May 6, 2004
Trial of King David Sabotages Lessons
I chose not to attend Tarbut's trial of King David. Billed as "the people against King David," it promised to be a trial that was "3,000 years in the making."
I considered going when I read of the legal minds involved in the trial. Justice Sheila Sonenshine is an outstanding jurist; professors Laurie Levenson and Erwin Cherminsky are two first rate lawyers who I would want in my side of the courtroom in a case.
I passed when I read that the organizer, Fountain Valley attorney Alan Thaler, told The Jewish Journal that "it was a remarkable historical parallel between Clinton and Lewinsky."
There is no need for a trial. It might be good theater, but Jewish tradition has already rendered judgment.
There is no question that King David made a terrible blunder in his involvement with Batsheva thousands of years ago. Jewish tradition records David's admission of sin, explores in detail if he was guilty of adultery or not.
The Talmud analyzes the case in depth, giving a clear disposition of the case. Technically, he was not legally culpable, since Batsheva received a get -- a bill of divorce -- before her husband left for war. Still, the Torah chastises King David for his action, which should have been beyond reproach.
We are told of David's broken heart and profound remorse. His repentance is accepted by God. David asks God to make it known that his repentance is accepted.
The Talmud relates, "During your lifetime I will not make it known that your repentance is accepted, but I will do so in your son Solomon's lifetime."
The Divine sign came at the dedication of the Temple that Solomon built in the Jerusalem. All the Jewish people had gathered for this momentous occasion.
Solomon is unable to place the Ark into the Holy of Holies, whose gates remain shut. He prays to God, and there is no response. Finally, he beseeches God that the gates should open in the merit of his father, David.
The gates open, a sign that David is viewed with Divine favor. At that moment, the Talmud recalls "the faces of David's enemies turn black with humiliation like the bottom of a pot."
To come some three millennia later and second guess Jewish tradition throws the sanctity and validity of that tradition into doubt. This effort sabotages the important lessons of David: the message of repentance, his piety and scholarship, his gift of prophecy that radiates in the Psalms, a holy and noble Jewish king, whose descendant is promised to be Moshaich.
There is a second pitfall. The frame of reference being used to judge David. Jewish tradition is being replaced by contemporary values of Western culture. Instead of Torah teaching us direction and morality, we are using modern culture to judge Torah. In the process, we are telling the next generation, the ones that Tarbut is mandated to teach, that secular contemporary values trump ancient Jewish ones.
Finally, the Jewish courts are structured fundamentally different than modern American ones. Jewish courts are not adversarial in nature.
While both sides of a case are represented, the most crucial element is to discover the truth and render true justice. Juries are not part of the Jewish system. Cases are judged by qualified judges, as practiced in Israel today.
To be a member of the Sanhedrin, the ancient supreme Jewish court, you had to be immersed in Jewish scholarship, beyond reproach and have knowledge of languages. Judging by the vote of an audience is not Jewish tradition. The tradition is for qualified pious judges to deliberate, seek the truth and use as a guidepost the 3,000 years of Torah, the codes of Jewish law and the millennia of Jewish case law. OJ would never have bamboozled a Jewish court.
King David was one of the greatest Jewish leaders. He established the Jewish monarchy. He was a spiritual giant whose prophetic teachings, such as the Psalms, are a legacy of devoutness that has uplifted the hearts of minds of untold numbers.
Even thousands of years later, one of the most popular Jewish songs is "Dovid Melech Yisroel" (David, King of Israel). Still he was flawed; he sinned, suffered greatly and repented. It is not our task to put him on trial but to learn from his example of piety, repentance and scholarship.
Rabbi David Eliezrie is rabbi of Congregation Beth Meir HaCohen-Chabad and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.