent upon all humanity.  According to Sefer HaChinuch, the current text concerns setting up judicial systems in each town as a public responsibility, in order to ensure a viable society.  This is part of pursuing justice aggressively, as in 16:20, “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof,” usually translated as “Justice, justice you will pursue.”  Justice is to be determined by human agents, but always using the Lord’s law as its basis.  Even a king, should they choose to have one sometime in the future, is not above the law, but must actually copy it all out so as to learn it.

Justice includes compassion.  The Levites and Kohanim, none of whom own land, are to be provided for.  Cities are given an opportunity for peace before a war begins (Ok, not every city.  See 20:15-18) and, if there is war, their fruit trees are spared.  Soldiers who are engaged or have just built but not moved into a new house, or have planted a vineyard, or even are simply afraid, are deferred.

Justice is set up as the opposite of evil.  Thus, the Israelites are told to ban local practices such as sorcery and astrology, and be wary of false prophets, in order to “sweep out” evil.  There is also a ceremony involving the whole community when a homicide victim is found in the field and the killer is unknown (21:1-9); according to Abravanel, this is intended to shock the people with the seriousness of the homicide, to prevent indifference, even if they don’t know the victim or killer.  The Talmud states, however, that the ceremony was abolished, “because it is only performed in a case of doubt; but when murderers multiplied openly, the ceremony of breaking a heifer’s neck was discontinued (Babylonian Talmud Sotah, 47a and b, on Mishnah Sotah 9:9).  Apparently, evil did not remain swept out.

Shabbat shalom,


Which Supreme Court Justice Are You?

BuzzFeed, master of the personality quiz, released a new one that will definitely determine which Supreme Court justice you are. (The quiz was adapted from a McSweeney’s article which was intended as a series of Supreme Court jokes, not an actual quiz.)

If you want to take this quiz, you’ll need to know your Disney princesses and some of the more esoteric cocktails. It turns out I’m Justice Anthony Kennedy (“You love the simple joy of swinging, but paint a lonely picture sitting in the playground all by yourself”), while my fellow FindLaw blogger William Peacock is Justice Sonia Sotomayor (and he’s not exactly thrilled about that).

I took the quiz:

“You got: Stephen Breyer
You are Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer. A philosopher, you understand that there are two sides to every argument, as well as a bunch of poems, sestinas, and multi-volume novels. You aren’t worried you’ll end up a historical footnote, because you don’t believe in footnotes. Your guilty pleasure is packaged guacamole.”  IGP


Firing Squad Joke

Three men, a German, an Italian, and a Jew, were to be executed. Their Czar told them that they had the right request a final meal before the firing squad comes. They asked the German what he wanted. “Give me an ice cold bottle of German beer,” he requested. So they gave it to him, he drank it, and then they shot him.  Next it was the Italian’s turn. Give me a huge pie of pizza,” said the Italian. So they brought it to him, he ate it, and then they shot him.  Now it was the Jew’s turn. “I want a bowl of snow,” said the Jew.  “Snow!!! It’s the summer now?!”  “That’s fine, I’ll wait…”

—————————– (from 2003, dead link)


It happened in the draft times in the USA. A man was examined by the eye doctor at the draft board. The doctor pointed at a letter in the bottom line of the table and asked: “What letter is this?”

“I do not know,” said the examinee.

The doctor indicated a letter in a higher line.

“What is this letter?”

“I can’t tell,” replied the man. Then the doctor demanded what letters were in the top line. Still the man failed to identify them.

“You’re definitely unfit for service, man,” stated the doctor. “You can’t name any letter on the table.”

“No, I can’t,” the man agreed. “I can’t read.”



A defendant in a lawsuit involving large sums of money was talking to his lawyer.

“If I lose this case, I’ll be ruined.”

“It’s in the judge’s hands now,” said the lawyer.

“Would it help if I sent the judge a box of cigars?”

“Oh no!  This judge is a stickler or ethical behavior.  A stunt like that would prejudice him against you.  He might even hold you in contempt of court.  In fact, you shouldn’t even smile at the judge.”

Within the course of time, the judge rendered a decision in favor of the defendant.   As the defendant left the courthouse, he said to his lawyer, “Thanks for the tip about the cigars.  It worked!”

“I’m sure we would have lost the case if you’d sent them.”

“But I did send them.”

“What??  You did???”

“Yes.  That’s how we won the case.”

“I don’t understand,” said the lawyer.

“It’s easy.  I sent the cigars to the judge, but enclosed the plaintiff’s business card.”


Courtroom Quotations (selected)

Lawyer: “Was that the same nose you broke as a child?”
Witness: “I only have one, you know.”

Accused, Defending His Own Case: “Did you get a good look at my face when I took your purse?”
The defendant was found guilty and sentenced to ten years in jail.

Lawyer: “Can you describe what the person who attacked you looked like?”
Witness: “No. He was wearing a mask.”
Lawyer: “What was he wearing under the mask?”
Witness: “Er…his face.”

Lawyer: “How far apart were the vehicles at the time of the collision?”

Lawyer: “What happened then?”
Witness: “He told me, he says, ‘I have to kill you because you can identify me.'”
Lawyer: “Did he kill you?”
Witness: “No.”

Lawyer: “Now sir, I’m sure you are an intelligent and honest man–”
Witness: “Thank you. If I weren’t under oath, I’d return the compliment.”

Lawyer: “Do you know how far pregnant you are now?”
Witness: “I’ll be three months on November 8.”
Lawyer: “Apparently, then, the date of conception was August 8?”
Witness: “Yes.”
Lawyer: “What were you doing at that time?”

Lawyer: “You don’t know what it was, and you didn’t know what it looked like, but can you describe it?”

Lawyer: (realizing he was on the verge of asking a stupid question) “Your Honor, I’d like to strike the next question.”


Fairness Quotes

Fairness is not an attitude. It’s a professional skill that must be developed and exercised.
Brit Hume

Looking for equality everywhere is a huge mistake because equals are terrible and boring. But a sense of fairness and justice is a totally different thing and a much more complex thing.
Josh Homme

And that’s how we build the economy of the future. An economy with more jobs and less debt, we root it in fairness. We grow it with opportunity. And we build it together.
Elizabeth Warren


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