With an open mind

Sermons, essays, articles, arguments and thought pieces from a Liberal Jewish perspective.


Sermons and Thoughts

On the Justice and Immigration Systems

03 September 2022
Rabbi Aaron Goldstein

Vayigal kamayim mishpat, utz’dakah knachal eitan.

Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream

Amos 5:24

The law used to be a desired job for a good Jewish boy. I say ‘used to,’ as hopefully times have moved on and the hopes for a good job, noch even vocation, extend to all our children,

Why was the law seen as a ‘good’ job? True, there is the notion that a career in law would be well renumerated; and, one would like to think, being involved in the judicial system was an honourable endeavour, in and of itself; and because in Israelite and Jewish tradition, justice is very often partnered, even paralleled with righteousness.

And justice as we understand it today in British secular culture is a very Israelite concept.

Bernard Levinson, introducing this section in The Jewish Study Bible states:

“Although western political theory is normally traced back to ancient Athens, this section is remarkable for providing what seems to be the first blueprint for a constitutional system of government. The carefully thought-out plan is designed to ensure that no single branch of government and no single religious institution should have sole power. Each is brought into relationship to the others and, more importantly, each is made subordinate to the one true authority: The Torah of Deuteronomy. Even institutions that might justifiably claim absolute authority – whether political as in the case of the king, or religious, in the case of the prophet – are integrated into Deuteronomy’s comprehensive vision.”

The ancient Rabbis also understand through the subtlety of the text, the suggestion that the legislation of Deuteronomy was the foundation to build upon, not the conclusion.

“You shall not deviate from the thing which they shall tell you, to the right or to the left.”

Deuteronomy 17:11

R. Meir Simhah ha-Kohen of Dvinsk (1843–1926), comments, “The Torah wished to legislate for those new situations that might arise, not included in its permanent and immutable decrees, vesting in the Sages of each generation the prerogative to institute enactments and additional measures of a provisional nature within the limits set them.”

Our justice system is vital to the fragile cohesion of society. And yet successive governments have undermined it. Whilst it may be true that those at the top of the profession earn a decent amount, those who underpin the system, the criminal justice workers, who provide the work behind the scenes researching the law and preparing evidence and arguments for the leading counsel, are heavily dependent on the legal aid budget. This has been significantly cut and many will have been surprised to hear that newly appointed criminal barristers earn a salary that places them in poverty. And many will also have heard this week of the consequence to those seeking justice, in the case of a thirteen-year-old victim of rape.

Justice, justice shall you pursue.

Hundreds of thousands are waiting for it. Those waiting for trials that may never come to pass and those seeking asylum in this country. Whilst headlines focus on the numbers crossing the channel in flimsy boats, or Priti Patel’s macabre machinations, hundreds of thousands wait for their case to be brought. They sit, most with no permission to work legally, and wait. A prisoner can count down the days to their release. The person seeking asylum only counts upwards with no end in sight.

On a human level, but on so many other measures, the situation is obscene and a stain on our society. We have a cost of living crisis, and the cost of living is also in crisis.

Bernard Levinson questions whether the “ambitious programme envisioned by this draft constitution was very implemented.” In this country, we still have the potential to have a justice system that lives up to its parallel, righteousness. We all have our part to play ensuring that our civil service and our justice system is not laid bare to the whims of ideological politicians of the day. We can all let our representatives know our passion for the pursuit of justice, lest we need to seek it one day and it is beyond reach.

May the vision of our ancient ancestors and the prophecy of Amos, be achievable in our days, for us and most especially the vulnerable who seek justice, and the vulnerable criminal justice workers and civil servants who seek to despatch it.

Vayigal kamayim mishpat, utz’dakah knachal eitan.

Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream

Amos 5:24