Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik
by R. Aharon Ziegler
In Parashat Yitro, we find Moshe Rabbeinu, sitting as judge, teacher and counselor for the entire nation. Yitro, his father-in-law, advises him to establish a judicial system of judges and courts, by delegating authority to the most capable men who will be assisting Moshe. Moshe heeds the advice of Yitro and appoints judges. (Shemot 18:21-27)
Serving as a judge of others is an enormous responsibility. The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot (1:8) states: “When serving as a judge do not act as a lawyer. When the litigants stand before you, consider them both guilty; but when they are dismissed from you, consider them both innocent, provided they have accepted your judgment.” Rashi explains this to mean that in your role as a judge do not counsel litigants how to plead their case, even if you are convinced of an individual’s righteousness. You must maintain your impartiality. A judge can only hope and pray that he made the correct decision, but he can never have that feeling of certainty.
Rav Soloveitchik added that a judge who perceives himself as omniscient and all knowing, rendering decisions with absolute conviction and certainty, ascribing total guilt to one party and total innocence to the other party, is acting inappropriately. It is wrong for any individual to consider himself capable of having such divine insight. The term “Oreich Din” which we use on the Yamim Nora’im (High Holidays) as “La’Keil Oreich Din” can be legitimately used only as a description of HaKadosh Baruch Hu. He is omniscient; only He can know with absolute certainty which litigant is right and which one is wrong. Only He can speak fairness, only He can analyze ideas, only He is pious and does kindness. But a mortal human being must be aware of his own shortcomings and act with extreme humility.