WESTERN JUSTICE SYSTEMS: Middle Easteners, Sit This One Out

April 15th, 2022

A ten-year old killing in Florida was recently memorialized in a book of poetry showcased on the Stephen Colbert show. The “Trayvon Martin” case was the subject of the protest poetry and I recalled being present in the Florida town myself, just after the tragedy occurred in February of 2012. The simple facts detail a professional security guard involved with a neighborhood watch group, following a black teenager in a hoodie and regarded as “suspicious”. It begins appropriately enough with the armed resident, George Zimmerman, phoning the police emergency number 911 while following the young male through the neighborhood.

The transcript of the call (1) clearly indicates Zimmerman was directed to meet the police at an entry point to the neighborhood. When the teen began to move along at a more rapid pace, the police informed Zimmerman he was not needed to remain in pursuit. However, a fight did result before the police arrived. At a point when Zimmerman was lying underneath Martin, losing the fight, he shot and killed the “suspicious”, unarmed teen. Charges were filed against Zimmerman for second degree murder and manslaughter. He was acquitted of all charges by a jury in July, 2013.

Following the case to it’s end, the entire matter appears to reflect the reasons why Semites, and the Jewish people in particular, created an entirely different method for investigating evidence and trying alleged criminals than is implemented in the West. This blog post is not about the particular pain of loss experienced in Florida, both familial and by a mercurial justice system. Rather, it highlights the chasm existing between Middle Eastern and Western views of justice. The travels (and travails) of the Jewish people are all a part of the divide.

In this season of the Passover, the biblical facts of our justice system were outlined thousands of years ago where the practice of appointing judges for the tribes of Israel begins.

“Among the early Israelites, the elders of the tribes, and subsequently the elders of the locality, administered justice. Acting upon the advice of Jethro, Moses selected “able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, “…rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens; and they judged the people at all seasons: the more important causes they brought into Moses, but every small matter they judged themselves” (Exodus xviii; 26;Deut. I. 15). It is also recorded that Moses once appointed Aaron and Hur to act as chief judges in his absence (Exodus civil. 14).” (2a)

More importantly, judgement among the Semite tribes are fact-finding missions for lawyers and a judiciary to pursue, with relevant witnesses summoned to testify. The democratic values of today do not correlate with ancient standards.

The judge was considered a sacred person; seeking a decision at law was called “inquiring of G-d” (Exodus xviii.) (2b)

Obviously, the idea of determining guilt would be hard to trust based upon a group of jurors voting to reach a majority or unanimous consensus. Continuous instruction of jurors by a single judge on a bench, with regard to how jurors were to evaluate evidence, is inefficient and disregards the import of a legal education.

The question must be raised about the halachic (legal) propriety of a Jewish person being allowed to participate in a jury system. First we must ponder the hazards of Jewish defendants being tried in this manner. Additionally, we must question the wisdom of a Jewish citizen being on a jury and pondering evidence the Jewish court wouldn’t regard as admissible.

From the view of the Jewish defendant, we might look again at the Dreyfus case where guilt was a foregone conclusion about the innocent French officer (3). In the case of the Rosenbergs (4) guilt is of a lesser concern than the fact that no other spies were ever executed in peace time other than this Jewish couple. There is still debate today over the nature of Ethel Rosenberg’s guilt, along with strong beliefs the entire debate over communism in the fifties was designed to provoke hysteria, rather than a reasoned legal approach to such cases.

The matter was mere theory to myself, working two jobs and dealing with multiple health issues, until the early 1990s. I was working in the Bronx, a borough of New York City, and found a summons to jury duty in my mailbox. Actually looking forward to the experience, I warned my bosses about a possible absence. I then went to a library to research issues of evidence in American courts for comparison with rules of evidence in Jewish courts.

The results of my studies astonished myself. I’d seen the movie, “12 Angry Men” and read “To Kill a Mockingbird”, like most adults of the day. However, Jewish law forbids the use of testimony by individuals who stand to gain material (monetary) or intangible (immunity, lesser sentences) benefits. Such remuneration literally suborns perjury. Furthermore, the plea bargain system is frightening in and of itself.

I realized I’d be unable to serve on a jury and still regaRd myself as a just individual. Fortunately, an understanding jury supervisor took my call from work the next morning. He soon reassured myself that he would not put myself through a crisis of conscience and was promised a permanent excuse from jury service. Strangely, he didn’t know how to cite the excuse as a form of conscientious objector status and used a medical reason instead. I determined there was no reason to quibble over his choice.

I do today. There needs to be a handbook for Jewish persons about where Halacha conflicts with the societies in which our group bases ourselves. Justice is precarious in the best of democracies and our law about permitted roles in outside judicial systems requires thorough knowledge. The U.S. belief that the Constitution is a set of laws written in stone has held the future of Americans hostage to the belief that race is the determinant for obtaining justice in that youthful territory. Perhaps a committee to review the trial process itself would be a welcome upgrade of a document decidedly out of date in numerous areas.

An added advantage of a guidebook for law and religious observance, is for the legal centers of nations and territories to review their own methods. Comparisons might then be drawn against the Nation that created political freedoms through a justice system designed for dispersed tribes.

Barbara Roslyn Rubin, M.A.
Reno, Nevada
Presently on tour in Israel

References

(1) Transcripts of Calls in the George Zimmerman Case

(2a,b)https://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13604-shofet

(3)What was the Dreyfus affair?

Categories: commentary

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