| Parshah |

All Rise for Judge Mommy

A rabbinical court that finds suitable compromises is to be commended


“And these are the laws that you should set before them.” (Shemos 21:1)

he Baal HaTurim teaches that the first two words of this parshah allude to the two fundamental tasks that the members of a beis din must fulfill: To issue the Torah’s ruling regarding a dispute, or to persuade the litigants to agree to a compromise.
The letters of the first word, “V’eileh,” spell out v’chayav adam lachkor hadin — a person is required to research the judgment. And the first letters of the second word, “hamishpatim,” spell out hadayan metzuveh sheyaaseh p’sharah terem yaaseh mishpat — the judge is commanded to attempt to make the parties compromise before he issues an exact ruling (Rav Dovid Hofstedter, Dorash Dovid).

Supreme Court justices are appointed for life. Thus, some 20-odd years ago, I was elected as Judge Mommy, a position I hold until today. It all started with the birth of my second child. The minute you have more than one child is the minute you join the auspicious ranks of judgmental tribunals.

“Mommy!! Tell her!! It’s my doll!! Her doll has a dot on the cheek and mine doesn’t. Maaa!! Right it’s mine??” (Two-year-old to one-year-old).

“Mommy…. he had the Rubik’s Cube for 17,000 hours and now it’s my turn!! Right, Ma?! Tell him!” (Younger bro to older).

“You guys are so spoiled! Ma, how come you changed all the rules of the house for the younger kids? We never got away with that!” (Older set to younger).

“Nuh-uh!! She’s not your Savta! She’s my Mommy! Right, Mommy?” (Son to grandson).

Although a beis din’s most basic function is to determine the halachah according to the Torah, at times its members are expected to attempt to come up with a fair compromise that satisfies both parties involved in the dispute. In this way the dayanim make peace between the parties and bring an end to their animosity toward one another.

I can render hundreds of judgments a day, and that does not even include those I refuse to accept to my court.

“Ma!! Tell him this snail is mine! His crawled away! Ma!”

I will not, I repeat, I will not, get drawn into an argument about crawling snails. This one’s refused from the docket.

My kids, like most, I believe, are deliciously good-natured young ones, who also believe their sole purpose in life is to negate their siblings’ sole purpose in life. Note to young mothers: Do not despair. Most siblings grow up to be the best of friends. But your job as supreme court justice does not end upon their marriages.

“C’mon, Ma! You know my baby is the cutest…. No one’s around. You can admit you love him the best. (Married daughter).

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says (Avos 1:18): The world exists in the merit of three things, judging civil law, the truth, and peace.
A compromise is a judgment of peace, for it brings an end to the animosity that the dispute caused between the parties. A rabbinical court that finds suitable compromises is to be commended.

It’s an often draining, definitely challenging role I play in the high courts of the home. But over the years I’ve adapted my role to include that of an advocate in the law of compromise. When they come running with a broken whistle that cost one shekel at the corner store, I hold my own and don’t jump into the fray to decide whose whistle is actually the broken one and whose is still intact. (Note to followers of Shlomo Hamelech: I’ve learned that there are some things you simply cannot cut in half.)

Therefore, instead of banging my gavel and reinstating the justified owner, I’ve reverted to coaching: “Oh, no! We had two whistles and now we only have one! We’ll have to take turns with this one. Where’s the timer? Let’s time each for two minutes!” (Me, in super-chipper voice).

No, I can’t guarantee compromise always works. But I have found that the more I try it, the more it’s likely to work.

If you identify with the above scenarios, be aware, there are supporting judges all over the world who stand with you. If you’ve never litigated among your little ones, your children obviously are not from This World. Pat yourself on the back and go back to raising your little angels. But don’t pass judgment on me.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 880)

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