Parashat Shof’tim-- Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9
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Questions for Young Children

• If you have an argument with someone, who do you think can help you to fairly end the argument? What makes somebody a fair person?
• God is worried that the Israelites might copy what the Canaanites do. Have you ever copied someone else’s behavior even if you thought it might be wrong? Why do people copy each other even if the behavior is bad?

Questions for Older Children
• The Torah demands that there be at least two witnesses before a person is sentenced to die because he worshipped a foreign god. Why do you think there needed to be at least two witnesses and not just one?
• The witnesses have to be the first to put the sinner to death. Why?
• What are some of the requirements for choosing a king? What are some of the requirements for the king once he has been chosen?
• The Torah gives an example of an accidental killing: an ax head flies off a handle and strikes the other person and kills him. This is unlikely to happen in the 21st century. Can you give another example of an accidental killing?
• God decrees that the Israelites have to kill certain people such as the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites. But, God tells the Israelites NOT to destroy the trees around a city that is being besieged unless they don’t yield food. What do you think is the reason for that?

Questions for Teens and Adults
• Laws sometimes reveal the fears of a people. What fear does God have for B’nei Yisrael if they decide they want a king? How does he mitigate the fears?
• Do you think God’s fears that the Israelites could assimilate into Canaanite culture is overblown? Why or why not? If God were to give instruction to us today about preventing assimilation, what do you think God would say?
• There are very specific laws for waging war in Deut. 20. What do you think of the procedure God institutes? Are there any parallel rules for the U.S. armed forces?

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In Parashat Shof’tim (Judges) Moshe continues to review God’s laws with B'nei Yisrael. As you might expect from the title of the parasha, he begins with the legal system which Moshe asserts must be unbiased and fair. The other three groups of public officials mentioned besides judges include kings, priests and prophets. Although some of the laws may seem anachronistic now such as the Levites’ portion of the sacrifice, we can learn a great deal about the land that the Israelites entered, the customs of the inhabitants such as consigning a son or daughter to the fire (18:10), and the principles by which the Israelites are expected to live. A prescribed address for officials talking to Israelite soldiers before they enter battle is also presented.

Find the food connection...

שֹׁפְטִים וְשֹׁטְרִים, תִּתֶּן-לְךָ בְּכָל-שְׁעָרֶיךָ

You shall appoint judges and officials for your tribes.

--Deut. 16:18
Food judged the best!


The Side Dish

“Justice, justice (tzedek, tzedek) shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (16:20)

Tzedaka is one of those Hebrew words that doesn’t translate well into English. When we talk about giving tzedaka, it’s not really charity. Charity is derived from the Latin word, caritas, and is related to God’s love. Tzedaka is derived from tzedek, the Hebrew word for justice. For me it makes more emotional sense to give to someone out of a sense of doing the right thing. I don’t have to depend on loving emotion to move me to give.

Justice is not relegated to the court in Judaism. We can pursue it every day in the way that we live. Do we patronize stores that treat their employees fairly? Do we try to avoid buying clothes made by child laborers? This goes beyond giving money to people in need and enters the realm of justice. Are there other ways your Shabbat guests suggest we pursue justice daily?

Furthermore, justice does not always mean law-abiding. We celebrate the actions of those who stood up to the segregationist state laws in the U.S. They sought justice, not charity. We celebrate those who helped Jews escape Europe for Palestine under the British Mandate even though these Ma’apilim disobeyed British law. Who decides what is just and what is not? We have the Torah to help us, but what is just is not always easy to do or easy to identify. Perhaps that’s why the Torah repeats the word “tzedek.” Don’t give up—keep seeking justice even if it eludes you at first.



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A Dash of Military Halakhah
This parasha includes three laws about warfare: how to prepare an army for battle, how to treat the defeated population, and how to treat trees near besieged cities. There are more laws pertaining to the military in Deut. 21:10-14, 23:10-15, and 24:5. If you scan First Maccabees, you’ll see Judah Maccabee scrupulously followed the instructions laid out in Deuteronomy.

A Dash of Military Ethics (Ruah Tzahal)
You may understand the values of the Israeli Army better if you take a look at their code of ethics. Here’s a link to an English website. See how this corresponds or doesn’t correspond to this week’s parasha.

A Dash of Food Judging
Shof’tim means judges and maybe it’s not a coincidence that this parasha often corresponds with the opening of the Minnesota State Fair. If you want to see extensive judging, the fair is the place to go. See the Star tribune article for a the fate of a woman whose kosher pickles were judged unfit for competition at the Minnesota State Fair.   

How do you know what makes a prize-winning pie or pickle?  It has to be hard to have objective standards. Beer Can Chicken is our family favorite, what does your family judge to be the best food? Is it only taste and presentation that factors into their choice or do they connect favorite foods with special occasions or special people?

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Beer Can Chicken
Serves 4 to 6
Judged our family’s favorite chicken by our family.

Ingredientsrsz raw beer can chickens on the grill copy

  • 1-12 oz. can of beer (If you choose Pabst Blue Ribbon, you continue the judging theme)
  • 1 whole chicken
  • 2 Tbsp. barbecue rub (recipe follows or use a commercial blend)


  1. Pop the tab off the beer can. Make a few more holes at the top. Pour out half the beer and see if someone will drink it.
  2. Preheat the grill to medium and add some soaked wood chips to the grill if you like.
  3. Clean the chicken discarding the gizzard and liver. Rinse the chicken under cold water and pat dry.
  4. Sprinkle 2 tsp. of the rub inside the body of the chicken. Rub the chicken on the outside with 2 tsp. of the rub.
  5. Spoon the remaining 2 tsp. of the rub through the holes into the beer in the can. The liquid will foam.
  6. Insert the beer can into the body cavity of the chicken and spread out the legs to form a tripod. Tuck the wings behind the chicken’s back. (see photo)
  7. Stand the chicken in the center of the hot grates. Cover the grill and cook until the skin is dark golden brown-- about 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hrs. If you are using a meat thermometer, the temperature should be 180ºF at the joint of the thigh.
  8. Using tongs, transfer the chicken in its upright position on the beer can to a platter and present to your guests. Let rest 5 min. and then carefully remove the chicken from the beer can. Discard the beer and carve the chicken.  You can carve the chicken in the kitchen--it will taste the same but there's a thrill to seeing the chicken standing on the beer can.
  9. Basic barbecue rub for chicken
  • 1 Tbsp. black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. white pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. cayenne
  • 2 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. dry mustard
  • 4 Tbsp. paprika—regular or smoked
  • 1 Tbsp. cumin
  • 1 Tbsp. garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. oregano
  • 1 Tbsp. salt

Mix together. This makes more than you need for 1 chicken.  Store in a dry place.

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