torah | Temper judgments with empathy | j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California

The idea of empathy as an important element in judgment is perhaps most aptly captured in Maimonides’ code of law, the Mishnah Torah.

In a section describing the qualities of judges, Maimonides rules that “One may not appoint to the Sanhedrin [the supreme rabbinic court] one who has no children — in order to ensure that he will be compassionate” (Mishnah Torah, Laws of Sanhedrin 2:3). Though the requirement may not seem politically correct today, Maimonides believed a judge must have a parental nature. Indeed, this very empathic parental instinct seems to be critical for the execution of justice itself.