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Gates of Justice

In ancient times, the court room was the city’s gates. In fact, archeologists have uncovered stone benches attached to gates of biblical cities where judged sat, heard cases, and issued rulings.

It is unfortunate that most contemporary translations render the Hebrew “shaarecha” as your settlements rather than the more literal “your gates.” The Torah proclaims: “You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements (shaarecha) that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice.” (Deuteronomy 16)

The Bible’s intent is clear. Your gates are where justice is established. Why else would the Torah also instruct us “To write these words on the doorpost of your house and on your gates?” It is because justice begins, and ends, at the threshold of a house or a city. This is why justices sat and ruled at the city’s entrances.

When people debated matters of law, or had difficulties they could not resolve, they are supposed to go to judges who are more expert in the law and more experienced in rendering decisions. People, quite literally, took their disputes to the edge of town where they were resolved. In this way the community is kept whole, and differences, are kept at its outskirts. Only justice is allowed to enter through our gates.

It is a wonderful, and enlightening, image. Keep your arguments out there. Maintain your cohesiveness within. Repair to the gates when matters become heated, when it is too difficult for you to solve your problems without the assistance of a professional.

The prophet Amos declares: “Hate evil and love good. And establish justice in the gate.” (Amos 5)

If you establish justice in the gate, then your cities and towns, countries and communities, can indeed remain whole.