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Thoughts On Justice

Thoughts On Justice

Last week’s parsha (Torah portion) includes the well-known phrase “tzedek, tzedek tirdof” (justice, justice you should pursue). It is often quoted as a clarion call for righteousness in the Jewish tradition and was quoted at the end of Gary Rosenblatt’s column (Sept. 9).

Typically punctuated in English as “Justice, justice thou shalt pursue, a closer look at the trup (the cantillation signs marked into the biblical text) reveals a more nuanced and, I believe, more powerful message. Rather than being a repetition, restatement and reinforcement of this emphatic plea for justice, these symbols seem to be making a different case. The sign under the first “tzedek” is a mercha — a quarter circle-like marking opening upward and to the left. The second “tzedek” has a tipcha under it, a quarter circle opening upward and to the right. These two signs are, in fact, mirror images of each other. The second “justice” is, in the visual tradition of the trup, the mirror opposite of the first “justice,” suggesting two opposing “truths.” 

Rather than making a rhetorical point about “justice,” the trup seems to be asking us to make “tzedek tzedek” a two-word noun, requiring us to apply the same standards to, and honest appraisal of, competing claims and to employ the cool, intellectual discipline of comparison in order to achieve the moral imperative and justice we seek, and which we associate with this iconic text.

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