The Jewish problem with Trump supporters saying his guilty verdict was ‘rigged’

When the guilty verdicts in former President Donald Trump’s recent New York trial were handed down, Trump and his supporters rejected the decree, saying that the legal system had been rigged against him.

What came to my mind was a passage from the Talmud that describes how the losing party in a case should feel and behave.

Much in Western legal systems like our own owes itself to millennia-old Jewish jurisprudence. American law drew extensively from ideas of courts, witnesses and evidence rooted in the Torah. Concepts central to the areas of crime and torts, property and economics, charity and education, labor and other legal realms likewise have origins in the Jewish religious tradition.

But there is much, too, in American law that stands in stark contrast to Judaism’s view. Incarceration isn’t an option for punishment in Torah.
Where, for example, “rights” reign supreme in our legal system, in Judaism, while things like property rights exist, the greater emphasis is not on rights but rather on doing right. American constitutional law speaks of the right to pursue interests; Jewish law’s stress is on obligations and responsibility. Then there is the idea of appealing a decision. While Jewish law, at least in the past, included a “Supreme Court,” the Great Sanhedrin, its function was essentially to sit on capital cases, and to resolve questions of law that were in doubt or the subject of dispute. There is no Jewish jurisprudential option for a disgruntled defendant to simply appeal any court’s rendered judgment to another court.

And, in fact, there’s no option in Judaism even for disgruntlement — which was the essence of the passage that floated into my head after the Trump trial verdict. Even when the very cloak on someone’s back was seized, the Talmud (in Sanhedrin 7a) says, since the court ruled that it belonged to the other litigant, the loser of the case should “sing a song and go happily on his way.” He has, after all, the commentaries explain, been relieved of the burden of possessing something that really, legally, wasn’t his.

Not quite the reaction we routinely witness in our famously litigious world, and recently witnessed from Trump and much of his supportive mediaverse, where not only the verdict was derided as unfair or “rigged,” but where some overheated pundits and politicians, with scant basis other than their own disappointment, derided the entire judicial system as hopelessly corrupt.

That latter reaction — the attempt to undermine a law-based society’s courts — is not only wrongheaded but dangerous.

To be sure, there are courts in some countries that are inherently untrustworthy. And even an “international” court can prove itself beholden to particular interests and hence unworthy of respect. But the American legal system is inherently sound. Over its almost 250 years, it has experienced its ups and downs, even errors and reversals, but it has proven itself to be as self-correcting and sound as could be expected of any human system of law. The appeals process has proved a valuable tool to reverse unsound judgments.

There are legitimate reasons, by my lights, for Jews concerned with Israeli security to want to see Trump back in the White House (and many tell pollsters they do). And there are equally legitimate reasons for Jews to want a second term for President Joe Biden. I don’t mean to address the election here, only to make a vital point.

Namely, that delegitimizing American courts out of personal or partisan sentiment is pulling not just the rug but the very floor out from under the republic. Just as the results of elections — whoever wins — must be respected by the citizenry, the decisions of courts, especially when there is the option of appealing to higher courts for proper redress, are, or should be, sacrosanct.

It might be too much to ask of any of us to not feel upset at losing a court case. The Talmud asking a losing litigant to sing happily is describing only an ideal, after all. But disappointment in any particular verdict is mere bathwater. It’s essential to hold the baby tight. PJC

Rabbi Avi Shafran is a columnist for Ami Magazine and writes widely in Jewish and general media. This first appeared on JTA.



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