Both Judaism and the secularists make use of the concept of justice for the rationalization of the unethical. However, Judaism’s conception of the nature of justice and the manner of its implementation differs radically from that of the secularist. As we have previously noted, the secularist limits the concept of justice to interhuman affairs. Its origin is attributed to enlightened self-interest, and its concretizations reflect a compromise between the enlightened self-interest of the individual and of the group. For Judaism, justice is not the product of human intelligence applied to human experience; human intelligence and experience merely play a role in its implementation. Justice is a principle that governs the whole of the universe, for “Justice and righteousness are the foundations of G-d’s throne” (Psalm 89:15
). Justice is present in the affairs of men. Men have been endowed by G-d with the ability to become conscious of its presence and to apply it to their affairs. But the concept of justice reaches far beyond the human. The existence of the whole of creation, not only of an enlightened human society, is dependent upon the preservation of “The foundations of G-d’s throne.” One of the fundamental doctrines, therefore, of the Biblical–Rabbinic tradition is that men’s violation of justice affects the whole universe. “He turneth rivers into a wilderness, and the watersprings into dry ground; a fruitful land into barrenness, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein” (Psalm 107:33 – 34
). It was man’s unethically motivated acts that brought on the flood (Genesis 6:11
) and the transformation of “The well-watered plane of the Jordan which was like the Garden of Eden” [this verse] into a wilderness (Genesis 19:13-25
). Note that the biblical narrative very specifically includes all the inhabitants of Sodom, “From the young to the old, all of the people,” in the intention to act wickedly toward Lot’s guests (Genesis 19:4). This is apparently in response to Abraham’s plea to save the city even if there be but ten righteous inhabitants (Genesis 18:32).
G-d Himself is concerned with preserving the foundations of His throne, and the viability of His creation. The implementation of justice in human affairs places a two-fold responsibility upon man: (a) to harbor and implement the ethical intention to treat one’s fellow man justly. One is called upon to do this as a matter of divinely enlightened self-interest. A self-interest which is securely rooted may, as we have pointed out, counsel one to act unjustly; but a self-interest enlightened by faith that G-d is concerned with the implementation of justice can never counsel even temporary violation of justice. (b) to harbor and implement intentions to curb those who act unjustly. Such intentions must on occasion be unethical, since they involve subjecting the wrongdoer to restraints or punishments which are not intended for his welfare, but primarily for the welfare of society as a whole or of the individual who had been wrong. GREENBERG 55-56
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