Response to The Line of Fire 4
On the May 19 2011 edition of his radio show: “The Line of Fire” http://lineoffireradio.askdrbrown.org/ , Dr. Brown made the argument that the rabbinic interpretation of Exodus 23:2 is inexcusable. The verse tells us not to follow a crowd to pervert justice, while some of the respected rabbinical commentators – including Maimonides, understand that the verse teaches to follow the majority. According to Dr. Brown this is an unpardonable distortion of the Biblical text.
Before we answer this question, we will note that Maimonides knew how to read Hebrew (an understatement if there ever was one) and that he was well aware of Dr. Brown’s arguments because they were already articulated by Rashi and the Ibn Ezra before him. It is also known that Mimonides had tremendous repsect for the Ibn Ezra, so if he took a position against the Ibn Ezra in a matter of Scriptural interpretation we can be sure that there is a logical explanation that supports his opinion.
We do not have to go too far to find it.
The oldest Jewish commentary on the text, which actually predates the advent of Christianity, the Targum Yonatan, provides an answer for Dr. Brown’s problem.
The first thing we must realize is that the word “crowd” appears nowhere in the original Hebrew. The correct translation is “numerous”. According to the Targum, the verse teaches us not to misuse the court procedure of following the “numerous” – i.e. the majority, to pervert justice. The clear implication is that the natural system would have us follow the majority, and the Torah is teaching us not to use this court procedure as an excuse to pervert justice.
It is interesting to note that according to Dr. Brown, the Torah never tells us what court procedure we ought to follow when the judges disagree. Neither does the Torah tell us the correct number of judges that ought to adjudicate, or the method of electing judges. According to Dr. Brown, the fact that the Written Torah does not address these matters, means that there is no Divine legislation on these matters. This would then mean that even according to Dr. Brown, the community’s decision to adopt a “follow the majority” procedure does not violate any Scriptural law.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal