5-5770 Mitzvah N-63

Torah Emet

5-5770 Mitzvah N-63

December 20, 2009

Negative Mitzvah 63 – This is a negative commandment: Do not curse a judge.

Hafetz Hayim – As Scripture says: “You shall not revile God.” (Exodus 22:27). (This is interpreted to mean judges.) If someone curses a judge by the Divine name or by a substitute name of God, he should receive whiplashes twice (over this prohibition) and over the prohibition not to curse a fellow Jew (Mitzvah N-45).

This verse of the Bible is also an admonition not to blaspheme Hashem. If someone blasphemed Hashem by a substitute Divine name, he would transgress a prohibition. If someone blasphemed Hashem by the Divine name itself, his punishment is stated explicitly: “And he who blasphemes the name of Hashem shall surely be put to death; the entire community shall stone him” (Lev. 24:16). This is the case if one blasphemes even if he retracts in the time it takes to say a few words. At the present time, however, when we do not judge capital cases, he is excommunicated and we keep our distance from him. It is in force everywhere, at every time for both men and women.

In Mitzvah N-45 the law noted that it is forbidden to use God’s name to curse other people. Here we raise the stakes another notch. If cursing a fellow Jew is bad, how much more sinful can it be to curse a judge. Now the curse is not directed only to an individual, but to the institution in which the judge operates. This curse is directed to the whole structure in which justice is provided in the community.

We can see why a person might want to curse a judge. After all, if a ruling does not go the way we would like it to go, we might get angry, not at ourselves for errors we may have committed, but blaming the judge for not understanding our case well enough to rule the way we wanted him or her to rule. Being a judge does not imply that you will win any popularity contests, rather, more often than not, both sides will be unhappy with your rulings and say nasty things about you and the whole legal system.

Anger is one thing, cursing is another. Words have power, and if we are not careful, our words could be twisted by someone else and much harm can befall the judge or other judges who get swept up in our curse. Getting mad and saying things you might regret is bad, but it is criminal if our words go on to bring harm, through our actions or through the actions of one who hears our curse. King David says a few ill chosen words against King Saul’s heir Ishboshet, and a well meaning soldier takes that to mean the young man should be assassinated. We have to watch our words.

The Torah equates judges with God. One of the words used, “elohim”, could refer to either God or judges. If our verse from Exodus is taken in a literal way, it refers to cursing God, which would be a capital offence.

The issue of substitute names of God was raised in Mitzvah N-45. It refers to any name that is usually associated with God. It can be a distinctly Jewish name for God or a common name for God used by non-Jews. Using a substitute name is punished by whiplashes, but using one of the direct names of God makes one liable for death by stoning.

The Hafetz Hayim understands that Jewish courts do not impose the death penalty anymore. The Rabbis made a series of rulings that make it difficult, if not impossible, to get a conviction in a capital case. He rules, therefore, that while we do not put the one who blasphemes God to death, we do remove him from our community. The blasphemer’s attitude to God can not exist in a community of faith. It is not so much that we wish to censer his words; rather, he undermines the very heart of what the community believes in and can no longer be allowed to spread his blasphemy to others. He must be avoided by all who are faithful to God.

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