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Jewish Judicial System

In ancient Jewish society, the judicial system was structured to ensure fairness and divine alignment in legal matters. A single individual could not render a judgment; instead, a minimum of three judges was required in small villages with fewer than 120 men. Larger villages had a Sanhedrin, a court consisting of twenty-three judges. The highest judicial authority was the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, comprising seventy-one members. This supreme court was responsible for the most significant legal and religious decisions.

The Jewish courts were categorized into three classes:
– The Great Sanhedrin: The supreme court with seventy-one judges.
– The Lesser Sanhedrin: Courts with twenty-three judges for larger communities.
– The Court of Three or Seven: For smaller villages.

Judges had to be authorized and ordained by the head (nasi) of the Sanhedrin or its three members. These judges were expected to be God-fearing Jews, ensuring that their verdicts aligned with divine principles. A single judge’s verdict was considered advisory and lacked juridical value.

Qualifications of Judges

Exodus 18:13-27 outlines the qualifications for judges, emphasizing that they should be “able men from all the people, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness” (Ex 18:21). This standard is echoed in the parable of the persistent widow (Lk 18:1-8), where the judge did not fear God or respect humans, highlighting the importance of integrity and reverence in judicial roles.

Catholic Perspective on Judgment

Catholic teaching, while recognizing the necessity of civil judges, emphasizes that spiritual judgment belongs to God alone. James the Apostle reminds us, “There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save or to destroy. Who then are you to judge your neighbor? (Jm 4:12). Jesus’ mission was to save humanity, not to judge it. As Christians, our mission mirrors His – to aid in the salvation of others rather than to judge them.

Ecclesiastical Courts

The Catholic Church has its judicial system for spiritual matters, distinct from civil courts. Ecclesiastical courts follow canon law, which includes two methods of judicial procedure: ordinary (full and solemn) and extraordinary (simple and summary). These courts handle cases involving church law, ensuring that spiritual matters are judged according to divine principles.


In our daily lives, we often encounter situations where we might feel compelled to judge others. However, church teaching urges us to refrain from such judgments. Jesus taught, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get” (Mt 7:1-2). This teaching underscores the importance of humility and compassion in our interactions.

The Catholic Church also teaches that while we can judge actions as right or wrong, we must avoid judging the state of another’s soul, as this is reserved for God alone. We are called to live by example, forming our consciences correctly and striving to help others live in ways pleasing to God.

As followers of Christ, our mission is to embody His love and compassion. We are called to support and uplift one another, guiding each other towards salvation rather than condemnation. By focusing on our own spiritual growth and helping others in their journey, we fulfill the true essence of Christian discipleship.

In a world where judgment is often quick and harsh, let us remember Jesus’ example of mercy and love. Let us strive to see the good in others, offer forgiveness, and extend a helping hand. In doing so, we not only honor God but also build a community rooted in faith, hope, and love.


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