Sedra – Shoftim

Sedra – Shoftim

With Shaul Rosenblatt.

This week’s portion talks about the judges that the Jewish people needed to appoint.

Two primary purposes are mapped out – firstly, to define and enforce Jewish civil and criminal law and secondly to define and disseminate the values which were to underpin Jewish society. While the former is well catered for in Western countries, the latter function does not exist in any formalised way and the riots of a couple of years ago in the UK are a symptom of this lacking.

When laws are underpinned by values, you give people reason to keep them even when they have opportunities not to do so. But when laws are simply imposed by a government, as soon as the opportunity arises to contravene them for personal benefit, people will be sorely tempted to do so. So where are we teaching values today? School? I remember learning Maths, English, even Latin and Ancient Greek in school, but I don’t recall a single discussion on values – in 12 years of education.

Schools teach people skills for the material, but not the spiritual, world. I’m happy to see that ‘citizen- ship’ is part of our national curriculum, but the number of teens in the 2011 riots shows something is not working. University? According to Cambridge University’s website, you can do a degree in Anglo Saxon, Norse and Celtic, but there is no degree in Ethics, Morals or Values. There is always the odd course or two, but they are usually academic discussions, not genuine attempts to imbue a sense of moral standards in those participating.

Synagogues, churches and mosques? I can speak only for Judaism, but I suspect other religions are similar. First, there is strong tendency to focus on form over content and, second, those most likely to benefit from the values of a religion are those least likely to turn up. In truth, there is only one place to learn values and that is at home.

All the aforementioned institutions must pro- vide great support to homes, but the bottom line is that solid families with solid values will normally create children with a strong moral sense. We don’t have such solid families any more, so what do we expect? Without this foundation, the moral fibre of our communities is at risk. But more is required.

Yes, each of us who has a home has a responsibility to create an environment in which emotionally healthy and morally strong children will develop, but, as I said, homes require support – and that support is the role of the Judges of this week’s portion. Today, this is the job of governments – to set a moral agenda and to attend to it. Government cannot satisfy itself with policing riots and sending offenders to prison.

It must look at why they happen in the first place. Our government has been talking about this for a long time. But there is a gap between talking and doing. If this gap is not bridged, rather than making cuts in the police force, they had better start thinking about enlarging it.

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