The Communal Nature of Judaism

Judaism can certainly be preserved by an isolated family, with no community, shul or rabbi, and retain the vitality that it has had for generations. Only through communal life, however, can it achieve perfection.

The power of community is well known. Cooperation results in something greater than the sum of individual accomplishments in nearly every aspect of life. Historically, communities have come about because individuals believed they were more likely to achieve their personal goals if they joined forces with others.

The Jewish concept of community, however, transcends mere practicality; it enables a second dimension of spirituality for all community participants. That is because there are two distinct dimensions to serving Hashem—that of the individual and that of the community. Serving Hashem collectively as a community is, in fact, the loftier form of worship. Hashem designed our religion as He did in order to reside within a community. Religious activity focuses not only on bringing Hashem directly into each individual’s life, but also on bringing Him into the community as a whole. Thus each person’s association with the community is an important aspect of his or her connection to Hashem.

After realizing Hashem’s expectation of us to worship Him from within a kehilla, dedication to one’s community becomes necessary for self-actualization. It becomes obvious that part of a Jew’s personal potential can only be realized by helping to make the community’s values a reality. Ideally, every Jew should internalize this principle and be willing to sacrifice for the community. Those who are totally dedicated to this principle may become leaders of the Jewish people. Moshe demonstrated such selflessness when he said, “Please forgive the people or kill me” (Berachos 32a; Ralbag Ki Sisa 32:32). Aharon was prepared to bear the brunt of the responsibility for the eigel hazahav to spare the nation accountability (Vayikra Rabba 10:3). Similarly, Yona disobeyed Hashem in order to save the Jewish people.

Kehillas Shivtei Yeshurun is blessed with many individuals who are dedicated to promoting the common cause, even at great personal sacrifice. All pool their resources to promote Torah, avodah and gemilus chasadim: knowledge of Jewish law and thought, practical observance of these laws, and the practice of brotherly love towards one another. Our members share the belief that the community gives meaning to their lives.

This is Judaism at its best. Such unity not only gives strength and permanence to the kehilla; it provides a feeling of stability and security for each individual member and each family.

It is a privilege to be a part of a kehilla that recognizes the importance of the communal nature of Judaism.

The Message of Miracles

Miracles defy the laws of the natural world and challenge the most basic premise of science. Sciences systematize knowledge relating to the physical world and try to establish verifiable laws. An observation incompatible with a commonly accepted scientific principle is understood to demand a replacement theory.

Many people are comfortable with the notion that the processes of nature are fixed, and resolve the phenomenon of miracles with the explanation that the Creator Who established the laws of nature is powerful enough to alter them temporarily.

Many scientists who maintain that the unchanging character of laws of nature is a reality that cannot be tampered with reject this approach.[1]

There is, however, a different perspective on miracles, which is simultaneously more profound philosophically and more palatable, scientifically.

It is universally accepted that the world operates in cycles and fixed patterns. The believer asserts that Hashem’s modus operandi is to create, whatever He creates, in an orderly, organized fashion, in which systemic laws are as unchanging and eternal as His name.[2]

Every miracle, then, is part of a system, a system, distinct however, from the one that we recognize here on earth. Miracles are the laws of an order governed by different dictates, part of a system governing the spiritual world. Therefore, it is unnecessary, and perhaps even erroneous,  to consider miracles a deviation from the natural order that Hashem set in motion. [3] Rather, a miracle is part of a parallel system designed by Hashem, in which different principles apply. [4]

Since events in the spiritual world correspond to events in the physical world, our existence here interacts with both systems.

The first system consists of the laws of science with which we are familiar; the second system is the arena in which nature actively responds to the Jew on a personal and communal level. In the spiritual world, success is a direct response to our positive behavior and our close connection to Hashem, a blessing showered on the Jewish people. Estrangement, in contrast, is manifested in trouble and tragedy. (Of course, life is not so simplistic and people may suffer or prosper for other reasons.)

We are generally not privy to the second system since such awareness would neutralize our free will and obviate the point of this world. Nonetheless, it exists   and is recognizable to the trained eye.

On rare occasions we get a glimpse of the second system as we witness a miracle. Parshas Beshalach revolves around such miracles, including the splitting of the sea exactly at the right moment, as well as the provision of the mon. The people benefited from the spiritual system as a matter of course, since they were on a journey in search of spirituality and connection to Hashem. The miraculous aspect is the revelation of the normally hidden realm – the spiritual world – in the midst of the physical world. The classical miracle generally displaces the laws of nature.

Interestingly, both systems sometimes function simultaneously. During the plague of blood the same cup was water for the Jew and blood for the Egyptian. [5] During the battle at Givon,[6] the sun stood still for Yehoshua but for the rest of the world the earth continued its normal rotation and no time was lost. [7]

Since every miracle is a window to the spiritual world, it is the perfect tool for heightening our awareness of our noble role in the universe and facilitating recognition of how important we and our actions are to Hashem. Every so often we are glaringly exposed to a scene from the spiritual realm in which Hashem is obviously focusing on and responding to us. It is helpful to bear in mind, though, that it is not an evanescent display; rather we have peeked into a whole world devoted to tracking and caring for Bnei Yisrael.[8]

No wonder that the belief in miracles is   fundamental to Judaism.

With this approach, although miracles do defy the laws of the natural world, they do not challenge the premises of science. Rather, miracles are meant to expand our awareness of the vastness of creation to encompass another realm with its own distinct system.

מקורות: אגרת הרמב''ם על תחיית המתים ומהר''ל בגבורות השם בהקדמה שניה.


[1] Even some Jewish philosophers ((קדמונים, while accepting the reality of miracles, express difficulty in understanding them. They view any change in the order of nature as an indication of an unstable and imperfect original creation, which reflects negatively on the Creator. The Maharal defends this argument.  (Source cited at the end of the article).

[2] כי בי-ה הויה צור עולמים, כל הנבראים נבראו בשמו יתברך, וכמו ששמו קיים נצחי כך ראויים מעשה בראשית התלויים בשמו להיות נצחיים. מהר''ל.

[3] הקורא הלל בכ''י הר''ז מחרף ומגדף (שבת קי''ח:), מפני שהוי כאומר שאין סדר בעולם אלא הכל נוהג בלי סדר. מהר''ל.

[4] וזמש''כ בשמו''ר כא.ו. תנאי התנה הקב''ה עם מעשה בראשית שיבקע הים, וכן בשאר הנסים, כלומר, דגם סדר הניסי הוא חלק מהבריאה מעיקרו ואי''ז שינוי בסדרי הבריאה.

[5] יג תנחומא וארא

[6] יהושע פרק י'

[7] מהר''ל

[8] That is why miracles only happen to or for Klal Yisrael

The Legitimacy of Attorneys in the Beis Din

People often entertain themselves by poking fun at the ruthlessness and opportunism of lawyers, but when it is their turn to stand before a judge they invariably want the most aggressive, polished attorney at their side. For a defendant in a secular court of law this is acceptable; however, the legitimacy of an advocate for a defendant in a beis din needs to be examined from a halachic perspective.

Attorney for the Defendant

The Shulchan Aruch[i] rules that a lawyer cannot represent a defendant, since an advocate is less likely to speak truthfully than is the litigant.[ii] The Chazon Ish[iii] explains that although the criterion of shaliach should allow the defendant to be represented by his lawyer, nonetheless, the dayan’s responsibility to pursue justice obligates him to hear the defendant first-hand. Therefore, Chazal[iv] enacted legislation favoring accuracy over the legality of shlichus, ruling that a lawyer may not substitute for the defendant.

Although the defendant technically cannot appoint a shaliach, a leniency was extended to noblewomen[v] and talmidei chachomim enabling them to avoid the courtroom. For both of the groups the investigative tools of the dayanim were slightly compromised in order to spare the defendants the indignities associated with litigation in court. The leniency allows an arm of the beis din—the court transcriber—to record their arguments in the privacy of their home.

Although this procedure may be confused with the role of an attorney, the similarities are, in fact, superficial. Instead of the defendant’s being allowed to appoint a shaliach, the beis din is allowed to appoint a shaliach for itself. This fundamental distinction considers the transcriber an extension of the beis din, and thus views the defendant as reporting directly to the beis din outside of the courtroom. This unique arrangement was designed to stifle dishonesty by maintaining as much courtroom reverence as possible in a home setting.[vi]

The status of talmid chochom is broad enough to include a contemporary scholar regardless of his occupation, provided that he utilizes every spare moment studying Torah.[vii]

The Chazon Ish extends the exception to someone who is ill and could only appear with great effort, as well as to an individual who would sustain great financial loss if required to appear in court.[viii]

In all of the above examples, the plaintiff has the option of being present when the defendant makes his counterclaim. The plaintiff’s presence may help squelch deceitful comments.[ix]

Attorney for the Plaintiff

According to Biblical law, the plaintiff has no legal right to representation. Whereas the Torah requires a defendant to respond to the claimant himself, he need not heed the claim of a shaliach.[x]  Yet the plaintiff needs an agent more than the defendant does, if thieves are to be prevented from getting away with their crimes by leaving town. Many victims would not follow the thief to a distant place to file suit. To avoid such a situation, Chazal instituted a mechanism known as a harsha’ah, whereby a plaintiff can appoint an agent to make a claim on his behalf.

The harsha’ah is an instrument empowering the agent to make the claim for himself. A loose translation of the harsha’ah document is: “You are hereby given ownership of a specific asset or object of mine; claim it for yourself in court and return it to me. I will accept any decision of the beis din and agree to cover your reasonable expenses.”[xi] (The wording of a harsha’ah is not sacred, but when translated into English the nuances of the original Aramaic should be retained.)[xii] Since the agent is now the plaintiff, the shlichus problem mentioned above is bypassed.

The transfer of assets to a mursheh was permitted by Chazal[xiii] for the plaintiff’s benefit to prevent him from being defrauded. Regarding the defendant, however, as noted above, Chazal felt it important to curb the standard power to appoint a shaliach; certainly they were not interested in giving permission to appoint a mursheh. In other words, the plaintiff can have an attorney (mursheh) while the defendant cannot.

Modern Practice

Thus, the Shach[xiv] explains that in his time the custom was to allow the plaintiff to appear in court together with an attorney. The Shach seems to mean that only when a proper harsha’ah has been executed can the plaintiff be represented.[xv] He emphasizes that, with a harsha’ah, an attorney is sanctioned even when the claimant stands alongside him in court.[xvi] The defendant, however, is never allowed an attorney.

Nevertheless, the accepted practice in batei din today is to allow both parties to be represented by lawyers. The Tumim[xvii] and Aruch Hashulchan[xviii] both note that the custom in their communities was for both parties to have lawyers whether the litigants appeared in court or not, even though no harsha’ah was made. When an uncertainty arose, such as a contradiction between the lawyers’ statements, the litigants were required to appear in court and speak for themselves.

The Chazon Ish[xix] concludes that the only way to reconcile this practice with halacha is to distinguish between a mursheh and an advocate. A mursheh is an attorney who can legally represent the client with the power to stand in his stead, as described earlier. An advocate is an advisor who has no legal power to act on behalf of his client, but functions as counsel and can present his client’s position lucidly and convincingly to the dayanim. However, an advocate is only permitted in beis din with the adversary’s consent. The Chazon Ish reasons that the basis for the prevalent custom is that each party gives implied consent, allowing his opponent the luxury of an advocate.

Thus, technically, only a plaintiff can insist on being represented legally by a mursheh. In practice, however, since a harsha’ah is rarely written, the adversary’s agreement is necessary for either the defendant or the plaintiff to have an advocate. Consequently, if any litigant chooses to veto his adversary’s right to an advocate, that decision must be respected. Obviously, he should be prepared for reciprocity. Usually the presence of advocates goes unchallenged because of the great security they give their clients.

Admission by the advocate

Understanding the legal status of a lawyer in the beis din may be beneficial to the litigant. For example, after accepting that a proper mursheh who makes incriminating admissions in beis din implicates his client, the Shach asks:  If a defense attorney makes incriminating admissions, does he also inculpate his client?[xx] The Maharashdam[xxi] maintains that since there is no halachic basis for a defendant’s mursheh, the defendant can deny any admission made by his lawyer. The Rivash[xxii] and the Shach disagree and state that the admission is binding and incriminating. The Ketzos Hachoshen[xxiii] sides with the Maharashdam unless the defendant instructed his lawyer to make an admission.

In my opinion, a plaintiff’s advocate—according to the prevalent custom, where no harsha’ah is executed—falls into the same category as the defense attorney just discussed. Hence, a plaintiff who denies statements made by his lawyer may not be liable. In this case, the weakness of the attorney’s standing in beis din may actually benefit his client.

Choosing an Attorney

This exposition can be helpful to a person choosing an attorney by offering a better understanding of the legitimacy and role of representatives in the beis din. It is advisable to seek a creative, knowledgeable and eloquent advocate in order to obtain the most advantageous result possible according to Torah law.[xxiv]

Yet, when one approaches a dispute in beis din there is another pressing issue—albeit an oftenoverlooked one—for which good counsel may be invaluable. The tensions of litigation have a tendency to bring out the worst in people. It almost seems as if the beis din were Hashem’s laboratory for testing people’s character and behavior. A lawyer who is an honest and G-d–fearing mentsch can help his clients maintain their integrity as bnei Torah. If this quality is a priority when choosing counsel, then even if the dayanim do not rule in his favor, the client is likely to emerge from Hashem’s character tribunal victorious.


[i] טוש''ע חו''מ קכ''ד.

[ii] עיין רא''ש פ''ד משבועות סימן ב' הובא בטור וסמ''ע קכ''ד סק''א.

[iii] חזו''א חו''מ סימן ד' סק''א.

[iv] אף שהדברים מובאים לראשונה בשו''ת רס''ג והרי''ף סימן רמ''ט, מ''מ מדחייתם לראיית הר''ח והערוך מירושלמי דסנהדרין נראה דעתם דהוי תקנת חז''ל.

[v]בטוש''ע הלשון נשים יקרות. מקורם מרא''ש פ''ד דשבועות ס''ב. ואע''פ שמקור הראשונים מסוגיא  בשבועות דף ל. דס''ד בגמ' דמש''כ ועמדו שני האנשים אינו קאי אעדים אלא אבעלי דינין, וקאמר קרא אנשים ולא נשים לגלות דנשים אינן באות לדין כנתבעות דכל כבודה בת מלך פנימה, ומשמע דעל כל נשים קאי, מ''מ נראה מדהביא בגמ' האי קרא דכל כבודה וגו' הבינו הראשונים דמחמת כבודה הפנימית של נשים אינן באות לדין ושו''ה נתמעט רק נשים יקרות. ומ''מ בתורה כתיב אנשים לאפוקי כל נשים דבזמן התורה כל בנות ישראל בנות מלכים ונתמעטו כולן, שאז כולן היו יקרות, כך ביאר החזו''א בסימן ד' ססק''ג. ומדגיש החזו''א דא''א לפרש הפסוק על נשים התובעות דודאי זה א"א ע"י שליח כלל וכנ"ל, וע"כ מיירי בנתבעות בלחוד, ואי"ז שליח דידה אלא שליח ב"ד וז"ל הרא"ש שלעולם אין הנתבע רשאי למנות שליח, ואפילו נשים יקרות לא ויתר להם בדין זה רב אלפס אלא לשגר להן סופרי הדיינים ולטעון לפניהם אבל למסור טענות לאחרים לא עכ''ל.

[vi] חזו''א סימן ד' סק''ב.

[vii] ש"ך קכ"ד סק"ד וז"ל יש לו אומנות או משא ומתן להתפרנס ולא להעשיר ובכל שעה שהוא פנוי מעסקיו חוזר על ד"ת ולומד עכ''ל.

[viii] חזו''א סימן ד' סק''ד.

[ix]סמ"ע קכ"ד סק''ג. 

[x]חזו"א סימן ד' סק"א. 

[xi]עיין קכ"ב ס"ו, סמ"ע סקי"ב וש"ך ס"ק כ"ב וכ"ג.  ותרגמתי ב' הגירסאות, כל דמתעני לך מן דינא עלי הדר, וכל דמתעני מן דינא קבילנא עלי, דשניהם נכונים לדינא. עחזו"א ס"א ס"ק כ''ד. 

[xii] עיין סימן קכ"ב ס"ד וש"ך ס"ק ט"ו ומש"כ ע"ז בחזו"א סימן א' סס"ק כ"א אי סגי בלשון שליחות לבד א"ד בעינן לשון קנין, זכה ואפיק לנפשך.  וע"ע בחזו"א סס"ק כ"ה דאולי תקנו דוקא בכתיבה.

[xiii] עחזו"א ס"א ס"ק י"ב, י"ח, וכ"א ובסימן ג' סק"א, דהרשאה הוי תקנת חכמים ואף לש"ך בהלואה מיהא הוי תק''ח.

[xiv] קכ"ד סק"א.

[xv] עחזו"א ס"ד סק"ז דמדייק מדברי הש"ך דבנתינת כח ורשות בלי הרשאה סגי כשהתובע בב"ד, ודוחה דא"א ליתן כח למי שאין לו כח וא"א ליתן רשות למי שאין לו רשות, וצריך ליתן לו הממון ע"י הרשאה גמורה בכדי שיהא לו כח ורשות.  וקצת משמע דלחזו"א מהני הרשאה גמורה כשהתובע בב"ד (עיין לקמן ציון 16). ולכאורה נראה דכוונת הש''ך כשנתן הרשאה גמורה וכן הבין התומים בש"ך אף שאין לשונו מדוקדק כך, וסרה תמיהת החזו"א.  ומה שיש להקשות ע"ז מלשון הש"ך הוא ממה שכ' כח ורשות אם כוונתו להרשאה, ועוד שכתב וז"ל מסתמא התובע נותן לזה שעומד עמו כח ורשות ע"כ, ואם נתן הרשאה גמורה בקנין וכפי נוסח השו"ע לא שייך ע"ז לשון מסתמא.  ואולי כוונת הש"ך דא"צ קנין בהרשאה ואזיל לשיטתיה בקכ"ב ס"ק ט"ו דסגי בשליחות בלא קנין (עמשכ"ל ציון 11) וממילא ס"ל דא"צ אלא מינוי שליחות וה"ה אי לא מינהו בפירוש במעשה מינוי אלא שיש להניח שמינהו י"ל דסגי בהכי וז"ש ומסתמא התובע נותן לזה שעומד עמו כח ורשות. עכ"פ אין דברי הש"ך ברורים וכדהקשה החזו"א, מ"מ נראה דאיך שיתפרש כוונתו, יודה הש"ך שאילו עשה הרשאה גמורה יכול להעמיד מורשה אתו בב''ד.

[xvi] ומוסיף הש"ך דלפ"ז מש"כ הדרכי משה הארוך בקכ"ד (הובא בסמ"ע שם סק"א ובדרישה סי"ז סק"ט) דכשגם התובע בב"ד אסור לטעון ע"י מליץ דמאחר שהוא לפני ב"ד יטעון בעצמו, מוכרחים לפרש דמיירי דוקא בדלא כתב התובע הרשאה.  ואי"ז דוחק גדול לפרש הכי, די"ל כשהתובע לפני ב"ד מסתמא אינו רואה צורך לכתוב הרשאה ומשו"ה חייב השתא לייצג את עצמו עש"ך ססק"א.  ויתכן דגם החזו"א יודה לביאור זה של הש"ך בדברי הד"מ והרשאה גמורה מהני אף שהתובע בב"ד, ודלא כפשטות כוונת הסמ"ע ססק"א בד"מ.  וע"ע סמ"ע סי"ז סקי"ד דמשמע דגם הוא מסכים לדברי הש"ך לפרש הד"מ.

[xvii]תומים קכ"ד. 

[xviii]ערוה"ש קכ"ד ס"ב. 

[xix]חזו"א ס"ד ססק"ד. 

[xx]קכ"ד סק"ד. 

[xxi]בתשובה תל"ט. 

[xxii]סימן שצ''ב. 

[xxiii]קכ"ד סק"א. 

[xxiv]עיין כתובות קט: אמר אביי האי מאן דמוקים אפוטרופא נוקים כי האי דידע לאפוכי בזכותא דיתמי. וע"ע כתובות נב: שר' יוחנן נתן עצה לקרוביו לקוץ מידי לרופא לצורך רפואת אלמנת אביהם ובכך יפטרו מלשלם הוצאות רפואתה.  והתחרט רק משום דאדם חשוב שאני.  וכן בכתובות פו. ר' נחמן נתן עצה לקרובו שתמחול על כתובת אמה שאז תירש הכתובה מאביה ולא יגבו הלקוחות שקנו הכתובה מאמה.  והתחרט רב נחמן משום דאדם חשוב שאני. וע"ש ברש"י, ומבואר דאיסור אל תעשו עצמך כעורכי הדיינין שייך רק בזר, מלבד אדם חשוב דאסור אף בקרוב, דחיישינן דאחרים ילמדו ממנו להתנהג כך אף באינו קרוב.  ושמעתי ממו"ר הרב זלמן נחמיה גולדברג שליט"א טעם החילוק בין קרוב לזר, דכשמייעץ לקרובו כאילו עושה לצרכו ולעצמו, וע"ז הביא הגמ' הפסוק ומבשרך אל תתעלם וי"ל דה"ה עורך דין שמתפרנס ע"י נתינת עצות לזרים ועוזר להם שיזכו בדין אע"פ שאינן קרוביו, דשרי, דהרי אינו עושה לצורך אחר אלא לצורך עצמו ודומה למש"כ בגמ' דמותר לתת עצות לקרוביו, ועל עורך דין המתפרנס מעבודתו יתפרש לשון הכתוב ומבשרך אל תתעלם כפשוטו ממש עכת"ד.