They asked the “holy Yehudi”: “Why is it written: ‘Justice, justice, shalt thou follow’ [Deut. 16:20]? Why is the word ‘justice’ repeated?”
He answered: “We ought to follow justice with justice, and not with unrighteousness.” That means: The use of unrighteousness as a means to a righteous end makes the end itself unrighteous; injustice as a means to justice renders justice unjust.
I was reminded of this passage this morning while reading a BBC News report of the latest Israeli Supreme Court ruling on a dispute over Jewish settlers on Palestinian territory.
The case concerns a Jewish settlement at Migron on land that had been privately owned by Palestinians before the Six Day War. Because it was private land, the Court had ruled in favor of the previous owners, declaring that the Israeli settlement had to be demolished by the end of this month. However, the government appealed on behalf of the settlers, requesting that demolition be postponed for three and one-half years, claiming that the settlers needed the time to build new homes. Today’s news was that the Court has rejected this appeal; this was the unanimous decision of a panel of three judges.
Israel has never had a codified constitution. In fact, there has never been a serious effort to write one prior to 2003. Thus, there have been skeptics who have dismissed the Supreme Court as some elevated form of Rabbinical Court. Perhaps those skeptics should reconsider. In light of Buber’s anecdote about the nature of justice, the government’s proposed three-year extension would have, as the “holy Yehudi” put it, rendered the justice of decision in favor of the Palestinian owners into an unjust one, making the Court’s decision “fundamentally rabbinical,” so to speak. Perhaps it is time for some of the more zealous fundamentalists among those Israeli settlers to pay more attention to what centuries of rabbis have had to say about such concepts as “justice!”