Earlier this year, Ukrainian authorities detained the chief justice of the Supreme Court for allegedly taking bribes from an oligarch. As a recipient of so much Western support in its war against Russia, Kyiv was determined to demonstrate its swift and absolute commitment to outlawing corruption.

Here’s what the Torah has to say about bribery.

This week’s parasha, Shoftim, deals with the appointment of judges and their qualities. High on the list is the ban on bribery.

“Do not accept a bribe for the bribe will blind the eyes of the wise and make just words crooked” [Devarim 16:19]

This is not the first time in the Torah where we have been warned about the corrupting influence of bribery. In the parasha of Mishpatim there is a similar phrase, except there it says that bribery will blind the eyes of the discerning (pikchim) whereas here it says it will blind the eyes of the wise (chachamim). What is the difference?

The Vilna Gaon (eighteenth century) explains that when a Dayan or a judge rules on a case he has to combine two talents. First, he must have a thorough grasp of the halachic literature to be able to analyse the case at hand. Second, he must be shrewd or streetwise. He needs to have the ability to read people well and gauge how truthful they are. The Dayan must simultaneously be a chacham, wise in Torah knowledge, and a pikeach, wise in the ways of the world.

Bribery has the insidious effect of blinding a person not only to his Torah knowledge, that he will not look at the legal sources objectively, but it can blunt his sense of shrewd judgement as well.

But bribery need not just be with money. The experienced judge or Dayan will be alert to the wiles of the artful advocate who may seek to flatter the judge to win him over to look more favourably at the cause of his client.

And of course, it is not only judges or Dayanim who have to be alert to these issues. All of us, whenever we exercise judgement, have to strive to be fair and balanced and not be swayed by fear or favour.

Shabbat Shalom