Motherhood and Justice

Ann Gerhart argues that The Supreme Court needs more mothers:

But in selecting Kagan, Obama ensured that one key demographic would actually lose representation on the court, compared with its membership just a few years ago: mothers, a category in which 80 percent of American women eventually land.

It’s not like we’ve never had moms in black robes. The flinty rancher and the feminist firebrand who blazed the trail for female justices both are mothers, with five children between them. Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who joined the bench in 1981 and 1993, respectively, benefited from high-achieving husbands who held the Bible for them as they were sworn in, supported their aspirations and sacrificed for their careers. …

The women of a younger generation who stand on their shoulders, Sonia Sotomayor and, if confirmed, Kagan, are single and have no children. That’s not a judgment, just a fact, a line or two not found on their extraordinary bios. If Ginsburg is the next justice to step down, the court could be transformed into a body with no mothers — otherwise known as people who know what it’s like to come home from work and spend a night picking lice out of a kid’s hair.

For women and their climb toward social and economic parity, is this a sign of progress or a setback? And for the country and its Constitution, would more mothers on the bench change the way the laws of the land are interpreted? …

I, for one, am grateful that no one has turned up any record of a Supreme Court nominee saying, “I would hope that a wise working mother of three, with the richness of her experiences, would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” The howls would be deafening.

Women in general are more “socially compassionate” than men, says Northwestern University social psychology professor Alice Eagly, citing her analysis of decades of research on gender difference in decision-making. As legislators, lawyers and judges, women are somewhat more likely than men to favor what we call, irritatingly, “women’s issues,” generally child care, reproductive rights, sex discrimination in the workplace, education and health care.

But differences between mothers and non-mothers? “Interesting question,” Eagly said in an e-mail. “I don’t know of any studies on this question of motherhood and decision-making.”

It seems sensible to imagine that a woman who has juggled it all — the full-time job, the kids, the housework, the aging parents — has a deeper and more instinctual grasp of the challenges facing similar women. Michelle Obama, a Princeton and Harvard Law grad like Kagan, now living in the White House with a guy who watches “SportsCenter” to chill, frequently tells her audiences of women various versions of “Look, I get it,” to loud cheers. …

To tease out any gender differences, researchers conducted a review of about 7,000 federal appeals court decisions between 1976 and 2002 and found no statistical difference in the way women and men ruled in a variety of types of cases, except one: sex discrimination.

In those cases, female judges were about 10 percent more likely to find for the plaintiff than their male counterparts, said Christina Boyd, a political scientist at SUNY-Albany and a co-author of the study. And on three-judge panels where at least one member was a woman, the men were 15 percent more likely to find for the plaintiff than on panels with only male judges.

So women do affect the law — something Ginsburg learned through experience. “Yes, women bring a different life experience to the table,” she told Emily Bazelon in an interview for the New York Times Magazine shortly before Sotomayor’s hearings. “All of our differences make the conference better. That I’m a woman, that’s part of it, that I’m Jewish, that’s part of it, that I grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and I went to summer camp in the Adirondacks, all these things are part of me.”

In saying he wants justices who have “heart” and “empathy,” and who understand “how our laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives,” Obama has invited us to ask who has a life outside work and who doesn’t. That’s hard to determine in a confirmation process that will require Kagan, like Sotomayor before her, to crimp her personality and bite her tongue.

Motherhood offers a one-word verifier. It signals a woman with an intensity of life experiences, jammed with joys and fears, unpredictability and intimacy, all outside the workplace. Much of the time, it’s the opposite of being strategic and assiduously prepared.

It’s a story we understand without needing all the details.

Neera Tanden finds these arguments “ridiculous”:

The policy initiative I worked on most with Elena at the White House was President Clinton’s child care initiative, a then-historic $20 billion investment in child care, after school, Head Start, and early learning. That’s why I find arguments by some that have criticized the president for not selecting a mother to the Supreme Court so ridiculous. There seems to be a notion that a single woman can’t represent the interests of mothers. Frankly, there were plenty of Republican members of Congress who happened to be mothers, who didn’t lift a finger to help mothers balance work and family. Now that I’m a mom, I know Elena got it because what mattered to her was drafting policies that made a concrete difference in the lives of children and helped working parents with their most important obligation.

Bella DePaulo (author of Singled Out: How Singles are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After and the Living Single blog) is also unhappy with Gerhart’s piece, and see also this essay of hers (h/t: Nicky Grist [bio]).

Hazal actually do maintain that fatherhood is (generally) an essential qualification for membership our Supreme Court, the Sanhedrin, and not just fatherhood, but recent fatherhood:

[תניא] אין מושיבין בסנהדרין זקן וסריס ומי שאין לו בנים ר’ יהודה מוסיף אף אכזרי וחילופיהן במסית דרחמנא אמר לא תחמול ולא תכסה עליו:1

Rashi explains that the senior has “forgotten the pain of child-rearing, and is not compassionate”:

זקן. ששכח כבר צער גדול בנים ואינו רחמני וכן סריס:

The remarkable implication is that judges, at least on the Sanhedrin, are not supposed to be mere soulless automations, rigidly applying the Law untainted by the milk of human kindness. Our previous discussions of this general topic:

And my lecture The Legitimacy of Compassion as an Influence on Judicial Decisions, which comprises much of the above material, does indeed utilize this Gemara as its starting point.

Returning to Gerhart’s thesis, Rav Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel actually takes precisely the opposite view; he concludes a lengthy analysis of the Halachic legitimacy of female judges (listen to my lecture on the topic) by declaring that although the institution of a policy allowing such appointments can be technically justified, it is nevertheless inappropriate:

אלא שלדעתנו מפני חשיבות של ענין דין בישראל לא נכון לעשות תקנה כזאת [לקבל נשים], שהיא פוגעת בהנהלת משק הבית הישראלי וחנוך הבנים וטפולם התמידי שאינו יכול להעשות אלא על ידי אם רחמניה שהיא צופיה הליכות ביתה, ושאין הדין יכול להיות אמת מסבות פסיכולוגיות של רגשי רחמים מרובים, שהאשה חוננה בהם, וגם מסיבת עדינות רגשותיה שהונאתה מרובה ודמעתה מצויה, אין ממנים אותה לדון דאחד מתנאי הדיין הוא: אנשי חיל, גדולים בחכמה ואמיצים ברוחם, שמקימים לא תגורו מפני איש כי המשפט לאלקים הוא.

Rav Uziel argues, in diametric opposition to Gerhart, that motherhood is actually a hindrance to proper justice (in addition to the deleterious effect that jurisprudence will have on her domestic character): “the Law [produced by a female judge] cannot be true due to psychological causes of feelings of great compassion, with which Woman is graced, and also due to the cause of the delicacy of her feelings, for her emotional hurt [heb. הונאתה] is great and her tears come easily, we do not appoint her to judge, for one of the qualifications of the judge is: men of valor, great in wisdom and brave [Heb. אמיצים] of spirit, who fulfill [the charge of the verse] “ye shall not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God’s:”

We close with this fascinating exchange, from the pages of Binah magazine, about the personal and professional life of the most famous female judge in Jewish history:

Devorah Haneviah was a leader of Klal Yisrael, but the passuk says, “ad shekamti Devorah, shekamti eim beYisrael.” Devorah’s primary role and her greatest pride was not her prophecy or prominent position, but rather her motherhood.2

The author explains the passuk “ad shakamti Devorah, shakamti eim b’Yisrael – until I, Devorah, arose; I arose as a mother in Yisrael” (Shoftim 5:7) as referring to, and attributing the highest significance to, Devorah’s status as a biological mother and her career as mother to her own children. Is there a source for this explanation?

The classic meforshim who explain this passuk – Ralbag, Metzudas Dovid, and Malbim – explain eim, “mother”, as referring to various aspects of Devorah’s leadership of Klal Yisrael: as a maternal leader, a “parent” who rebukes Klal Yisrael, as well as a metaphorical biological mother of Yisrael, due to her saving them from Sisrah. Targum Yonasan goes so far as to translate the phrase as “until I was sent to prophesy for Yisrael,”, with no mention of a maternal connotation. Indeed, it would be difficult to understand why the passuk would be praising Devorah as a “private” mother in the context of her shirah on the salvation of Klal Yisrael.

I would be interested to know if there is an authoritative source that explains this passuk as referring to Devora as a “real” mother, as the author states, rather than as a leader. Otherwise, it would seem that the explanation in the article was an extension of the author’s personal views on the subject, rather than an accurate interpretation of the passuk and the portrayal of Devorah HaNeviah in Tanach.3

I heard the pshat on Shiras Devorah from Mrs. Devorah Leah Silberberg, Rav Gedalia Schorr’s daughter, who is a well-known mechaneches is Eretz Yisrael. After receiving your letter, I presented it to Rav Yisroel Dovid Schlesinger from Monsey, N.Y. who verified its veracity for me.4

I think it is clear who has the better of this interchange.

  1. סנהדרין לו: – קשר []
  2. Liba Cohen, Up Against the Tide, in Binah Vol. 4 No. 181 (19 Iyar 5770 / May 3, 2010) p. 53. []
  3. Letter to the editor from R. Reich, ibid. Vol. 4 No. 185 (18 Sivan 5770 / May 31, 2010) p. 14. []
  4. Liba Cohen, ibid. p. 15. []

Little Guys, Big Guys and the Law

Shortly before President Obama’s nomination of Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court, Politico published this excoriation of the “pro-business tilt” of Chief Justice John G. Roberts and his Court by Nan Aron, founder and president of Alliance For Justice:

As chief justice, John Roberts has shown a strong pro-business tilt. On the eve of the appointment of a replacement for Justice John Paul Stevens, the stakes have never been clearer.

The Roberts court has repeatedly placed corporate interests first and the rights of individuals second, as shown by an in-depth analysis that we just completed, “Unprecedented Injustice: The Political Agenda of the Roberts Court.” In many cases, this court has disregarded precedents and long-held principles to do so.

For those who care about unchecked corporate power, personal freedoms and respect for judicial precedent, the picture revealed by our data isn’t pretty. The record shows that the Roberts court consistently protects the powerful at the expense of the rest of us.

In the 2006-07 term, for example, the Roberts court heard 30 business-related cases and at least 22 — or 73 percent — were decided in favor of large corporations.

A litany of cases heard by the Roberts court, and often decided by 5-4 votes, demonstrates this rightward, pro-Big Business tilt — an approach that will certainly continue, even after a replacement for Stevens has been seated.

According to our analysis, these cases include:

  • A consumer seriously injured by a defective medical device cannot sue the manufacturer if the product was approved by federal government regulators — even if the company knew the product was dangerous.
  • Exxon was allowed to escape full financial liability for the damage done to communities and the environment by the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
  • Two decisions that left many waterways no longer protected by the Clean Water Act, resulting in 1,500 major pollution investigations being halted and a 50 percent reduction in EPA actions against water polluters.
  • Corporations have the same constitutional right to free speech as ordinary citizens, which opened the floodgates of unlimited corporate spending in federal elections.
  • A woman paid less than her male peers for 20 years had no right to bring a lawsuit for equal pay because she failed to file the suit within 180 days of the first instance of discrimination — though she had no way of learning about the discrimination until years later.

This critique is egregiously wrongheaded, for although Aron attempts to give it the veneer of scientific objectivity by referring importantly to her “data”, her primary objection seems to be that she reprehends the policy consequences of numerous decisions of the Court; the absence of substantial legal analysis based upon neutral principles of law is remarkable, and appalling. The only such argument that she presents is the indubitable fact that the “court has disregarded precedents and long-held principles”, but all courts do so, at least occasionally; Aron makes no effort to demonstrate that the Roberts court has done so unusually often. [Note that I take no position on the basic question of whether the Roberts court has, indeed, been unusually bold about overturning precedent; I merely note that Aron does not make any serious effort to demonstrate that that is the case.]

Aron’s language in the report itself is perhaps even more vehement:

When Associate Justice John Paul Stevens retires this summer, the Supreme Court will lose its most powerful spokesperson for personal freedoms, separation of powers, and the rule of law. Justice Stevens has been a staunch protector of the rights of ordinary Americans faced with unchecked corporate and government interests. Despite his perceived role on the Court as the ‘Chief Liberal Justice,’ Justice Stevens continues to consider himself a “judicial conservative”: he thinks he only appears liberal because he has been surrounded by ideologically extreme right-wing justices. Indeed, Justice Stevens’s opinions stand out as a bulwark against the Court’s increasingly sharp turn to the right. Rather than keep faith with core American values, a slim majority on the Supreme Court has abandoned principles of fundamental fairness and steadily eroded, if not outright overturned, long-standing constitutional doctrine.

In Citizens United, the Court overturned a century of precedent to give corporations the First Amendment rights previously accorded only to real people to spend money to influence elections, thereby jeopardizing the integrity of our political system. Unfortunately, Citizens United is just the latest Supreme Court decision that puts corporate and special interests ahead of everyday Americans. From antitrust regulations to environmental protections to women’s rights to First Amendment rights, the Roberts Court has not been shy in rewriting decades of law to protect big business at the expense of everyday Americans. A review of recent cases shows the conservative justices’ disregard for precedent, eagerness to roll back personal freedoms, and willingness to ignore the promises that Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito made at their Senate confirmation hearings to respect precedent, neutrally uphold the Constitution, and fairly apply the law to everyone.

So in addition to breaking their promise to “respect precedent”, Roberts and his fellow conservatives, in particular his fellow Bush appointee Justice Samuel Alito, stand accused of “[abandoning] principles of fundamental fairness” and of breaking their promises to “neutrally uphold the Constitution, and fairly apply the law to everyone”, but once again, Aron provides not a hint of an argument for any unfairness or tendentiousness in their decisions, and the basis of her outrage seems merely to be the thwarting of her policy preferences.

Aron tallies the number of decisions in which Roberts and his Court have sided with big business against smaller opponents, and she seems to think that the mere fact that business has won more often than not is problematic. But this is profoundly wrong; as Roberts himself explained in his confirmation hearing (h/t: James Taranto, via Professor Randy E. Barnett), a judge must decide according to the law, without regard for the identity of the litigants:

ROBERTS: I had someone ask me in this process — I don’t remember who it was, but somebody asked me, you know, “Are you going to be on the side of the little guy?”

And you obviously want to give an immediate answer, but, as you reflect on it, if the Constitution says that the little guy should win, the little guy’s going to win in court before me. But if the Constitution says that the big guy should win, well, then the big guy’s going to win, because my obligation is to the Constitution. That’s the oath.

The oath that a judge takes is not that, “I’ll look out for particular interests, I’ll be on the side of particular interests.” The oath is to uphold the Constitution and laws of the United States. And that’s what I would do.

DURBIN: Would you at least concede that you would take into consideration that in our system of justice the race goes to the swift, and the swift are those with the resources, the money, the lawyers, the power in the system? And that many times the powerless, the person who has struggled and clawed their way to your courtroom, went through a wall of adversity which the power never had to face? Is that part of your calculation?

ROBERTS: Absolutely. And it’s, again, what’s carved above the doors to the Supreme Court: “Equal justice under law.” And the judicial oath talks about doing justice without regard to persons, to rich and to poor. And that, of course, is critically important.

You do have to appreciate that there are going to be interests who, for one reason or another, don’t have the same resources as people on the other side.

The idea is not to give the case to the side with the best resources, the side with the best lawyers, the side with the most opportunity to prepare it and present it. It is to decide the case according to the law and according to the Constitution.

And as case after case in the Supreme Court shows, that’s often the prisoner who’s sitting in his cell and writes his petition out longhand.

ROBERTS: Sometimes the Constitution is on that person’s side and not on the side of the corporation with the fancy printed brief.

But the judge’s obligation is to appreciate that the rule of law requires that both of those be treated equally under the law.

We owe the Lord our thanks that this man is the Chief Justice of our great מדינה של חסד (assuming, of course, that he has actually been, and will continue to be, faithful to these sentiments). [These Senate hearings for candidates for the Supreme Court of the United States are just chock-full of interesting exchanges; see our discussion of an excerpt from the Sotomayor hearing.]

Incidentally, whenever I think of the verse in Koheles alluded to by Senator Durbin, I am reminded of this brilliant passage from George Orwell’s famous essay Politics and the English Language, first pointed out to me years ago by my mother:

I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Here it is in modern English:

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

This is a parody, but not a very gross one. … It will be seen that I have not made a full translation. The beginning and ending of the sentence follow the original meaning fairly closely, but in the middle the concrete illustrations — race, battle, bread — dissolve into the vague phrases “success or failure in competitive activities.” This had to be so, because no modern writer of the kind I am discussing — no one capable of using phrases like “objective considerations of contemporary phenomena” — would ever tabulate his thoughts in that precise and detailed way. The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness.

Now analyze these two sentences a little more closely. The first contains forty-nine words but only sixty syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains thirty-eight words of ninety syllables: eighteen of those words are from Latin roots, and one from Greek. The first sentence contains six vivid images, and only one phrase (“time and chance”) that could be called vague. The second contains not a single fresh, arresting phrase, and in spite of its ninety syllables it gives only a shortened version of the meaning contained in the first. Yet without a doubt it is the second kind of sentence that is gaining ground in modern English. I do not want to exaggerate. This kind of writing is not yet universal, and outcrops of simplicity will occur here and there in the worst-written page. Still, if you or I were told to write a few lines on the uncertainty of human fortunes, we should probably come much nearer to my imaginary sentence than to the one from Ecclesiastes.

As I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. It is easier — even quicker, once you have the habit — to say In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that than to say I think. If you use ready-made phrases, you not only don’t have to hunt about for the words; you also don’t have to bother with the rhythms of your sentences since these phrases are generally so arranged as to be more or less euphonious. When you are composing in a hurry — when you are dictating to a stenographer, for instance, or making a public speech — it is natural to fall into a pretentious, Latinized style. Tags like a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind or a conclusion to which all of us would readily assent will save many a sentence from coming down with a bump. By using stale metaphors, similes, and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself. This is the significance of mixed metaphors. The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image. When these images clash — as in The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song, the jackboot is thrown into the melting pot — it can be taken as certain that the writer is not seeing a mental image of the objects he is naming; in other words he is not really thinking.

To be perfectly honest, I have never fully accepted Orwell’s point here. I really don’t know that his reformulation of the verse from Koheles into precise albeit colorless prose is all that egregious. While vividness, clarity and originality are certainly very desirable qualities, so are precision and accuracy. While there are doubtless situations where the former qualities are more important, there are also those in which the latter are key.

Returning to Roberts’s insistence that the judge’s fealty must be to the law, and not to the “little guy”, we note that of course, the Torah says exactly this, twice, succinctly and seemingly unequivocally:

ודל לא תהדר בריבו:1

לא תעשו עול במשפט לא תשא פני דל ולא תהדר פני גדול בצדק תשפוט עמיתך:2

But is the issue really that clear-cut? Dr. Michael Vigoda, a Mishpat Ha’Ivri scholar at the Israeli Ministry of Justice, has argued3 that invoking a defendant’s destitution as grounds for leniency is not always illegitimate.

He begins by citing two Israeli court decisions that reject a defendant’s destitution as a basis for a reduction in a mandated fine, explicitly adducing the verse ודל לא תהדר בריבו in support:

בפסק דין שניתן בעת האחרונה בבית המשפט המחוזי תל-אביב-יפו, בדונו בעבֵרה על פקודת התעבורה שעונשה ברֵרת קנס, נקבע שמצבו הכלכלי הדחוק של הנאשם אינו יכול לשמש עילה להפחתת הקנס, אף שנאמר בסעיף 224 לחוק סדר הדין הפלילי [נוסח משולב], התשמ”ב – 1982:

הורשע בבית המשפט על העבירה ונגזר דינו לקנס, לא יפחת הקנס מהסכום הנקוב בהזמנה אלא אם ראה בית המשפט נסיבות מיוחדות המצדיקות הפחתתו.

לדעת בית המשפט, אף אילו הוכח שהנאשם עני, הדבר אינו בגדר “נסיבות מיוחדות המצדיקות” את הפחתת הקנס. אחד הנימוקים שנתן בית המשפט לקוח מפרשת השבוע שלנו, פרשת משפטים, וזה לשונו:

העובדה שעבריין החניה הינו סטודנט אינה יכולה לשמש נימוק מספיק להפחתת הקנס המקורי… וכבר מצינו במקורותינו ככתוב: “ודל לא תהדר בריבו”. גם אדם שמקורותיו דלים אין הדבר יכול לשמש חסינות לביצוע עבירות כלשהן, לרבות עבירות חניה.

פסוק זה בא גם בפסק דין אחר שעניינו ענישת עברייני מס:

הזהרתי את עצמי שאל לו לבית דין לחוס על מי שנתחייב קנס, שנאמר: “ולא תחוס עינך” (דברים יט, כא) ואין מרחמים על הדל, שנאמר: “ודל לא תהדר בריבו” (שמות כג, ג).

Dr. Vigoda wonders if the matter is really quite this simple:

ושאלה היא אם פרשנות זו של הפסוק “ודל לא תהדר בריבו” עולה בקנה אחד עם מקורות המשפט העברי, למן מפרשי המקרא ועד פוסקי ההלכה, או שמא עולה מהם גישה שונה.

He proceeds with a detailed and informative discussion on the parameters of the Halachic concept of לפנים משורת הדין, in the course of which he excerpts a remarkable and provocative letter (Vigoda himself acknowledges that it contains “דברים מפתיעים”) of Rav Kook, which he credits Professor Nahum Rakover, a fellow Mishpat Ha’Ivri expert, for bringing to his attention:

ומדת הרחמים היא משמשת ביחוד אצל קובעי החוקים ומתקני תקנות לדורות… ואפילו בשופטים פרטיים, גם כן אין זה כלל גמור [והוא מביא ראיה מסיפור הסבלים]… וגם עיקר של לפנים משורת הדין גם הוא נכנס בכלל הדין לפעמים, “ולא חרבה ירושלים אלא שהעמידו דיניהם על דין תורה, ולא עשו לפנים משורת הדין” (בבא מציעא ל ע”ב). ומכל זה מוכרחים לומר שהכתוב, שאומר “ודל לא תהדר בריבו”, הוא נאמר דוקא בזמן שהדיין אינו מתחשב כלל עם שורת הדין, אלא שהוא פוסק את המשפט רק מפני מדת הרחמים על הדל, אבל בזמן שיש משקל לזה גם כן מצד צורת המשפט ויסודי הדין, יש רשות לדיין לפעמים לצרף לזה גם מדת הרחמים והחמלה על האומללים והעובדים הנדכאים.

Vigoda infers from this and other sources that:

אם נחזור לתחילת הדברים, נוכל לקבוע שלפי גישה זו, דרישת המקרא, “ודל לא תהדר בריבו”, אינה חוסמת בפני הדיין את הדרך להתחשב במצבו הקשה של בעל הדין.

His conclusion:

סיכומו של דבר, נראה שלא נכון להסתמך על הפסוק “ודל לא תהדר בריבו” להצדקת אי-הפחתת עונש הקנס המושת על אדם עני.

The analysis that began with references to two Israeli court decisions did not go unnoticed, and was subsequently mentioned in a third case. The defendant had been guilty of perpetrating a serious assault, but had pleaded with the judge to not convict him, as a conviction itself, independent of the consequent punishment, would be a severe blow to him. The judge, however, felt unable to acquit:

הנאשם חושש מאוד לעתידו בתחום התעסוקתי, וביקש להימנע מהרשעתו.

אכן, התרשמתי מן הנאשם לחיוב במובן זה שהוא משקיע מחשבה ומאמץ בתחום התעסוקתי, על רקע אישי ומשפחתי מורכב שגדל בו. אני מקווה שההרשעה לא תעמוד לו לרועץ בשקידתו לפרנסתו. אך להימנע מהרשעה, לא אוּכל.

לחובת הנאשם עבר פלילי; תסקיר שירות המבחן בעניינו איננו שלילי, אך גם לא חיובי; הנאשם עודנו מתקשה בנטילת אחריות על מעשה-העבירה שביצע; תוצאות המעשה – החבלה החמורה באפּו של רונן אמזלג, והטיפולים הרפואיים שבעקבותיה – הינן קשות; גם לא הוּכח קשר ממשי בין ההרשעה בתיק זה כשלעצמה, לפגיעה עתידית בנאשם.

בהצטבר כל השיקולים הללו, לא ראיתי הצדקה להימנע מהרשעה.

On the other hand, the judge conceded that there were grounds for leniency in the sentencing, since the defendant had suffered, from his childhood, from “מחסכים הוריים וחינוכיים”, and that it was unsurprising that he had degenerated into criminality. On the contrary, he was worthy of a certain amount of respect for not having fallen farther!

עם זאת, בהיותי מוּדע לכך שלהרשעה יש השלכה קשה על הנאשם, הרשעה אשר בעיניו הינה ‘עונש’ חמור בפני עצמו, החלטתי לגזור עונש מתון באופן יחסי.

מתסקיר שירות המבחן עולה תמונה אישית ומשפחתית מורכבת. למעשה עוד מנעוריו סבל הנאשם מחסכים הוריים וחינוכיים. בנסיבות בהן גדל, אין תימה בדבר שנגרר מעת לעת אל השוליים, אל מעבר לסף העבריינות. אדרבא, ראוי הנאשם למידה של הערכה על כך שלא הידרדר עוד. הרקע כמתואר בתסקיר מצדיק לנקוט עם הנאשם מידה הגונה של רחמים, והתחשבות בגזירת עונשו.

The prosecution nevertheless asked for a harsh sentence:

עמדתה העונשית של המאשימה לא השתנתה חרף העובדה כי התסקיר איננו חיובי, וב”כ המאשימה מבקש לגזור על הנאשם של”צ משמעותי, מאסר-על-תנאי, קנס ופיצוי.

Whereas the defendant’s lawyer invoked the aformentioned letter of Rav Kook:

ב”כ הנאשם ביקש ליתן משקל מכריע לנסיבות האישיות, ולעניין זה ציטט מדבריו של הרב אברהם יצחק הכהן קוק זצ”ל: … [מתוך איגרת שפורסמה בספר הזכרון לאברהם שפיגלמן, ירושלים (תשל”ט) 67, וכמצוטט במאמרו של מ’ ויגודה בגיליון 62 של פרשת השבוע “ודל לא תהדר בריבו”, פרשת משפטים, תשס”ב, בהוצאת המחלקה למשפט עברי במשרד המשפטים, והמרכז להוראת המשפט העברי ולימודו במכללת “שערי משפט”].

The judge concluded that he took everyone’s perspective into account, and that compassion did indeed play a role in his ultimate decision:

שקלתי, איפוא, את דברי ב”כ המאשימה, ב”כ הנאשם והנאשם עצמו; משקל לא מבוטל, נתתי גם למידת הרחמים, והחלטתי לגזור על הנאשם עונשים כדלקמן:

[For the actual details of his verdict, see the decision.]

One of Vigoda’s primary Talmudic sources for the legitimacy of a departure from strict Din in favor of a poor litigant is the famous, beautiful account of Rabbah Bar Bar (Hanan) [Hanah, or alternatively, Huna] and his porters:

רבה בר בר (חנן) [צ”ל חנה, ויש גורסים הונא, עיין מסורת הש”ס] תברו ליה הני שקולאי חביתא דחמרא שקל לגלימייהו אתו אמרו לרב אמר ליה הב להו גלימייהו אמר ליה דינא הכי אמר ליה אין למען תלך בדרך טובים

יהיב להו גלימייהו אמרו ליה עניי אנן וטרחינן כולא יומא וכפינן ולית לן מידי אמר ליה זיל הב אגרייהו אמר ליה דינא הכי אמר ליה אין וארחות צדיקים תשמור:4

A noteworthy application of the principle of this Gemara, along with some of Vigoda’s other sources occurs in a lengthy and intricate analysis of Rav Moshe Teitelbaum (the first, the author of Yismah Moshe), of a complicated case involving a party to an engagement contract who had failed to to make a stipulated dowry payment on time. At the end of Rav Teitelbaum’s discussion of the relevant technical Halachic factors, which he concludes by ruling that at least under certain circumstances, the unsatisfied party has the right to withdraw from the engagement, he writes as follows:

כן הוא מעיקר הדין ברור כשמש לדעתי בס”ד. אך הואיל דחזיתיה להשואל המופלג הנ”ל דאם ירצה להשליש בטחונות אין דעתו לחזור אם יסלק עכשיו וגם כפי הנהוג שאנו רואין הוא אף שמתנין אין מקפידין אם עבר ואיחר הזמן ואין הקשר מתבטל משום זה והוא דבר תמוה בעיני המון לבטל קשר השידוך משום איחור זמן הסילוק אם עומד וצווח שרוצה לסלק עכשיו במילואו וכל שכן לחייבו שבועה לפטור מהקנס ושלא להחזיר המתנות

ובפרט בן תורה וירא שמים לא נאה לו לעשות כן ובכגון זה אמרו רז”ל לא חרבה ירושלים כו’ ועיין במסכת בבא מציעא דף פ”ג ע”א בגמרא שם רבה בר בר חנן תברו ליה הני שקולאי כו’ מבואר להדיא מזה דכופין על לפנים משורת הדין לאדם חשוב ובמקום שהוא ראוי ועיין ברש”י דיבור המתחיל שקולאי כו’ עיי”ש וע”ש בגמרא אמר ליה דינא הכי אמר ליה אין למען תלך בדרך טובים עיין רש”י בדרך טובים היינו לפנים משורת הדין ולכאורה קשה דהא למען תלך כו’ הוא רק לפנים משורת הדין כמו שכתב רש”י ואם כן האיך השיב לו אין דמשמע דדינא קאמר והרי זה סתירה מיניה וביה וכן קשה עוד להלן במה דאמר ליה זיל הב אגרייהו אמר ליה דינא הכי אמר ליה אין וארחות צדיקים תשמור קשה גם כן כנ”ל ועל כרחך צריך לומר לפנים משורת הדין באדם חשוב ובמקום שהוא ראוי הוי דין ממש5

[Rav Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal has an excellent and important responsum6 on the topic of לפנים משורת הדין, in which he cites the comments of numerous Aharonim, including Rav Teitelbaum, in explanation of our Gemara. A proper discussion of the responsum is beyond the scope of this post; I hope to give it the attention it deserves in a future post, בג”ה.]

In the course of his analysis, Vigoda discusses the dispute among the Poskim over whether Beis Din may compel a litigant to act לפנים משורת הדין7:

ואכן גישת חכמי אשכנז היא שהדיין רשאי לכפות פסק דין לפנים משורת הדין. וכך פוסק ה”מרדכי” בשמם של גדולי פוסקי אשכנז כשהוא מסתמך על סוגיית הסבלים …

חכמי ספרד חולקים על גישת חכמי אשכנז, והם סוברים שהדיין אינו רשאי לכפות פסק דין לפנים משורת הדין. לדידם, הדרישה לנהוג לפנים משורת הדין אינה מכוונת כלפי השופטים, שהם אמונים על הדין, ו”אין מרחמין בדין”, אלא כלפי כל יחיד ויחיד, כדבריו המאלפים של רב סעדיה גאון:

ואולם מה שקראו בשם קדמוניהם “דרך טובים ואורחות צדיקים”, הרי חובה שילכו (הבריות) אחרי זה, אלא שזאת חובה על הבעלים [=המתדיינים], לא על הדיין. אכן הדיין לא יוסיף בדינו ולא יגרע ולא יעַול, שלא יעַות למאמרו: “לא תעשו עָול במשפט, לא תשא פני דל”.8

Vigoda seems to imply that Rav Saadia follows the approach of the “Spanish sages” that Beis Din may not compel the litigant to act לפנים משורת הדין, but this is disputed by the authors of the Halachah Pesukah:

ופירוש הדבר [של דברי רב סעדיה הנ”ל], שבית דין צריך לפסוק לפי הדין, ורק יש להוסיף לבעל דין שמצד לפנים משורת הדין יש לו לשלם. אבל בנוגע למחלוקת הראשונים, אם כופין לעשות לפנם משורת הדין, … אינו מוכח מכאן מה שיטת רב סעדיה גאון בזה, שאפשר שמכיון שעל בעל דין מוטל החוב לעשות לפנים משורת הדין – בית דין כופין אותו, כמו שכופין על כל מצוות, אלא שעיקר פסק הדין צריך להיות כפי הדין, ולא שבית דין עצמם כשרואים שיש מקום לעשות לפנים משורת הדין יפסקו שלא כדין.9

  1. שמות פרק כ”ג פסוק ד []
  2. ויקרא פרק י”ט פסוק ט”ו []
  3. The version of the essay from which my excerpts are taken is here; another version is available here. []
  4. בבא מציעא סוף הפועלים דף פ”ג ע”א, מועתק מפה []
  5. שו”ת השיב משה, [יו”ד] סוף סימן מ”ח, מועתק מפה, ועיין שם עוד מה שכתב בזה []
  6. שו”ת משנה שכיר חו”מ סימן ד []
  7. עיין הגהת הרמ”א לשולחן ערוך חו”מ סימן י”ב סעיף ב’, ובהלכה פסוקה (מכון הרי פישל) שם אות י”ט, ובהערות 130-135 []
  8. ר’ סעדיה גאון, ספר הפיקדון, בתרגומו של ד”ר אדם נח בראון. []
  9. הלכה פסוקה שם הערה 135 []