Modern Commentary

Torah & Spirit
Family Life






Criteria for Selecting a Judge

The Torah does not layout specific criteria for selecting a judge - it implies them. There are at least three criteria the Torah implies a person must meet before they are fit to become a judge. They are enumerated by Yitro, in Shemot 18: 18.21 - 23

"Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating dishonest gain; and place [such] over them [to be] rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.

"And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be [that] every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear [the burden] with you.  

"If you do this thing, and God [so] commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all this people will also go to their place in peace."  

One, the person must be a member of the covenant - "you shall select from all the people...". Two, the person must be one who is deemed righteous and just by the community - "men of truth, hating dishonest gain...". Three, the person must be one who displays wisdom and discernment - "able men...". There are also criteria that may be gleaned from deduction, such as the person must be of the age of reason and understanding, such that they are able to exercise wisdom and discernment; however, this does not imply a specific age. Furthermore, the person must be knowledgeable of the laws of the Torah - this is only obvious given that he/she must adjudicate Torah law.

Of importance in determining the criteria for selecting a judge, as well, is what the Torah does not mention. The Torah does not state that a judge must be a specific gender, for example. The prophetess Devorah, a leader of ancient Israel, is a prominent example of a woman in a position of power similar to that of the magistrates intended by the Torah (she is, in fact, referred to as a shofeit - however, in the context in which this is related it is referring to those who led the country to war - Shimshon is also listed as a judge, but he can hardly be said to fit the criteria for a magistrate).