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February 5, 2012 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Yitro

This week’s portion begins with the episode of Moses and his father-in-law Yitro (or Jethro).   Moses is busy leading the people, and Yitro tells him to start delegating authority (Exodus 18:14-23).  I had always thought the problem was that Moses was the only judge, thus causing people to wait too long to get justice and causing Moses to run out of stamina.  So Moses shares the judging with others.

But Nachmanides sees a complexity that I never did.  The portion notes that Moses should “teach them the statutes and the laws.” (18:20).  Nachmanides explains that this means that Moses “should strongly admonish them and warn them of the commandments … since he himself would not be involved in the execution of the law.”

In other words, the Torah portion is proposing an early form of separation of powers: the legislature and judiciary are to some degree independent of each other.  Moses (or more precisely, God combined with Moses) is the legislature, and appoints judges.   Of course, at this stage there is no separate executive function- that had to wait a thousand years or so.

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