Biblical Liberation from Liberalism

By Michael Medved, Townhall

With the arrival of the eight day Passover Festival on Monday night, I was preparing some material for our family-reunion Seder meal (Diane and I will be together with all three of our children, plus my visiting father from Jerusalem) when I stumbled across one of the most important of all verses in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Leviticus 19:15 declares: “You shall not commit a perversion of justice: you shall not favor the poor and you shall not honor the great, with righteousness shall you judge your fellow.”

About fifteen years ago I engaged in a memorable public debate with my friend Dennis Prager in which he rightly identified this passage as perhaps the most crucial conservative verse in the whole Bible.

It should, indeed, come as a revelation and a rebuke to all liberals that Holy Scripture identifies “favoring the poor” as “a perversion of justice.” CONTINUE

April 11, 2007 | 8 Comments »

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8 Comments / 8 Comments

  1. I agree with Medved but the terms “conservative” and “Liberal” are confusing in their meanings due to their various usages.

    Eric Hoffer stated that in a liberal society the liberals wound be conservatives always attempting to preserve (conserve/”protect from loss or harm”) their liberalism.

  2. The “conservative” part is that the quoted verse Lev. 19:15 prohibits liberal judicial activism. But, as Medved rightly himself notes in the article, whereas all (rich or poor) are protected from governmental prejudice, the individual rather than the government is very much encouraged to help the poor–in fact just a few verses before in Lev 19:9-10 the “law of gleaning” is specifrically an example of exhortation for individual’s to give to the poor. Put together this is the conservative position–the government role focusing on protection and judgment and leave the social activism and charity to individuals.

  3. Beautifully written bill but Medved is not saying otherwise. He simply acknowledged that the Rabbi’s dealt with the potential conflict between justice and compaasion but still upheld justice as you and Medvid argue.

    I might point out that this is the issue dealth with in The Merchant of Venice. Shylock wanted the law to apply and Antonio wanted mercy.

    The Rabbis long recognized that you can’t have one without the other. But neither can you ignore justice. The torah has much to say about Judges also, to ensure they are unbiased.

    The Torah reading opens,

      “You shall appoint judges and officials from your tribes, in all the settlements that the Lord your God is giving you and they shall govern the people with due justice. You shall not judge unfairly; you shall show no partiality nor take bribes, for bribery blinds the eyes of the discerning” (Deuteronomy 16:18–19).

    Curiously enough, after the Torah’s legislation concerning the appointment of judges, we read immediately of a law that appears to us a non sequitur:

      “You shall not set up an idolatrous post next to the altar of God” (Deuteronomy 16:21).

    What is the connection between the appointment of judges and a warning against idolatry?

    “An irresponsible judge is as an idolater — neglecting the command to pursue justice. And judges who take their work to heart bring the Presence of God into their midst. “

  4. I do not get Medved, Prager or Rabbi Schlomo Yitzhaki (Rashi), the great 11th Century sage who see some kind of contradiction between the injunction in Leviticus 19:15 to not favor the poor and other biblical injunctions that calls for compassion being extended to the poor.

    Leviticus 19:15 declares: “You shall not commit a perversion of justice: you shall not favor the poor and you shall not honor the great, with righteousness shall you judge your fellow.”

    Just what is it in this injunction that is unclear and warrants debate since the 11th century on the meaning of this injunction and whether it contradicts other biblical injunctions as regards the poor or warrants an essay such as Medved has written in that regard?

    I am no biblical scholar but to my way of thinking that passage must be read as a whole. When one does so, its meaning is crystal clear and cannot possibly contradict any other passage that speaks of favoring the poor with compassion, charity or otherwise.

    To me, this injunction means simply that when it comes to justice and judging an individual for their actions or judging who in a dispute is right and who is wrong, it is the action or the facts of the dispute that are to be judged, uninfluenced by the station in life of an accused or the parties to a dispute, for to do otherwise will lead to a perversion of justice.

    That injunction is part and parcel of our modern system of justice. At the time this injunction was handed down, it probably was a revolutionary idea that was in response and reaction to the unjust way justice then was meted out.

    Medved agrees with Dennis Prager’s description of this passage “as perhaps the most crucial conservative verse in the whole Bible.”

    What could possibly be conservative about that verse? If anything, this injunction was a liberal minded concept expressing a universal truth that benefitted all in society regardless of station in life. This injunction sought to liberate justice from the strictures of the reality bound up in the saying that in our justice system there is a law for the rich and a law for the poor.

    That reality is still with us to this day, but almost certainly that reality far less permeates our justice system today then it did the justice system of old to which this biblical injunction was in response to. We owe much as regards our Western concepts of justice to the insightful wisdom of this biblical injunction and the guidance it has provided. Our Western concepts of justice have in many ways evolved around this simple universal truth.

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