Bribery in Jewish Law

שמות פרק כג

ח) ושחד לא תקח כי השחד יעור פקחים ויסלף דברי צדיקים

And no bribery shall you take, for bribery blindeth those that see clearly and distorts the words of just men. (Exodus 23:8)

דברים פרק טז

ט) לא תטה משפט לא תכיר פנים ולא תקח שחד כי השחד יעור עיני חכמים ויסלף דברי צדיקם

You shall not distort judgment, neither shall you recognize faces (respect persons either powerful or weak) and shall take no bribes, for bribery blinds the eyes of wise men and bypasses the decisions of the righteous (Deuteronomy 16:19)

דברים פרק כז פסוק כה

רור לקח שחד להכות נפש דם נקי ואמר כל העם אמן: ס

Cursed be he that takes bribes to slay a person of innocent blood. And all the people shall say “amen.” (Deuteronomy 27:2)

אברבנאל שמות פרק כא


שהמשפטים האלהיים יובדלו משאר המשפטים של בני נח ושל שאר האומות בשני הבדלים עצומים. האחד מצד טבע המשפטים עצמם שהאלהיים כוללים דברים אחדים מה שלא ימצאו במשפטי האומות. והשני מצד הגמול והשכר הנתן לשומר המשפטים האלהיים מאדון הכל יתברך שמו מה שאין כן במשפטים ההסכמיים מבני אדם כי אין בהם זולת תקון המדינה והקבוץ ואין בהם שכר ולא גמול ניתן מהאלוה יתברך על שמירתם זולת תועלת עצמם

The divine social law are to be distinguished both from the Noachide laws and from those (developed from human intelligence) of other nations, in two significant ways. In the first instance they introduce concepts unknown and unknowable in human legislation (which makes the Torah social laws far more moral and far more extensive). Secondly, these laws are subject to divine supervision, reward and punishment…Human legislation has as its urpose only the consensus aimed at regulating the affairs of the state and society,  thus reflecting only the egoistical desires of that society. (Divine law, however, provides normative and unchanging moral standards aimed at sanctifying human socio-political systems.) (Abarbanel on the Torah, Shemot 21:1)

The judge must be extremely careful not to take bribes even to justify the innocent. If he did so, he has to return the bribe if the giver demands it ((He has to return it even if it is not claimed in order to be clear before Heaven (Aruth HaShulchan)…and the giver of the bribe transgresses the negative commandment of lifne iver – a stumbling block in the path of the blid. Not oly is monetary bribery forbidden but even verbal form (such as flattery), and the judge is even enjoined from borrowing anything (from the litigant)  (Shulchan Arukh, Chosen Mishpat, sec. 9, subsec. 9)

And not only a judge is forbidden to take bribes (and the giver forbidden to give them, a stumbling block in the path of the blind) but also all the officials and all those engaged in comunal affairs. Even though their decisions are not specifically divine Torah, Torah laws, still they are not allowed to distort their decisions on a basis of favoritism or persoanl bias. They are definitely not allowed to take bribes. (Arukh HaShulchan, Choshen Mishat, sec. 9, subsec 1).