The offer or receipt of anything of value in corrupt payment for an official act done or to be done.

The moral basis for the Jewish law against bribery is clearly expressed in Deut. xvi. 19-20; see also Ex. xxiii. 8. Divine sanction for the injunction against bribery is found in another passage in Deuteronomy, wherein God is described as the perfect Judge who regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward, and who executes the judgment of the orphan and the widow (x. 17-18).

In the Bible.

These general statements are applied clearly and forcibly by King Jehoshaphat in his charge to the new judges whom he appointed to preside in the courts of the various cities of Judah: "Take heed what ye do, for ye judge not for man but for the Lord who is with you in the judgment; wherefore, now let the fear of the Lord be upon you; take heed and do it; for there is no iniquity with the Lord our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of bribes" (II Chron. xix. 6, 7); and in a similar spirit he charged the Levites and the priests and the chief of the fathers of Israel (ib. 9). These admonitions seem to be a reflection of the words of Jethro in the plan which he offered to Moses for the constitution of courts, to assist the latter in judging the people. He sums up the qualifications of the judges in these words: "Thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating gain" (Ex. xviii. 21).

The Biblical law nowhere provides a penalty for this crime. It is mentioned among the crimes for which the curse was pronounced on Mount Ebal (Deut. xxvii. 25). According to the later law it was punished by the infliction of thirty-nine stripes, following the general maxim that wherever the punishment for a crime is not specifically mentioned in the Bible, corporal punishment is to be inflicted.

It is well known that the temptation to bribery is especially strong in Oriental countries, where public opinion is not well organized and where great, almost irresponsible, power is lodged in the hands of the judges; and it appears from numerous passages in the Bible that the judges and the princes of Israel, especially during the period of kingship, freely sold judgment for money. It needs but one quotation to illustrate this condition of things: "Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves; every one loveth bribes and followeth after rewards; they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them" (Isa. i. 23, v. 23, xxxiii. 15). Other prophets accuse them of taking bribes even to shed blood (Ezek. xxii. 12; Amos v. 12; Micah iii. 1, vii. 3). The bribe-taker is condemned not only by the Law and the Prophets, but also by the Psalmist (Ps. xv. 5) and the proverbial wisdom of the people (Prov. xvii. 23).

The only case of actual bribe-taking recorded in the Bible is that of the sons of Samuel, of whom it is said: "His sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre and took bribes, and perverted judgment" (I Sam. viii. 3); and it appears that this condition of things was the cause of the gathering of the elders of Israel for the purpose of electing a king who, the people fondly hoped, would put an end to this and other evils existing in the commonwealth (ib. iv. 22).

Talmudic Law.

The Talmudic law went beyond the Biblical law in its condemnation of bribery and in its regulations concerning it. The case of ḳarna, a criminal judge of Babylonia (contemporary of Rab and Samuel), appears to have been the leading case on the question of the right of a judge to be paid for his services. Ḳarna took a stater from-each of the parties before he tried a case, to pay him for his loss of time; and the Talmud, after considerable argument for and against, justifies his action on that ground (Ket. 105a). Rab Huna similarly would not try a case until the litigants had furnished a substitute to do his work while he was acting as judge (ib.).

The Mishnah lays down the broad rule that if a judge takes pay for rendering a judgment, the judgment is void (Mishnah Bekorot iv. 6). This, according to the reasoning in Ḳarna's case, seems to mean that if pay is taken after the judgment is rendered, or if it is taken from only one of the parties litigant, the judgment is void; and such a view may be harmonized with the view of the Talmud, that the judge is entitled to be paid for his loss of time, provided that both of the parties contribute, and provided the money is paid to him before he tries the case.

The moral sense of Talmudists is illustrated by the following statement in the Sifre to Deut. xvi. 19: "'Thou shalt not take a bribe' is not an injunction against taking it for the purpose of clearing the guilty and convicting the innocent; this wrong is covered by the prohibition 'Thou shalt not wrest judgment,' but even to convict the guilty and acquit the innocent, thou shalt not take a bribe" (see also Mek., Mishpaṭim, 20; Maimonides, "Yad," Sanh. xxiii. 1). Raba asked, "Why is it forbidden to take a bribe to free the innocent?" and he answers the question himself, saying: "As soon as one accepts a bribe, he inclines to favor the donor and considers himself 'one with him'; and no man will find himself guilty" (Ket. 105b). As it is impossible to determine judicially who is innocent and who is guilty, before the trial has taken place, the acceptance of the bribe before the trial, for the purpose of acquitting the innocent, is in itself tantamount to declaring who is innocent without going through theformality of a trial. This would seem to be the meaning of Raba's answer.

Cases Cited in the Talmud.

Raba's statement that the person accepting the bribe considers himself as one with the briber, leads the Talmud to a fanciful interpretation of the word ("bribe"). is compounded of two words, ("he is one"; that is, he, the judge, "is one" with the litigant, Ket. ib.). Rab Papa expresses this thought in other words: "A judge should not try the case of one whom he loves or hates, because he will find no guilt in his friend and no innocence in his foe" (Ket. ib.). The Talmud cites a number of instances where judges refused to try cases in which the parties litigant were persons who had befriended them. There was no question of bribery in the form of money involved in such cases, but the judges refused to try them upon the broad ground that one might be bribed, by kind words or by feelings of friendship, to incline the scales of justice in favor of one of the parties; and that therefore, in order to preserve absolute impartiality, the judge should not stand on intimate footing with either of the parties litigant.

Abba Arika refused to try a case in which the inn-keeper at whose inn he usually lodged was a party, and appointed another to try it (Sanh. 7b); Mar Samuel declined the case of a man who gave him his hand to assist him in landing from a ferry. Amemar refused to act as judge for a man who had picked a feather from his hair that had been lodged there by the wind; and Mar 'Uḳba, for a man who had trodden his spittle in the dust. The Talmud justifies their views upon strictly legal grounds. The law is, "Thou shalt not take a bribe," not, "Thou shalt not take gain or money"; hence one may be bribed even by kind words.

The most interesting case is that of R. Ismael bar Jose. It was his custom to receive every Friday from his own garden a basket of fruit, which his gardener carried to him. On one occasion the gardener brought the fruit on Thursday, that being court day. When R. Ismael asked him why he brought it on Thursday instead of the accustomed day, the gardener replied, "I have a lawsuit to-day, and I thought I would bring the fruit with me," presumably as a matter of convenience to save him the journey on the following day. But R. Ismael refused to act as judge in his case, appointing two other rabbis to try it. During the progress of the case he thought, "If my gardener will only say thus and so, he will win his case," whereupon he said, "May the souls of those who take bribes be destroyed. If I, who did not even take the basket of fruit, and who would after all only have been taking my own property, am so prejudiced in favor of this man, how much more partial must be the judge who really accepts a bribe" (Ket. 105b).

Maimonides states the matter broadly in these words: "A judge may not sit to try the case of one to whom he is favorably inclined, even though such person may not be a relative or an intimate friend, nor may he try the case of one whom he dislikes, even though such person may not be his enemy nor does not seek to do him harm; for both litigants must stand equal before the judge, and must be considered equal in heart" ("Yad," Sanh. xxiii. 6). An offensive practise of the judges, of conducting their business so that the fees of the court attend, ants and scribes were unduly increased, was consid ered a species of bribe-taking, and was condemned as such (Shab. 56a; "Yad," Sanh. xxiii. 3; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 9, 4).

If the judge nevertheless tries the case of a person who has sent him a gift before the summons issued, the other party can not attack the jurisdiction of the court on this account, for the judge is not legally disqualified from acting in such a case. It is, however, his duty, under the opinions expressed by the authorities, to refuse to try the case because of a possible prejudice in favor of the person who sent him the gift (ib. 9, 2). If a judge has borrowed something from a person who afterward appears before him as a litigant, he is not permitted to try the case, unless it appears that he is a man of means or has property which the lender may borrow from him ("Yad," Sanh. xxiii. 4; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 9, 1).

Under the Later Law.

The bribe-giver and the bribe-taker are equally guilty before the law (ib.; "Yad," Sanh. xxiii. 2); and the bribe must be returned if the donor demands it (ib. xxiii. 1; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, ib.). The difficulty which formerly existed by reason of the fact that judges were not paid for their services, was removed under the later law. An annual tax was levied on the community for the purpose of paying the judges a proper salary for their services; and the moneys given or bequeathed for sacred uses were likewise appropriated to this purpose (ib. 9, 3). R. Moses Isserles thought it was best to levy these taxes for payment of the judges' salaries at the beginning of the year, in order that they might be assured of their support for the entire period, and that they need not be beholden to any person (gloss, ib.).

The frequent allusion in the Law to the fact that bribe-taking has the effect of blinding the eyes of the wise, did not escape the attention of the haggadists, who said: "Every judge who takes a bribe and perverts judgment will not die before his eyes have grown dim, as it is written: For a bribe blindeth the eyes of those who can see" (Mishnah Peah viii. 9; see also Midrash Tan., Shofeṭim, 8).

Maimonides summarizes the question of bribery most impressively in the following words: "The judge must conduct himself as though a sword were lying on his throat and Gehinnom open at his feet; he must know whom he is judging, before whom he is judging, and who will demand an account from him as to the justice of the judgment" ("Yad," Sanh. xxiii. 8). See Judge; Justice and Equity, Principles of.


[The following example is given in the Talmud of the venality of the non-Jewish judges: Imma Shalom, R. Gamaliel's sister, wishing to expose a judge (probably a Christian) who had the reputation of being proof against bribes, presented him with a golden candlestick, with the request to award to her a portion of her parents' estate. His decision was: "Since you [the Jews] have been banished from your country, the law of Moses is no longer applicable, but another law has been given that says: 'The son and the daughter shall inherit equally.'" On the following day, however, after R. Gamaliel had presented the judge with a Libyan ass, the judge said: "I have been looking over the conclusion of the new law, where it says: 'I am not come to destroy the law of Moses, but to complete it' [see Matt. v. 17], and there it is said, 'A daughter shall not inherit with the son.'" Imma Shalom then said to the judge: "Let your light shine like a candlestick," reminding him of her present; but R. Gamaliel answered, "An ass came and overthrew the candlestick" (Shab. 116a, b; see also Pesiḳ. xv. 122b et seq., and parallels in Buber's notes). In one passage of the Talmud it is said that the Persians, especially the Ghebers, took bribes and relented in the execution of discriminating laws against the Jews if they were paid for it (Yeb. 63b; compare also B. Ḳ. 117a).

The Halakah with reference to not taking fees frequently gave rise to violent controversies in the Middle Ages, when the communities began to appoint permanent rabbis with salaries; since it was considered unlawful to pay a rabbi who was also judge. See Fees; see also Güdemann, "Religions-geschichtliche Studien," pp. 65-88.]

J. Sr. L. G.