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Sanhedrin veha`Onashin haMesurin lahem - Chapter 2

Sanhedrin veha`Onashin haMesurin lahem - Chapter 2

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Halacha 1

We appoint to a Sanhedrin - both to the Supreme Sanhedrin and to a minor Sanhedrin - only men of wisdom and understanding, of unique distinction in their knowledge of the Torah and who possess a broad intellectual potential. They should also have some knowledge concerning other intellectual disciplines, e.g., medicine, mathematics, the fixation of the calendar, astronomy, astrology, and also the practices of fortune-telling, magic, sorcery, and the hollow teachings of idolatry, so that they will know how to judge them.

We appoint to the Sanhedrin only priests, Levites, and Israelites of lineage of fine repute who can marry into the priesthood. This is derived from Number 11:16: "And they shall stand there with you." Implied is that they should resemble you, Moses in wisdom, the fear of heaven, and in lineage.

Halacha 2

It is a mitzvah for there to be priests and Levites in the Supreme Sanhedrin, as Deuteronomy 17:9 states: "And you shall come to the priests and to the Levites. If appropriate ones are not found, it is permissible for all the judges to be Israelites.

Halacha 3

We should not appoint to a Sanhedrin a man of very old age or one who does not possess male physical attributes, for they possess the trait of cruelty, nor a man who is childless, so that the judges should be merciful.

Halacha 4

A king of Israel may not be included in the Sanhedrin, for we are forbidden to disagree with him and repudiate his words. The High Priest, by contrast, may be included in the Sanhedrin if his knowledge makes him fitting.

Halacha 5

Although the kings of the House of David may not be included in the Sanhedrin, they may sit in judgment over the people. Conversely, they may be called to judgment if a person has a complaint against them. The Kings of Israel, by contrast, may not serve as judges, nor may they be called to judgment. The rationale is that they do not humble themselves before the words of the Torah, and letting them serve as a judge or issuing a judgment against them may lead to a disaster.

Halacha 6

Just as the judges of a court must be on the highest level of righteousness; so, too, must they be unsullied by any physical blemishes.

An effort should be made that they all be white-haired, of impressive height, of dignified appearance, men who understand whispered matters, who understand many different languages so that the Sanhedrin will not need to hear testimony from an interpreter.

Halacha 7

We are not careful to demand that a judge for a court of three possess all these qualities. He must, however, possess seven attributes: wisdom, humility, the fear of God, a loathing for money, a love for truth; he must be a person who is beloved by people at large, and must have a good reputation.

All of these qualities are mentioned explicitly in the Torah. When relating Moses' statements concerning the appointment of judges, Deuteronomy 1:13 mentions: "Men of wisdom and understanding." This refers to wisdom.

The verse continues: "Beloved by your tribes." This refers to those who are appreciated by people at large. What will make them beloved by people? Conducting themselves with a favorable eye and a humble spirit, being good company, and speaking and conducting their business with people gently.

When relating Jethro's advice to Moses to appoint judges, Exodus 18:21 speaks of "men of power." This refers to people who are mighty in their observance of the mitzvot, who are very demanding of themselves, and who overcome their evil inclination until they possess no unfavorable qualities, no trace of an unpleasant reputation, even during their early manhood, they were spoken of highly. The phrase "men of power" also implies that they should have a courageous heart to save an oppressed person from the one oppressing him, as Exodus 2:17 states: "And Moses arose and delivered them."

Just as we see that Moses was humble; so, too, every judge should be humble. Exodus 18:21 continues: "God-fearing" - the intent is obvious. It mentions: "men who hate profit," i.e., people who do not become overly concerned even about their own money. They do not pursue the accumulation of money, for anyone who is overly concerned about wealth will ultimately be overcome by want.

The verse continues: "men of truth," i.e., people who pursue justice because of their own inclination; they love truth, hate crime, and flee from all forms of crookedness.

Halacha 8

Our Sages relate: From the Supreme Sanhedrin, they would send emissaries throughout the entire land of Israel to seek out judges. Whenever they found a person who was wise, sin-fearing, humble, modest, with a good reputation, and beloved by people at large, they have him appointed as a judge in his own city. From there, they promote him to the court which holds sessions at the entrance to the Temple Mount. From there, he is promoted to the court which holds sessions at the entrance to the Temple Courtyard, and from there, to the Supreme Sanhedrin.

Halacha 9

When one of the judges of a court of three is a convert, the court is disqualified. His mother must be a native-born Jewess. If, by contrast, one of the judges is a mamzer, even if all three of them are mamzerim, they are acceptable to pass judgment.

Similarly, if all of the members of a court of three were blind in one eye, it is acceptable. This does not apply with regard to a Sanhedrin. If, however, a judge is blind in both eyes, he is unacceptable to serve on all courts.

Halacha 10

Although a court requires no less than three judges, it is permissible for one judge to adjudicate a case according to Scriptural Law, as Leviticus 19:15 states: "Judge your fellow countryman with righteousness." According to Rabbinic Law, however, there should be three judges. When two judges adjudicate a case, their ruling is not binding.

11 When a judge is an expert and he is known by many to possess such knowledge or if he was granted permission by the court, he may adjudicate a case alone. Nevertheless, he is not considered as a court.

Even though it is permitted for such a person to issue judgments alone, it is a mitzvah from the Sages for him to have others sit in judgment with him, for our Sages said: "Do not act as a judge alone, for there is only One who judges alone."

Halacha 12

A person may execute judgment himself if he has the power to do so. If he acts according to the dictates of our faith and according to law, he is not obligated to take the trouble to come to the court. This applies even if he would not suffer any financial loss if he would delay and bring the matter to the court.

Consequently, should the other litigant lodge a complaint against him and bring him to court, if the court investigates and discovers that he acted according to law, i.e., the decision which he arrived at was true, we do not abrogate his decision.

Halacha 13

Although a court of three is considered as a complete entity, whenever there are more judges, it is praiseworthy. It is preferable to make a decision with 11 judges than with ten. All the judges who sit in court must be Torah scholars and of appropriate character.

Halacha 14

It is forbidden for a wise man to sit in judgment until he knows with whom he will be sitting. This restraint is observed lest he be coupled with men who are unsuitable. Thus he will be part of "a band of traitors," and not part of a court.

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