Shoftim: Justice, Justice You Shall Pursue

Updated: Aug 22, 2018

Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive... (Devarim/Deuteronomy 16:20)

Shoftim ("Judges") is the Israelite Constitution--much like the United States Constitution, it's less interested in the details of the rules than in basic societal structure and how the legal system is going to work. We get rules for cities of refuge; for how kings, judges, prophets, and priests are to conduct themselves; for how to wage war and even how to deal with unsolved mysteries.

As someone who narrowly escaped becoming a lawyer, I find this whole parsha fascinating--it highlights both timeless principles we can still appreciate today and ancient weirdness in how people viewed the justice system. By and large, the Torah's rules for justice are resolutely unsupernatural--they may have religious justification, but they're human rules for human justice. Which makes it all the more startling when you get rules for a trial that's basically a spell--like the sotah ordeal in Numbers or the broken-necked heifer here.


Join us at 9:00 am this Saturday for coffee, donuts, and what's always a lively discussion.

Other lenses

Want to know what other Jewish thinkers are saying about this parsha?

Wikipedia has an incredible treasure trove of geekery about the weekly portion, laying out everything from the number of Hebrew letters in the parsha to summaries of classical commentaries. Prepare to go down a very deep rabbithole.

Sefaria is an amazing free resource--an ever-growing library of Jewish texts in both Hebrew and English. In addition to the Hebrew text and translation, it provides the text of most of the classical commentaries (not all of which have been translated... yet). The parsha is one of the first links on the main page.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, does a podcast called Ten Minutes of Torah--perfect for when you're time-constrained. The Union for Reform Judaism has a whole page of resources for the parsha, ranging from beginner's guides to pieces on the contemporary relevance of the portion. The Women of Reform Judaism site has a glorious archive of the entire text of The Torah: A Women's Commentary divided up by parsha.


My Jewish Learning has a summary of the portion, the parsha itself and the haftorah, and commentary.

For a Reconstructionist take, visit Reconstructing Judaism's weekly learning page.

T'ruah, the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, has a weekly d'var that looks at the parsha as a starting point for contemporary political issues.

The World Union for Progressive Judaism has a parsha commentary archive.

Keshet's Torah Queeries page provides commentary from an LGBTQ perspective (search on the portion name).

The Jewish Theological Society (the Conservative Branch seminary) provides weekly commentary at JTS Torah Online.

Yeshivat Maharat, the first Orthodox yeshiva to ordain women, has a collection of Divrei Torah written by women and organized by parsha, on its site.

Limmud, a 35-year-old grassroots Jewish learning event that started in the UK and has become an international phenomenon, maintains an archive of commentaries.

Liberal Judaism's Thought for the Week provides concise but thoughtful analysis of the portion.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi Emeritus of England, engages in profound commentary on the weekly portion in Covenant & Conversation.

InterfaithFamily puts out an animated Torahlog including contemporary reactions, poetry, folk music, and Jewish scholarship on the parsha.

The Jewish Renewal movement's site maintains an archive of commentary. Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, the Velveteen Rabbi--an author and Jewish Renewal rabbi--does commentary on her site.

The #parshachat hashtag on Twitter marks a constantly-running social media conversation on the parsha.

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