Restorative Justice and Community

Restorative justice asks us to consider all of the parties who have been harmed in an incident, including our community, and it often seeks justice in community settings through restorative circles or conferences that make space for many stakeholders to be heard. Similarly, ancient Jewish systems of justice also stressed the importance of community.

Mariame Kaba, an influential activist, educator, and abolitionist, speaks to the role of community in restorative justice:

“[H]ow do we repair this harm and who needs to be at the table for that to happen. [Restorative justice] invites community in. It invites other people who were also harmed because we recognize that the ripples of harm are beyond the two individuals that were involved, it’s also the broader community and the society at large. So that’s what restorative justice, at its base, is really the unit of concern is the broken relationship and the harm.”

Mariame Kaba

Justice in America

Ethics of the Fathers stresses that only “the One” -- God-- can judge by Themself. For humans to deliver true justice, many voices need to be included.

(ח) הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, אַל תְּהִי דָן יְחִידִי, שֶׁאֵין דָּן יְחִידִי אֶלָּא אֶחָד. וְאַל תֹּאמַר קַבְּלוּ דַעְתִּי, שֶׁהֵן רַשָּׁאִין וְלֹא אָתָּה:

(8) He used to say: judge not alone, for none may judge alone save one. And say not “accept my view”, for they are free but not you.

The traditional Jewish court was a microcosm of community, most often composed of 71 or 23 judges.

(ו) סַנְהֶדְרִי גְדוֹלָה הָיְתָה שֶׁל שִׁבְעִים וְאֶחָד, וּקְטַנָּה שֶׁל עֶשְׂרִים וּשְׁלֹשָׁה. וּמִנַּיִן לַגְּדוֹלָה שֶׁהִיא שֶׁל שִׁבְעִים וְאֶחָד, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (במדבר יא) אֶסְפָה לִּי שִׁבְעִים אִישׁ מִזִּקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וּמֹשֶׁה עַל גַּבֵּיהֶן, הֲרֵי שִׁבְעִים וְאֶחָד. רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר, שִׁבְעִים. וּמִנַּיִן לַקְּטַנָּה שֶׁהִיא שֶׁל עֶשְׂרִים וּשְׁלֹשָׁה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שם לה) וְשָׁפְטוּ הָעֵדָה וְגוֹ' וְהִצִּילוּ הָעֵדָה, עֵדָה שׁוֹפֶטֶת וְעֵדָה מַצֶּלֶת, הֲרֵי כָאן עֶשְׂרִים. וּמִנַּיִן לָעֵדָה שֶׁהִיא עֲשָׂרָה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שם יד) עַד מָתַי לָעֵדָה הָרָעָה הַזֹּאת, יָצְאוּ יְהוֹשֻׁעַ וְכָלֵב. וּמִנַּיִן לְהָבִיא עוֹד שְׁלֹשָׁה, מִמַּשְׁמַע שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שמות כג) לֹא תִהְיֶה אַחֲרֵי רַבִּים לְרָעֹת, שׁוֹמֵעַ אֲנִי שֶׁאֶהְיֶה עִמָּהֶם לְטוֹבָה, אִם כֵּן לָמָּה נֶאֱמַר (שם) אַחֲרֵי רַבִּים לְהַטֹּת, לֹא כְהַטָּיָתְךָ לְטוֹבָה הַטָּיָתְךָ לְרָעָה. הַטָּיָתְךָ לְטוֹבָה עַל פִּי אֶחָד, הַטָּיָתְךָ לְרָעָה עַל פִּי שְׁנַיִם, וְאֵין בֵּית דִּין שָׁקוּל, מוֹסִיפִין עֲלֵיהֶם עוֹד אֶחָד, הֲרֵי כָאן עֶשְׂרִים וּשְׁלֹשָׁה. וְכַמָּה יְהֵא בְעִיר וּתְהֵא רְאוּיָה לְסַנְהֶדְרִין, מֵאָה וְעֶשְׂרִים. רַבִּי נְחֶמְיָה אוֹמֵר, מָאתַיִם וּשְׁלשִׁים, כְּנֶגֶד שָׂרֵי עֲשָׂרוֹת:

(6) With regard to the number of judges in the different courts the mishna presents a halakhic midrash: The Great Sanhedrin was composed of seventy-one judges, and a lesser Sanhedrin was composed of twenty-three. From where is it derived that the Great Sanhedrin was composed of seventy-one judges? As it is stated: “Gather Me seventy men of the Elders of Israel, whom you know to be the Elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them into the Tent of Meeting, and they shall stand there with you” (Numbers 11:16), and together with Moses at the head of this body, there are a total of seventy-one. Rabbi Yehuda says: Moses was indeed at the head of the body, but he is not counted as part of the group. Consequently, a future Great Sanhedrin modeled after these Elders is to be composed of seventy judges. And from where is it derived that a lesser Sanhedrin is composed of twenty-three judges? As it is stated: “And the congregation shall judge between the assailant and the avenger…and the congregation shall save the manslayer from the hands of the avenger” (Numbers 35:24–25). Therefore, there must be a congregation, which consists of at least ten judges, that judges the accused and attempts to convict him, and there must be a congregation, also consisting of at least ten judges, which attempts to save the accused by finding him innocent. Together, there are twenty judges here. Before proceeding to derive the requirement for the final three judges, the mishna clarifies: And from where is it derived that a congregation consists of at least ten men? As it is stated concerning the spies: “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation that keep complaining about me?” (Numbers 14:27) There were twelve spies; excluding Joshua and Caleb, who did not complain, there would be ten men who are called: A congregation. Accordingly, the verses describing a congregation that attempts to convict the accused and a congregation that attempts to acquit him together add up to twenty judges. And from where is it derived to bring three more judges to the court? From the implication of that which is stated: “You shall not follow a multitude to convict” (Exodus 23:2), I would derive that I may not convict a person on the basis of a majority but I should follow the majority to exonerate. If so, why is it stated in the same verse: “To incline after a multitude,” from which it can be understood that the majority is followed in all cases? In order to resolve the apparent contradiction it must be explained: Your inclination after the majority to exonerate is not like your inclination after the majority to convict. Your inclination after the majority to exonerate can result in a verdict by a majority of one judge. But your inclination after the majority to convict a transgressor must be by a more decisive majority of at least two. Therefore, the court must have at least twenty-two judges. And since there is a principle that a court may not be composed of an even number of judges, as such a court may be unable to reach a decision, therefore they add another one to them, and there are twenty-three judges here. And how many men must be in the city for it to be eligible for a lesser Sanhedrin? One hundred and twenty. Rabbi Neḥemya says: Two hundred and thirty, corresponding to the ministers of tens, as outlined by Moses and Yitro in the wilderness (Exodus, chapter 18). That is to say, each member of the Sanhedrin can be viewed as a judge with responsibility for ten residents. If there are not enough men in the city to enable this calculation, it would not be honorable to appoint a Sanhedrin, as their members will each preside over less than the minimum of ten residents.

In 2018, amidst the unfolding #MeToo movement, a number of Jewish thought leaders came together to compose an alternate version of the traditional Al Chet prayer said during the Days of Awe, a version that responded to the ongoing crisis of sexual harassment and assault in our communities. The prayer speaks to the ways that communities and community members might be complicit in that category of interpersonal harm. This is an excerpt of the prayer that they composed:

For the sin we committed by causing survivors to doubt their truth.

For the sin we committed by misusing Jewish texts to promote silence.

For the sin we committed by not supporting survivors.

For the sin we committed by gaslighting victims and victim advocates.

For the sin we committed by cutting corners in best practice protocols.

For the sin we committed by talking more than listening.

For the sin we committed by prioritizing nuance over moral clarity.

For the sin we committed by urging those who have been victimized to forgive, especially before their perpetrator did the hard work of repentance.

For the sin we committed by prioritizing some victims’ voices over others.

For the sin we committed by requiring vulnerable people to depend on me, rather than investing in the development of healthy, decentralized systems that empower the entire community, and hold us accountable.

By Danya Ruttenberg, Shira Berkovits, S. Bear Bergman, Guila Benchimol

The Atonement Prayers We Should All Say, in the #MeToo Era

The Forward


  • In what ways is justice a solitary pursuit? In what ways is it interpersonal? In what way is it communal?

  • In what ways might a community be damaged by interpersonal harm?

  • Should spiritual or religious community be involved in the justice process? Should we revive a large, community-inclusive Beis Din to handle interpersonal conflict? What might be the pitfalls of such a model? What might be the benefits?

This source sheet aims to pass The Kranjec Test.