Should Justice Be Blind? - Poem by gershon hepner
JUSTICE: SIGHTED OR BLINDED?
"Don't take a bribe, " the Bible says, "because they blind
those who are instructed to administer
justice." Those depicting justice often bind
the Lady's eyes. This act appears quite sinister
to Torah's jurisprudence. Doing this might steer
your judgment to the left or right, and make you look
with a vision that's obscured, and raise the fear
that you might violate the laws within the Book.
The artists thought impartiality and sight
to be in conflict: that is why they blinded Justice.
Bible law prioritizes vision: what is right
should never be the least obscured. Renaissance trust is
based on impartiality, whereas clear vision
is in the Torah's point of view the major given.
A judge must use his sight, and make no blind decision:
all biases caused by his sight must be forgiven.
The verses that I cite at the beginning of this poem are in Exod.23: 8 and Deut.16: 19
Randy Kennedy ("Two Legal Scholars Trace a Symbol Through the Ages, " NYT,12/16/10) writes:
In ancient Egypt she was known as Maat, the goddess of harmony and order, depicted in the Book of the Dead as a kind of personified jeweler's scale, weighing a human heart against a feather to determine a soul's fate in the afterlife.In Greece she became Themis, aunt, wife and counselor to Zeus, and the Romans then rolled her and her daughter Dike together to form Justitia, the only one of the cardinal virtues to have a signature look in ancient art. But the look of the grande dame we have come to know as Lady Justice — as interpreted by artists like Giotto, Brueghel and Reynolds — has been as changeable as a catwalk model's.
She has strode forth naked and clothed, shoeless and shod, sword wielding and weaponless. She has been accompanied by a dog (for fidelity) , a snake (for hatred) and a whole menagerie of other sidekicks that would befuddle the modern courthouse visitor, including an ostrich, whose supposed ability to digest anything was seen by the ancients as a useful attribute for the machinery of justice.
As the Yale Law School professors Judith Resnik and Dennis Curtis show in an unusual new book just out, "Representing Justice" — an academic treatise on threats to the modern judiciary that doubles as an obsessive's tour of Western art through the lens of the law — Lady Justice's familiar blindfold did not become an accessory until well into the 17th century. And even then it was uncommon because of the profoundly negative connotations blindfolds carried for medieval and Renaissance audiences, who viewed them as emblems not of impartiality but of deception (hence the early use of the word hoodwink as a noun, meaning a blindfold or hood) .
"Sight was the desired state, " Professors Resnik and Curtis write, "connected to insight, light and the rays of God's sun." Even in modern times the blindfold continues to fit uneasily in Lady Justice's wardrobe, used as a handy prop by political cartoonists and a symbol of dysfunction by others. "That Justice is a blind goddess/Is a thing to which we black are wise, " Langston Hughes wrote in 1923. "Her bandage hides two festering sores/ That once perhaps were eyes."
It might convey some idea of the depth of Ms. Resnik and Mr. Curtis's mutual interest in the art life of Lady Justice that their examination of the history of her blindfold alone takes up one whole chapter and part of another in the book, following ideas of sight and veiling through the philosophy of Locke, Diderot and Bentham.
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