It is often suggested that America is a litigious society, meaning that people are quick to take each other to court. Whether this is good or bad for society is debatable. But, one cannot help but wonder whether there is a Jewish opinion on the necessity of taking a case to court. 

In the Jewish legal system, there are two ways that disputes may be resolved in beit din (literally “the house of law”). The first, and preferred, means of settling a dispute is peshara, arbitration, in which the disputants bring their case before a set number of judges who determine the results based on compromise rather than the strict judgement of the law. When peshara cannot be determined, the judges who hear the case (generally three, but the number may vary depending on the type of case) decide what halacha (Jewish law) requires. 

It is interesting to note that the Talmud explains the difference between court and arbitration as a comparison between Moses and Aaron:”‘For the judgment is God’s (Deuteronomy 1:17) And so Moses’s motto was: Let the law cut through the mountain. Aaron, however, loved peace and pursued peace and made peace between man and man” (Talmud Sanhedrin 6b).

Strict judgment is necessary for creating a just society, but settling disputes leads to peace between people. As Rabbi Judah ben Korha noted: “Settlement by arbitration is a meritorious act, for it is written (Zecharia 8:16), ‘Execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates.’ Surely where there is strict justice there is no peace, and where there is peace, there is no strict justice! But what is that kind of justice with which peace abides? – We must say: Arbitration.” (ibid).

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