- Justice has widely been said to be the moral value which singularly characterizes Judaism both conceptually and historically. Historically, the Jewish search for justice begins with biblical statements like "Justice (Heb. ẓedek), justice shall ye pursue" (Deut. 16:20). On the conceptual side, justice holds a central place in the Jewish world view, and many other basic Jewish concepts revolve around the notion of justice. God's primary attribute of action (see Attributes of god ) is justice (Heb. mishpat; Gen. 18:25; Ps. 9:5). His commandments to men, and especially to Israel, are essentially for the purpose of the establishment of justice in the world (see Ps. 119:137–44). Men fulfill this purpose by acting in accordance with God's laws and in other ways imitating the divine quality of justice (Deut. 13:5; Sot. 14a; Maimonides, Guide, 1:54, 3:54). This process of establishing justice in the world is to be completed in the messianic reign of universal justice (see isa . 11:5ff.; Deut. R. 5:7). All history, therefore, like the Torah itself, which is its paradigm, begins and ends with justice (Ex. R. 30:19). The two main biblical terms for justice are ẓedek and ẓedakah. They refer to both divine and human justice, as well as to "the works of justice" (Ex. 9:27; Prov. 10:25; Ps. 18:21–25). This justice is essentially synonymous with holiness (Isa. 5:16). In the Bible, furthermore, "justice" is so consistently paired with "mercy" or "grace" (ḥesed; Isa. 45:19; Ps. 103:17ff.), that by talmudic and later times the term ẓedakah has come to mean almost exclusively "charity" or "works of love" (BB 10b), and the notion of "justice" is rendered by the terms "truth" (emet), "trust" (emunah), and "integrity" (yosher). Throughout the literature, finally, other values, particularly peace and redemption, are consistently associated with justice, as its components or products (Hos. 12:7; Ps. 15:1; Ta'an. 6:2). Ultimately, therefore, virtually the entire spectrum of ethical values is comprised in the notion of justice. Jewish justice is different from the classic philosophic (Greek-Western) view of this concept. In the latter, justice is generally considered under the headings of "distributive" and "retributive." These are, of course, also comprised in ẓedakah, but while "distributive" and "retributive" justice are essentially procedural principles (i.e., how to do things), Jewish justice is essentially substantive (i.e., what human life should be like). Substantive justice depends on an ultimate (i.e., messianic) value commitment. This is also made clear by modern thinkers, such as hermann cohen , who regards the just society as the ideal society of universal human dignity and freedom (Ethik des reinen Willens (1904), ch. 15; Religion der Vernunft aus den Quellen des Judentums (1929), ch. 19), and Ch. Perelman, who in his analysis of justice writes: "…in the end one will always come up against a certain irreducible vision of the world expressing nonrational (though justifiable) values and aspirations" (Perelman, Justice (1967), 54). Although Perelman does not claim to be discussing a particularly Jewish concept of justice, he is aware of the Jewishness of this ethos (cf. W. Kaufmann, in: Review of Metaphysics, 23 (1969), 211, 224ff., 236). The substantive view of justice is concerned with the full enhancement of human and, above all, social life. Thus it suffuses all human relations and social institutions – the state (the commonplace dichotomy between individual and collective responsibility, often illustrated by the contrast between Ex. 20:5 and Ezek. 18, is transcended in the recognition of the dialectical interrelationship between the two, illustrated in Deut. 24:16 alongside Lev. 19:16 (see also sanh . 73a), and in the contemporary involvement of the individual citizen in the collective actions of his nation), lawcourts (e.g., II Chron. 19:6; Maim. Yad, Sanhedrin, 23:8–10), economics (Lev. 19:36), and private affairs – and, indeed, the single positive ordinance encumbent also on all non-Jews is the establishment of judiciaries (Sanh. 56a). Justice is not contrasted with love, but rather correlated with it. In rabbinic literature, Jewish philosophy, and Kabbalah, God is described as acting out of the two "attributes of lawfulness and compassion" (PR 5:11, 40:2; Maimonides, Guide 3:53). The critical problem pertaining to justice is that of theodicy: if God is just and rules the world, how can the successes of evil be explained? The problem of theodicy, a recurrent theme in literature, is raised by the Psalmist and is the theme of Job. It is the subject of E. Wiesel 's story, written in the wake of the Holocaust, in which three rabbis subpoena God to a trial and find Him guilty. In the history of Jewish thought many solutions to the problem have been suggested, among them the essentially neoplatonic notion that evil is privation, i.e., that it is not something positive in itself but merely the absence of good (Guide 3:18–25); the view that evil and suffering constitute trials of the just, or, in rabbinic literature, "afflictions of love," i.e., that God tests the righteous by causing them to suffer in this world; and the doctrine of reward and punishment in olam ha-ba (Sanh. 90b–92a; Albo, Sefer ha-Ikkarim, 1:15). The rabbis regard Moses as the ideal of strict unbending justice, in contrast to Aaron, who is the prototype of the ideal of peace, and they interpret the incident of the Golden Calf as exemplifying the problem arising from the clash of these two ideals (cf. Sanh. 6a–7b and parallels). In the same context they suggest that compromise in legal cases may constitute a denial of justice (ibid.). A reply to, though not a resolution of, the problem of theodicy in our time may be attempted in two directions. (a) to protest against injustice in the tradition of Job, Ḥoni ha-Me'aggel , and the ḥasidic leader Levi Isaac of Berdichev, which is possible only before a responsible authority, i.e., a just God; to regard justice as a normative, rather than a descriptive, concept, as does Cohen, who writes that "justice maintains the tension between reality and the eternal ideal" (Religion der Vernunft, p. 569). According to this view, justice can be striven for and looked for only in the future – whether the future of mankind as a whole (the days of the Messiah) or of the individual – i.e., in God, whose justice in judgment is affirmed in the blessing recited in the hour of death, "blessed be the just judge." Man is obliged to imitate God by acting on the principle of compassionate equity (Micah 6:8; Mak. 24b; BM 30b, 83a), and – at the final consummation of history – justice and mercy become identical. -ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: L.E. Goodman, On Justice: An Essay in Jewish Philosophy (1991). (Steven S. Schwarzschild)
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.