Modern Commentary

Torah & Spirit
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Establishing a Legal Authority

Karaite Judaism, as a movement, has traditionally been very individualistic. One of the principles of faith in Karaite Judaism is that every person is required to learn and interpret the Torah for himself. In the light of the gross misuse of power so prevalent in Rabbanism, this trend is very understandable. However, this does not relieve Karaism of the responsibility to select and confirm Shofetim [judges] over their communities:

You shall appoint judges and officials for your tribes in all the settlements that YHWH your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice. (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 16:18).

The presence and practice of a Shofet [judge] protects a community from disharmony. It promotes continuity within the community by providing a means of resolving legal disputes that might otherwise cause strife without a third (ideally disinterested) party to resolve them.

If a case is too baffling for you to decide, be it a controversy over homicide, civil law, or assault - matters of dispute in your courts -you shall promptly repair to the place that YHWH your God will have chosen, and appear before the Levite Priests and the Shofet [judge] in charge at the time, and present your problem. When they have announced to you the verdict in the case, you shall carry out the verdict that is announced to you from that place that YHWH chose, observing scrupulously all their instructions to you. You shall act in accordance with the instructions given you and the ruling handed down to you; you must not deviate from the verdict that they announce to you either to the right or to the left. Should a man act presumptuously and disregard the priest charged with serving there YHWH your God or the magistrate, that man shall die. (Devarim [Deuteronomy]17:8-12).

For more information, see: Requirements for a Shofet. See also Devarim [Deuteronomy] 1:16-17