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We are all in favor of equality and justice. The goal of all democratic societies is to have, as far as humanly possible, an incorruptible and fair judicial system. Since, however, judges are only human – no matter how knowledgeable and altruistic they may be, the perfect judicial system has never yet been achieved.

Nevertheless, in order to make society livable, we are bidden to obey the decisions of the court. As the Talmud itself points out, "even if they proclaim to you that left is right and right is left, you want to listen to them." The Talmud acknowledges that judicial error is a facet of life….for after all, left is never right and right is never left. So, how are judicial errors ever to be corrected?
The answer to that question usually comes with the passage of time and with the application of common sense to the realities of life. The famous dictum in Jewish life has always been “what wisdom cannot accomplish, time will." Heaven, so to speak, also takes a hand over time in adjusting erroneous judicial decisions and somehow making things come out right in the end.
Yet, the Torah emphasizes to us that even though judicial error is possible if not even probable, we are to follow the decisions of our judges for otherwise anarchy will reign and society will dissolve. The decisions of judges may be analyzed and even disagreed with, but judges are to be respected and their judgments eventually are to be fulfilled. Ultimate justice is relegated to the provinces of Heavenly guidance.
Jewish tradition ascribes judicial decisions not merely to book knowledge and even to precedent, but also to common sense and an intuition of fairness and equity. The great Rabbi Israel Lipkin of Salant often pointed out that Heaven alone can take into account all of the facets, consequences and results of judgment, reward and punishment. The human judge is limited in perspective and foresight.
We are all aware of the law of unintended consequences, which dog all legislation and judicial decision. It is because of this that the Talmud ruefully has God, so to speak, busy undoing many of the decisions and actions of leaders and ordinary people in order to achieve the Divine will and purpose in the actions and decisions of humans.
All judicial systems contain a process of review and appeal from decisions made by lower courts. This is an inherent realization the judicial error is present and likely in all human affairs. It is of little wonder then that the phrase “trial and error” is so well known in the English language. The judicial system always attempts to correct and analyze itself. However, even in so doing, it is always subject to bias, preconceived notions and erroneous logic and decisions. Nevertheless the Torah emphasizes that judicial systems are mandatory for society to function. It is one of the basic seven laws of Noachide tradition. So, as in every other facet of life, the Torah bids us to do the best that we can but to be aware of our human limitations.
Shabbat shalom
Rabbi Berel Wein

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