Home
Seminars
Clips
Information
Pirkei Avot
Articles
About JIYF
While a judge, do not act as an advocate;
While the litigants stand before you,
regard them both as guilty;
But when they leave, having accepted the judgment,
regard them both as innocent.
—Yehudah ben Tabbai

Examine the witnesses thoroughly,
and be careful in your words,
lest they learn from them to lie.
—Shimon ben Shetach


Commentary [1:8,9; 4:9,10]
These are the four sayings in Avot that directly relate to courts of law (in addition to 1:1— “Be deliberate in judging”). In the ancient Jewish courts, trials were before a number judges (not juries) and the sayings relate to the proper conduct of judges in relation to litigants, witnesses, and other judges. According to one scholar, Solomon Zeitlin, Yehudah ben Tabbi and Shimon ben Shetach inaugurated the first systematic cross examination of witnesses, which was later taken up by the Romans.

Good laws and a just court system to enforce them were of the highest importance in the eyes of the sages. The sages included the establishment of law courts as among the seven ‘laws of Noah’—rules which God is said to have set for all nations, and which for the sages were basic requirements for a civilized society. Avot in fact is unusual in the Talmud in not being focused on law, but rather on general principles that should guide all behavior, whether within the scope of law or not.

The sages did recognize that courts were open to abuse, and being judges themselves realized the difficulty of the position. Rabbi Ishmael warns about the hazards of being judge, and stingingly rebukes those who abuse their authority.


HEBREW | COMMENTARY | DISCUSSION GUIDE