Jury Duty: American Obligation, Jewish Duty

by Dan Kaskel

No one looks forward to receiving a jury duty summons.  You are invariably scheduled to appear on an inconvenient day, are too busy at work, will not be able to manage carpool, and so on.  For reasons unknown to me, the court system in Palm Beach County, my home in Florida, loves me.  I am summoned for jury duty about every other year, the most recent being February 2019.  I have served on juries and early in my career as a public defender, I selected juries for my criminal trials.  It is not only an honor and essential civic responsibility as an American to answer when called for jury duty, it’s an obligation as a Jewish American to serve.

Importance of Trial by Jury

Beyond the critical role juries render to litigants and our judicial system, serving on a jury provides a rare opportunity to actively engage in a function of government.  And you are provided with a front row seat to observe and share your opinion on a matter important enough that it may have been two or more years in the making, at significant costs to both sides, and sleepless nights counting down to trial.

The jury system is an American tradition and value, connecting people from all spectrums and cultures within our society, coming together, finding a way to work together and deliberate, and contribute to our democratic process.

Our system of trial by jury only works when we have juries, and for that, we need jurors.

Jewish Obligation for Jury Duty

We have a rabbinic principle known as Dina d’Malchut Dina, literally translated as the law of the land is law.  One of our obligations as Jews is to abide by the law of the land in which we reside.  Among the Sheva Mitzvot B’nei Noach, the seven laws that Hashem requires all mankind to follow, is the establishment of a system of justice.  This is actually the only positive, affirmative law of the seven.  It would be dubious to expect a nation to follow this imperative yet for a Jew not to participate.

Paraphrasing from an article appearing in a 2012 issue of Kol Torah of Torah Academy of Bergen County:  It is important that Jews not attempt to exempt themselves dishonestly from jury duty by fabricating excuses.  This type of dishonest behavior can lead to public Chilul HaShem (desecration of God’s name; see Teshuvot Melameid LeHo’il 1:42). 

It Matters

Our active, vocal participation in every aspect of government matters, from voting, to supporting and lobbying politicians, to signing petitions, and serving on juries.  Thomas Jefferson said, “I consider trial by jury as the only anchor every yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles its constitution.”

If you receive a jury duty summons, accept the responsibility with a positive spirit, as a proud Jew and American.  Pack a lunch, bring ample hand sanitizer, be prepared for down-time so bring something to read, cell phone charger and maximize the experience.  Many people are dismissed early; tehillim may help with this.

I promise you an interesting story to share at your Shabbat table following jury duty.

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