Parshat Shoftim

Pencil, watercolour, ink and linen thread on parchment, 2015

Artist: Judith Serebrin,  USA

I have wrestled with trying to understand injustice from an early age. I was a keen observer of unkind and un-thoughtful behavior. Growing up learning about the persecution of Jews made no sense in my mind. How could someone, who did not know me, hate me and want to do me harm simply because I was born a Jew? I knew I was a good person. I knew my people were good people. For me this not only produced feelings of fear, but it also made me wonder if this could this be true for all groups of people?

What if the “other”—who I was sometimes encouraged to fear or judge—was also good?

What if false judgments, lack of knowledge and misinformation was an excuse for hatred?

I’ve come to believe that this is true. That our biases, based on lack of information and misinformation, distort our approach to justice and peace. If we could collectively shift this paradigm, what would justice and peace look like? With this project, I wanted to explore and promote Restorative Justice as an alternative to harsh punishments, which perpetuate violence and do nothing to further our understanding of the mechanisms of mistreatment, and which do not provide long-term healing for victim or perpetrator.

The omission of women’s voices in the Torah re-enforces the notion that women—including their thoughts, actions and existence—are unimportant beyond their bearing of children and caring for them. It seems that stories of many of the women mentioned in the Torah describe their being drawn into either violent or manipulative schemes by men. Female notions of Justice can be of great value and can be differentiated from the male dominated “norm.”

I attempted to come up with a way to present a different attitude about justice and judgment, and to address the value of all life forms, including the slaughtering of animals to atone for our sins or to make offerings to G-d. I was struck by the reasons (20:5-9) given to men to excuse them from fighting in wars. Not only how women were considered property along with new homes and vineyards, but that if a ‘…man is fearful and fainthearted” he may be excused from fighting, “…lest his brethren’s heart melt like his heart.” I propose that the man who feels deeply, who can see the humanity in “others” is a courageous man and deserves respect from his community. What if this non- judgmental way of viewing the compassionate man were the standard by which men operated—with open hearts, refusing to take life?

I’ve internalized the idea of questioning authority in our tradition, which has led me to question a great many things, including a patriarchal, supernatural-god and male dominance related in the Torah, both inside our culture and outside it. I wrestle with the authority of the Torah and “the word of God.” I realize that I have wrestled with many of these things silently as a woman. I’ve taken the opportunity with this project to re- imagine ideas of Justice in Shoftim from my female, twenty-first century point-of-view.

About Judith

Judith Serebrin’s book art and sculptures have exhibited widely, been collected by libraries, museums and individuals internationally, and have been featured in books about artist’s books and contemporary ceramics. She is a member of a Jewish/Palestinian Living Room Dialogue and teaches at the San Francisco Center for the Book.




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