following the majority for wrongdoing – plus ca change…

The bible says “don’t side with the majority to do wrong”

The chapters following the giving of the Ten Commandments at  Sinai are filled with a variety of do’s and don’ts covering debt slavery, treatment of servants, murder, manslaughter, legal compensations etc. and after the injunction against repeating false rumours and being a malicious witness to protect the guilty, comes this statement– “don’t follow the majority for evil”. As a verse it has an interesting life. Talmud uses it to infer the principle of majority in decision making “Do follow the majority for good”, from which comes the idea of majority verdicts in legal trials.

But Rashi argues differently, reading within the textual context he argues that it really means that if one sees many people perverting justice, you shouldn’t just blindly follow them, even if they are the majority actors.

In the febrile atmosphere of Tory elections, Brexit, unbalanced relationships with other countries etc, we have seen the limitations of following a majority decision thoughtlessly, and seen that this can be not just wrong but devastating to our well-being. Friendships have strained beyond repair, family relationships grown tense; trust in our political leadership is low and hostility has grown where we believed there was acceptance of the other in our society.

Bible already knows of fake news: “Shema Shav”, it knows about defending the guilty with malicious testimony, deflection, or supporting them publicly and daring others to continue their quest for honesty or justice. It know that a crowd isn’t always right, that it’s easy to be swept along with the prevailing opinions or find one’s critical voice silenced. Don’t follow the majority to do wrong, don’t side with the largest group simply because they’re larger and louder if their values are not good and their behaviour inappropriate or worse. The bible knows, and shouts out its warning.

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