Nothing short of Solomonic?

中国日报网 2013-09-03 15:27



Nothing short of Solomonic?Reader question:

Please explain this sentence: The judge’s decision is nothing short of Solomonic.

My comments:

In other words, the judge’s verdict is a very difficult but wise one, so wise that you may compare it with judgments made by King Solomon of Israel in the 10 century BC.

King Solomon was known as a wise man whose wisdom was, in fact, beyond ordinary measure. According to legend, for example, two women came to him both claiming to be the mother of a baby and the King was able to use a simple ruse to tell the two apart.

Here’s a full account of Solomon Makes a Difficult Decision, from a contemporary English version of the Christian Bible (

One day two women came to King Solomon, 17 and one of them said:

Your Majesty, this woman and I live in the same house. Not long ago my baby was born at home, and three days later her baby was born. Nobody else was there with us. One night while we were all asleep, she rolled over on her baby, and he died. Then while I was still asleep, she got up and took my son out of my bed. She put him in her bed, then she put her dead baby next to me. In the morning when I got up to feed my son, I saw that he was dead. But when I looked at him in the light, I knew he wasn’t my son.

“No!” the other woman shouted. “He was your son. My baby is alive!”

“The dead baby is yours,” the first woman yelled. “Mine is alive!”

They argued back and forth in front of Solomon, until finally he said, “Both of you say this live baby is yours. Someone bring me a sword.”

A sword was brought, and Solomon ordered, “Cut the baby in half! That way each of you can have part of him.”

“Please don’t kill my son,” the baby’s mother screamed. “Your Majesty, I love him very much, but give him to her. Just don’t kill him.”

The other woman shouted, “Go ahead and cut him in half. Then neither of us will have the baby.”

Solomon said, “Don’t kill the baby.” Then he pointed to the first woman, “She is his real mother. Give the baby to her.”

Everyone in Israel was amazed when they heard how Solomon had made his decision. They realized that God had given him wisdom to judge fairly.

Some 2,000 years later in China, a certain official by the name of Bao Zheng is said to be able to reach such wise verdicts in similarly difficult cases as heard by Soloman. Bao lived around the 10th century in the Northern Song Dynasty – proof that wise men like them are hard to come by.

Most people cannot see anything beyond skin deep but Solomon and Bao was so in tune with life that their eyes were sharp enough to pierce through the skin and cut right into the human heart. They, as Miss Marple, the part-time detective in Agatha Christie novels would say, understood human nature.

We often hear complaints about the degeneration of the human race, which seems to have been going on for ever. In the wisdom department, it appears to be the case. Today’s people, for example, are smarter with tools, but are often found greatly lacking in using intuition, insight and wisdom.

However, it is always encouraging to realize that the likes of King Solomon and Bao once existed.

Their mere existence, though a long time ago to be sure, is inspiring, isn’t it?

Alright, here are media examples of decisions and judgments that are deemed Solomonic, which means, once again, wise beyond ordinary measure:

1. The issue of blame wasn’t settled-whether sabotage by an employee in India or bad management by Union Carbide in the United States caused the worst industrial accident in history.

No one will ever know whether a long court trial in New Delhi would have given Indian victims more money or less. Or whether Union Carbide got off easier than it should have.

And the four years of heartbreak, anger, international politicking and legal battles did not result in setting new precedents for handling industrial disasters or parceling out responsibilities in multinational enterprises.

But the most appropriate reaction to the settlement of the legal battles over the catastrophe in Bhopal, India, which killed 3,329 people and injured an estimated 200,000 more, should be relief.

Union Carbide, which owned a 50.9 percent interest in the pesticide plant from which deadly fumes of methyl isocyanate escaped on the night of Dec. 3, 1984, spreading almost instant death among people in nearby shanties, will pay the government of India $470 million. The Indian government will be responsible for sorting out the 500,000 or more claims that have been filed and dividing up the money fairly.

The Bhopal victims and their survivors may benefit most by eliminating what could have been a lengthy, complex trial and appeal procedures that could have taken another 5 to 10 more years. It will take Solomonic judgment to apportion the $470 million fairly among the injured and the families of the dead. But most of the victims desperately need money. The sooner it can be distributed, the more it will help.

- Bhopal: Some Relief From A Settlement, Chicago Tribune, February 18, 1989.

2. During NBC’s noon et hour special coverage of the ObamaCare Supreme Court ruling, Nightly News anchor Brian Williams declared that Chief Justice John Roberts sided with liberals on the Court in upholding the unpopular law in order “to be on the side of history.” Legal analyst Savannah Guthrie praised Roberts for having the wisdom of King Solomon: “I guess you’d call it a Solomonic decision.”

During special coverage on ABC, correspondent Terry Moran touted the ruling as “a clever piece of lawyering by the Chief Justice,” explaining: “...the government can tax you if you don’t buy insurance, it can’t order you to buy insurance.” World News anchor Diane Sawyer chimed in: “So you pay the fine if you, in essence, don’t pay that tax.” Moran laughably replied: “You still have a choice.”

Speaking to Williams on NBC, Meet the Press host David Gregory confirmed the “historic” description of the decision: “ the legacy of Chief Justice John Roberts. I’ve spoken to conservatives today, Supreme Court lawyers, who say there will be a prevailing view that he got intimidated by the Left, that he wanted to be on the right side of history, as you suggested before.”

- Media Gush Over Chief Justice ‘On the Side of History’ With ‘Clever Lawyering’,, June 28, 2012.

3. Yet again, Jerusalem police arrested several women at the Western Wall yesterday. Their crime? Wearing tallitot and singing while conducting prayers and reading from the Torah.

This routine has repeated itself on Rosh Hodesh for years. Women try to exercise their right to religious expression and the police arrest them while crowds of reactionary zealots – men and women – burning with righteous indignation hurl anathemas, and sometimes chairs, at the women. In the most recent incident, police say they used video cameras to document additional Women of the Wall members who will be arrested later.

Technically, Western Wall regulations formulated by the ultra-Orthodox rabbinic authorities who are the custodians of the Kotel dictate that women cannot wear tallitot in the same manner as men, as it contravenes the “local custom” determined by the Wall’s ultra-Orthodox chief rabbi. In 2003, the High Court of Justice upheld the directives, which are interpreted as banning women wearing tefillin or tallitot. And police make arrests based on both the directives and the High Court decision that defends them.

However, for most of American Jewry and others used to having their basic human rights protected, it is nothing less than mind-boggling to discover that the Jewish state curtails the right of religious of expression of women belonging to Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements. And this is done at the holiest site to the Jewish people.

Indeed, we have in the past criticized the High Court decision ruling that the Women of the Wall could not pray out loud or wear tallitot and tefillin at the Western Wall, in that it was based on a “blame the victim” argument.

In essence, then-president of the Supreme Court Aharon Barak and the four additional justices who concurred, claimed that the presence of the Women of the Wall whipped some religious extremists into an uncontrollable rage that could lead to rioting. The State of Israel and its law enforcers, helpless in the face of this unbridled frenzy of zealotry, could not guarantee the safety of the women or of the wider public. Therefore, for their own good, the Women of the Wall had to be consigned to an alternative site, Robinson’s Arch, near but separated from the Western Wall.

Unfortunately, unlike the Western Wall that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Robinson’s Arch cannot always be accessed since supplicants must share it with an archeological site. Also, while there is no admission fee at the Western Wall, the same is not true of Robinson’s Arch.

Like the High Court’s decision against Women of the Wall, similar decisions have been handed down by our courts to prevent Jews from praying on the Temple Mount or from blowing a shofar during Rosh Hashana prayers at a small strip of wall in the Muslim Quarter known as the Kotel Hakatan (“the small wall”), which is considered closer to what was once the Holy of Holies on the Temple Mount. The only difference is that it is Muslim extremists, not Jewish zealots, who are the proverbial powder keg waiting to explode.

Now, thanks to the sagacious intervention of Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky and the backing of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a seemingly intractable clash of opposing values (reactionary intolerance vs liberal freedom of choice) might be nearing resolution.

Sharansky is calling for the expansion of the Western Wall Plaza to encompass Robinson’s Arch. In addition, Robinson’s Arch, presently lower than the level of the Western Wall Plaza, would be raised to the same height. Non-Orthodox services could be held there without harassment of religious fanatics or police. And, hopefully, access will be free of charge and around-the-clock.

The Supreme Court decision can be respected and freedom of religious expression can be upheld.

It is a brilliantly Solomonic solution, which appears to have the tentative backing of all sides. The only potential problem is extremist Muslims, confronted with a new construction plan in the Temple Mount vicinity, will launch huge and potentially violent demonstrations.

- Solomonic solution,, April 11, 2013.

Related stories:

A rough and tumble career

Through the revolving door?

Keep his counsel?

Halo effect?

Throwing them a bone?

Smoking gun evidence?

Political horse trading

Go to Zhang Xin's column


About the author:

Zhang Xin(张欣) has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

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