Former Supreme Court Justice Mishael Cheshin laid to rest

Cheshin was known as somewhat more conservative than former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak, though not all of his decisions could be easily categorized as liberal or conservative.

September 21, 2015 01:53
4 minute read.
PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN pays his respects at the funeral of ex-Supreme Court justice Mishael Cheshin

PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN pays his respects at the funeral of former Supreme Court justice Mishael Cheshin at Kibutz Givat Hashlosha. (photo credit: MARK NEYMAN / GPO)


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Former Supreme Court vice president Mishael Cheshin was laid to rest Sunday evening at Kibbutz Givat Hashlosha after he died Saturday at the age of 79 at his home in Herzliya after a long struggle with cancer.

Cheshin was known as somewhat more conservative than former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak, though not all of his decisions could be easily categorized as liberal or conservative.

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While Cheshin came out to the right of Barak on some notable decisions including balancing security versus human rights, he fiercely defended the Supreme Court from attacks from former justice minister Daniel Friedman and was ready to declare the Tal Law, dealing with special exemptions from the military, as unconstitutional years before the court finally struck the law.

President Reuven Rivlin who was among those who eulogized the jurist, spoke to him directly saying: “Dear Misha, I am taking my leave of you today. I am leaving a friend and a comrade, a great scholar, a teacher, a brilliant academician, a sensitive yet tough judge, courageous and unique.

You were the poet of Israel’s judicial world... Your pen of justice reflected one of the most rare yet colorful voices, which was the privilege of Israel’s judicial world.

“You borrowed from Thomas More to declare that Israel is not utopia and you defended Hannah Szenes when your colleagues denigrated her. When your colleagues were discussing schools of thought and doctrines, you dreamed of an institution [of justice] as a lake of pure water and of the law as beautiful lilies. Beneath your judicial robes Misha, there was an uncompromising Jewish soul and an uncompromising democrat.

“You Misha knew how to intertwine the Jewish and democratic state without compromise and without apology.”

In eulogizing Cheshin, Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, for the second straight day, referred to her early years as an intern working for him.

But Naor moved on to their years together at the Supreme Court and she quoted his retirement speech in which he said, “We [retiring justices] leave in your hands the guardianship of the torch of the Supreme Court, the torch of the law and justice, the torch of the straight and the good, the torch of the independence of the court, the torch of the freedom of man.”

Naor added on to that speech, “I promised to Misha right afterward, we accept the torch with a feeling of trembling, awe and love and we will do everything in our abilities to pass it on to others to fill our places so that it will have the same spark and splendor as when we received it.”

He is survived by his wife, Ruth, and three children. One of his sons, Shneur, was killed as an adult in a tragic hit-and-run bicycle accident in 2010.

A wide range of the country’s most senior politicians also attended, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Isaac Herzog.

Netanyahu spoke of Chesin’s great character.

“We all feel the size of this loss,” Netanyahu said at the funeral. “We all know we have lost a renaissance man, a man with common sense and a very big heart.”

Netanyahu added that Cheshin lived a life dedicated to the courts and to justice.

“He walked the path paved by his father, Shneur Zalman Cheshin. His father sat on the bench during the British Mandate and in the early years of the state. He believed in an independent judiciary. Misha continued in his ways – working to strengthen the rule of law and strengthen democracy.

He demonstrated that if we wish to respect the law, we have to make it respectable.”

On Saturday night, many commented on his passing, including Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein, former justice minister Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union), Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On, Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi) and others.

Cheshin, born in 1936 in Beirut, was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1992. He was the first private practice lawyer in the country to be appointed to the Supreme Court. In 2005, he was appointed vice president and one year later at the age of 70 he retired.

His father, Shneur Zalman Cheshin, was one of the first five justices appointed to the Supreme Court near the founding of the state.

In 1953, at the age of 17, he began his law studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem where he ended his degree with high honors.

Already at the age of 26 he received his doctorate in law and for a number of years he was a law lecturer at the faculty in Jerusalem.

In 1962, Cheshin joined the state prosecutor’s office where he advanced until he was appointed in 1973 to be the deputy to then attorney-general Meir Shamgar, who himself went on to be one of the most influential jurists on the country’s development over several decades.

In 1978, subsequent to Barak being chosen over him to succeed Shamgar as attorney- general, Cheshin went into private practice where among others he represented the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) defendants in the Bus 300 affair, which involved the controversial beating to death of two Palestinian bus hijackers after they were already in custody.

Cheshin was known for his unique style and his long decisions from the bench in which he quoted Jewish traditional texts and general literature.

He was head of the Central Elections Committee in 2003 for the 16th Knesset elections, and is also remembered for his decision to stop the broadcasting of a speech by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon for contravening the Elections Law.

Ma'ariv contributed to this story.

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