“Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” is perhaps one of the great political sound bites of our generation.
It was a pronouncement that has lead to significant new investment in police, courts and prisons.
In reality we got ASBOs, speed cameras, community support officers and knife amnesties.
The Torah says there can be and has to be another way. With the injunction, “You shall make judges and officers for yourselves in all your gates” the Jewish people are required to establish a judiciary and police force upon their entry into the Land of Israel.
However, this demand implies so much more than just law enforcement in the Promised Land, because careful reading reveals that it is addressing the individual rather than the nation.
It is as if it is saying, each and every one of us has a responsibility to appoint for ourselves a judge and officer to control our actions, discern what is just and police our behaviour.
The rule of law is not external, not a societal invention, but a personal obligation and its effectiveness is far greater when it comes from within rather than imposed by force and by an outside authority.
Before there can be law and order in a country there has to be self-regulation and discipline in an individual and that is something for which no chancellor can budget and no government or political party can possibly pledge.
There is a lovely Jewish children’s song (it just so happens also to be a Gemara) that explains why, as part of our anatomy, we have eyelids, earlobes and lips.
The eyelids allow us to close our eyes and avoid seeing what we should not, the earlobes could theoretically prevent us listening to what we should not hear and the lips control what goes in and come out of our mouths.
These are the ‘gates’ to which the verse refers and the key to crime prevention is for each of us to keep a check on what we see, hear and say.
We have to be judicious and know when to open the gates and when to close them and enforce the rules over our senses.
It was Ben Zoma who so wisely asserted that true power is willpower. A person of strength is not one with exceptional physical capacities, nor is it those who wield the ‘strong arm of the law’ with legislation, new initiatives and tougher sentencing.
Only someone empowered to subdue their personal inclination is truly strong and only a society populated with such strong people has the potential to be free from crime.
Rabbi Alex Chapper is community rabbi of Elstree & Borehamwood Synagogue and the Children’s Rabbi www.childrensrabbi.com