Who’s in charge here?

Leadership Moment: Constraining Authority

The Daf Yomi is the practice of studying the Talmud, in a page a day. This last week, the daily page included Bava Metzia 59, one of the key moments in legal leadership in the history of humankind.

It starts out really boringly: an argument between the rabbis about whether an oven (one built of unmortared bricks with sand as a filler) is impure or not. As is usual in the Talmud, the rabbis disagree: there is a majority view (it’s impure), and a minority view (it’s pure), held by the minority of one: Rabbi Eliezer. Normally, this would be the end of the tale, maybe with an argument on each side for later reference.

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But not in this tale. The Talmud makes very clear that Rabbi Eliezer had good arguments for every objection, and that he’s probably correct on the merits. But the story doesn’t stop there! Eliezer begins summoning miracles. A carob tree is uprooted. A stream flows backwards. The walls begin to lean in. Still, the other rabbis are unswayed. Finally, Eliezer appeals to the Almighty, whose Voice tells the rabbis that Eliezer is correct.

Think about this: the rabbis have just been instructed by their deity on a point of religious law.

In any other polity at this time, or, really, ever, the story ends with everyone agreeing with Eliezer. But not here. Rabbi Yehoshua stands up to Adonai, and rebukes the Almighty. “It is not in Heaven.” With those words, the Talmud does something that no system of governance had ever done: bound Hashem by the Law: no longer would the Divine Being be able to rewrite the laws, for the Law was supreme even to Adonai.

This page lays the basis which the British expand with the Magna Carta (that the king is not above the law), and America further expands with the Bill of Rights (that the government is not above the law). Together, these three very simple texts create the basis for a legal framework that enshrines personal, human rights as greater than the whims of a government – be it a deity, a monarch, or a president.

One Minute Pro Tip: Universal Policy Application

There’s a common practice in many organizations to write policies very quickly, often in response to some institutional risk or failing. Often not well thought through, the policies are put into place, and then exceptions start happening, as executives discover that the policy inconveniences them, and write themselves out of the policy (or just ignore it entirely).

If you’re crafting policy, the most important step is making sure it’ll be followed from the top down. How will it apply to you, or to other executives? Will they celebrate being constrained by the policy, so that everyone in the organization knows the policy is supported, or will they chafe under its restrictions?



April 18: Blog: Humans and AI (Part III)

April 23: Podcast: CISO Series

April 25: NYSE TV


May 8, 2:55 Pacific: You Can’t Measure Risk, RSAC (San Francisco)

September 24: HOU.SEC.CON

Duha One: Leadership in minutes is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.