Saturday, 16 November 2013

Whether or Not to Encourage a Settlement

The gemara (סנהדרין ו ב) gives four opinions on whether and, if so, when a court should suggest litigants do פשרה/ביצוע:

  1. ר"א בנו של רבי יוסי הגלילי אומר אסור לבצוע
  2. רבי יהושע בן קרחה אומר מצוה לבצוע
  3. רבי שמעון בן מנסיא אומר...עד שלא תשמע דבריהן או משתשמע דבריהן ואי אתה יודע להיכן דין נוטה אתה רשאי לומר להן צאו ובצעו משתשמע דבריהן ואתה יודע להיכן הדין נוטה אי אתה רשאי לומר להן צאו ובצעו
  4. וריש לקיש אמר שנים שבאו לדין אחד רך ואחד קשה עד שלא תשמע דבריהן או משתשמע דבריהן ואי אתה יודע להיכן דין נוטה אתה רשאי לומר להם אין אני נזקק לכם שמא נתחייב חזק ונמצא חזק רודפו...

The Role of the Court

Rav M's class started out looking at the first two opinions, either that Pshara is prohibited, or that it's a mitzva. He attributed the debate to a fundamental dispute over the role of the court:

Mitzva Reason 1: שלום

Rebbe Yehoshua ben Korcha implies his own reason why settlement is a mitzva via two drashot. The gist of both is that, when two sides go to court, they remain enemies even after the ruling. If, however, they manage to come to a compromise, they will leave friends, each having demonstrated that they are willing to compromise for the sake of the other.

Here, the Torah trusts the court with the role not only of passing judgement, but of keeping the peace and preserving society. The judges must look at the big picture and prefer an outcome which, although it conforms less to the value of justice, better upholds the value of keeping the peace.

Prohibition Reason 1: the Role of the Court

Rebbe Elazar son of Rebbe Yosei Haglili also values compromise, as we see from the example he brings of Aharon Hakohen. So why does he forbid the judges from pushing the litigants to settle? Because he thinks the court's role is solely to pass correct judgement, and to uphold society in that manner. Private individuals can encourage the sides to compromise, but once it reaches the judges, they must do their job with no compromises, however well-meaning.

Alternative Reasons to Prefer Settlement

Ultimately, today's halachik courts do prefer פשרה. One of the reasons for this is the limited authority of halachik courts today: they can't judge דיני קנסות because there is no longer smicha and they also don't have authority to use coercive force. The Rav also brought a few more general reasons to prefer pshara:

Mitzva Reason 2: משפט צדק

Contrary to our initial assumption, sometimes settlement yields a more just result than a formal trial. For instance, consider the case of a thief against whom there is not enough evidence(especially given the strict halachik criteria for admissible evidence). If we do פשרה, then at least he will have paid back some of what he owes.

Mitzva Reason 3: Sparing the Judges

Acting as a halachik judge is a great responsibility. The judge is Hashem's representative and is tasked with a near impossible task: to judge a case with imperfect knowledge. The possibility to err is great, so pshara saves the judge from this responsibility by allowing the litigants to reach their own compromise. Rav M quoted a paper by הרב אליהו ליפשיץ(I tried looking it up but couldn't find a reference) that makes this claim, but he challenged it based on our gemara:

רבי חנין אומר לא תכניס דבריך מפני איש ויהו עדים יודעים את מי הן מעידין ולפני מי הן מעידין ומי עתיד ליפרע מהן שנא' (דברים יט, יז) ועמדו שני האנשים אשר להם הריב לפני ה' ויהו הדיינין יודעין את מי הן דנין ולפני מי הן דנין ומי עתיד ליפרע מהן שנא' (תהלים פב, א) אלהים נצב בעדת אל וכן ביהושפט הוא אומר (דברי הימים ב יט, ו) ויאמר אל השופטים ראו מה אתם עושים כי לא לאדם תשפטו כי (אם) לה' שמא יאמר הדיין מה לי בצער הזה ת"ל עמכם בדבר משפט אין לו לדיין אלא מה שעיניו רואות

Rebbe Chanin emphasizes the weighty responsibility of the judge, but then asks why should the judge accept such a heavy responsibility? He answers with a drasha that the judge needs to judge based on what he sees, and not worry about what he doesn't. The gemara seems to be saying that the judge's liability is limited to doing his best with the evidence that is brought before him.

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