As many are aware, Americans in particular, today began a historic event within the history of the United States. Today began the first-ever trial of a non-sitting President for Impeachment as well as second impeachment of a President. Legalities aside, what is the Jewish approach to this?
When I reflect on what the Torah would prescribe society to do today, I am reminded of many things…
First, Judaism is a complex set of laws and systems. Go figure.
Second, the laws found in Torah need contextual analysis and cultural awareness to translate to applicability in society today. The language, cultural, and setting differences have a significant impact on how a text is read and understood.
Third, laws for Jews and non-Jews are different. Jews generally have 613 Torah mitzvot and thousands of rabbinic enactments to follow. Non-Jews have only seven, called the Noachide Laws, but because of having only seven, adherence to these is much more stringent.
Fourth, it takes a careful analysis of these laws, often accomplished by a careful review of Halacha and consultation of leading rabbinic authorities, to know precisely how a possuk (verse) would apply to each situation.
Fifth, there are general principles, the intent of the law, that transcend limitations of the letter of the law. This is a personal deviance that I hold. Just because something is technically okay doesn’t make it really okay. Technicalities may exist but relying on those certainly says something about one’s middos (character traits).
America is not Israel. It is a secular nation governed by a secular system of courts. Thus, we look primarily to the Noachide laws. Of those laws, set up a system of courts and justice certainly applies in this case. How it applies, however, requires analysis.
Aside from these considerations, when I consider the concept of a politician being investigated, I am reminded of a particular passage in Torah, found in Sefer Devarim…
Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof(יח) שֹׁפְטִ֣ים וְשֹֽׁטְרִ֗ים תִּֽתֶּן־לְךָ֙ בְּכָל־שְׁעָרֶ֔יךָ אֲשֶׁ֨ר יְהוָ֧ה אֱלֹהֶ֛יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לְךָ֖ לִשְׁבָטֶ֑יךָ וְשָׁפְט֥וּ אֶת־הָעָ֖ם מִשְׁפַּט־צֶֽדֶק׃ (יט) לֹא־תַטֶּ֣ה מִשְׁפָּ֔ט לֹ֥א תַכִּ֖יר פָּנִ֑ים וְלֹא־תִקַּ֣ח שֹׁ֔חַד כִּ֣י הַשֹּׁ֗חַד יְעַוֵּר֙ עֵינֵ֣י חֲכָמִ֔ים וִֽיסַלֵּ֖ף דִּבְרֵ֥י צַדִּיקִֽם׃ (כ) צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף לְמַ֤עַן תִּֽחְיֶה֙ וְיָרַשְׁתָּ֣ אֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לָֽךְ׃ (ס)
So, then, what is the Jewish perspective? In a situation such as this, I look to the fifth consideration I mentioned – the intent of the law. Justice, justice you shall pursue, Torah calls out to us. And such we must obey. Justice, justice, we must pursue. Yes, of course, but again, we need contextual awareness. The context of the verse applies this to the living in the land of Israel. So initially it seems that while this verse does not apply by letter, it certainly can influence by intent.
As a result of this evaluative process, in this case we look at din malchusa din, the halachic concept that we are subject to the laws of the land. And so, the Jewish perspective ought to be to look to U.S. law to determine the impeachment.
The United States has set up a complex system of laws to keep its inhabitants accountable. Some of these are moral laws, others civic. Then there is a blend between them. In the case of impeachment, the articles of impeachment were intended to prevent corruption at the highest level of office. My personal opinion aside, the accusation of inciting an attack on the nation’s capitol certainly seems appropriate to impeach over. Whether Mr. Trump is currently the President or not is not relevant since the charges were filed while he was still in office – the trial being delayed by party politics wanting to finish the election turnover first.
It is highly inappropriate for the Senate to dismiss this trial due to non-relevance because the defendant is no longer in office.
This is not a question of technicality. This is a question of morality and tolerance. Should Americans tolerate domestic terrorist attacks? The answer, of course, is no. Thus, regardless of if Mr. Trump is found guilty or innocence, the trial should continue and be judged by the facts, not relevance, to determine culpability in insurrectionist behavior.
If the former president is found guilty, then the Democratic House will likely choose to pursue legal action to prohibit a reelection. This is a logical approach. It would also make sense to look into criminal charges. Again, pay attention to the predicate clause here – if he is found guilty. If not, then these options would certainly lose momentum.
It is the obligation of the House and Senate to enact and pursue a fair trial, one free of bribes, party politics, and technicalities, as a result of Mr. Trump’s charge of impeachment in relation to the Capitol coup. Nothing else should be expected in this case, not in Jewish or American perspective.