Every once in a while, there are outlandish news reports that make people shake their heads, sigh, and wonder what the world is coming to. Preposterous stories such as a homeowner being sued by a person who injured himself while trying to burgle the person’s house or a person suing a restaurant for an injury they received out of their own carelessness, sometimes defy our faith in humankind.

According to Jewish tradition, God gave all of the people of the world seven commandments (known as the Seven Laws of Noah). Six of these are prohibitions (idolatry, theft, murder, sexual immorality, blasphemy and eating the limb of a live animal). The seventh is a commandment to create an effective judiciary, and establish a civil code that would enforce the first six laws.

Having a court system that distorts the idea of justice is, unfortunately, often a gauge of a society’s viability. An excellent example of how this is so is the story of the biblical city of Sodom:

According to the Midrash (legendary interpretation of the Bible), there were four judges in Sodom, [named] Shakrai, Shakurai, Zayyafi, and Mazle Dina (these fictitious names mean, Liar, Awful Liar, Forger, and Perverter of Justice). In Sodom, if a man assaulted his neighbor’s wife and bruised her, they would say [to the husband], ‘Give her to him [the assaulter], that she may become pregnant for you.’ If one cut off the ear of his neighbor’s donkey, they would order, ‘Give [the donkey] to him until it [the ear] grows again.’ If one wounded his neighbor, they would say to him [the victim], ‘Give him a fee for bleeding you [and providing you with medical care].’ He who crossed over with the ferry had to pay four zuzim, while he who crossed through the water had to pay eight” (Talmud Sanhedrin 109b).

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