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In Melbourne Shabbat begins Fri 3 Apr 2020 06:52 PM and ends Sat 4 Apr 2020 07:50 PM

The vanishing blue line

ג' אלול ה' אלפים תשע"א

One of the bloggers whose site I occasionally visit has been running what seems like a never-ending campaign for a more visible police presence on our streets. He quotes leaked statistics and disgruntled ex-cops to make his point that too many of our men and women in uniform are stuck behind desks, pushing paper or engaging in feel-good community liaising, rather than out there preventing crime and catching criminals.

He might have a point. I’m just returning from New York where cops are simply everywhere. It sometimes feels like every block has a patrol car parked on the corner, or a uniformed foot patrol strolling from one doughnut store to the next. The forces of law are constantly in one's face and one can’t help but feel somewhat reassured by their presence.

However, it’s more likely that the inconspicuousness of local forces is more an indication of the relatively lower crime rates here than a lack of concern for public order. Whereas in NY I saw a sign complimenting the locals that 9 days had passed without a shooting in the neighbourhood, Australia is a generally law-abiding country, with low levels of gun ownership and where random violence is unusual. Except for a few hot-spots, such as the nightclub district on the weekend, there simply isn’t the need for such obvious displays of policing might.

This week’s Torah section begins with the commandment to establish judges and policemen throughout your cities (Shoftim 16:18). It makes sense; a functional society needs a system of laws and the means to enforce them. No matter how logical or high-minded our ideals, it’s a sad fact that if there were no police or justice system, then anarchy would reign supreme. As we’ve seen from recent events in the Middle East, where despotic regimes have been deposed without sufficient planning for the system that will replace them, without authority we end up with chaos.

However, necessary as policemen and enforcers of justice are to civil society, they are not the ideal. In a prophecy about the Messianic era we learn I will restore your judges as at first and your advisers as in the beginning (Isaiah 1:26). It’s quite instructive that the prophet accepts there will always be a need for judges to establish rules of governance and adjudicate disputes, yet he assumes that policemen are expendable. When Moshiach comes we will no longer need to impose order or enforce judgement. The temptation towards evil will be eradicated and people will willingly submit themselves to the common good.

The Victorian State Government was recently elected on a platform of Law and Order. To the applause of bloggers and social commentators, they are currently actively recruiting thousands of new policemen and women to secure our streets and railway stations. But those young people swelling the intake ranks of the Police Academy should really not depend on any type of job security. Moshiach is on his way. A new era of peace and security beckons. Very soon we can expect public nature to change for the better and the need for punishment and penalties to vanish forever.

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