Sanhedrin veha`Onashin haMesurin lahem - Chapter 5
A king may not be enthroned except by the High Court of 71 judges. A minor Sanhedrin for every tribe and every city may be appointed only by the High Court of 71 judges. A tribe that has been led to apostasy in its entirety, a false prophet, or a case in which the High Priest might be liable for capital punishment, may be judged only by the High Court of 71 judges. Financial cases involving a High Priest, by contrast, may be adjudicated by a court of three.
Similarly, the determination of a rebellious elder or a city led to apostasy and the decision to cause a woman suspected of adultery to drink the waters which test her may only be done by the High Court. Similarly, the decisions to extend the city limits of Jerusalem and the limits of the Temple Courtyard, to enter a voluntary war, and to measure the distance between a corpse and the nearby cities may be done only by the High Court of 71 judges. These concepts are derived from Exodus 18:22: "All the major matters will be brought to you."
Cases involving capital punishment may not be judged by a court with less than 23 judges, i.e., a minor Sanhedrin. This applies not only to instances where humans are judged with regard to capital punishment, but also when animals face such judgment. Therefore an ox which is stoned to death and an animal used in bestial sexual practices is condemned to death only by a court of 23 judges. Even when a lion, a bear, or a cheetah that have been domesticated and which have owners kill a human, they are executed based on the judgment of a court of 23. When, however, a snake kills a human, even one ordinary person may kill him.
When a person who spreads a malicious report concerning his wife, at the outset, the case is judged by a court of 23. For there is the possibility of a capital case arising if the husband's claim proves true and the woman is to be stoned to death. If the husband's claim is not substantiated, and the woman's father comes to demand payment of the fine, the matter may be judged by a court of three.
What is the source which teaches that capital cases may be judged only by a court of 23? Although this is a matter conveyed by the Oral Tradition, there is an allusion to it in the Torah. Numbers 35:24-25 states: "And the congregation shall judge... and the congregation shall save...." Implied is that there must be the possibility of a congregation judging - and condemning him to death - and a congregation saving - and seeking his acquittal. Now a congregation is no less than ten. Thus there are at least 20 judges. We add three judges so that there not be an equally balanced court and to allow the possibility of "following after the inclination of the majority."
Lashes are decided upon by a court of three judges. Even though the person may die when lashes are administered to him.
Decapitating the calf is performed by five judges.
The enlargement of the month is decided upon by three judges.
The enlargement of the year is decided upon by seven judges. All of the above must possess semichah as we explained.
Cases involving financial penalties, robbery, personal injury, the payment of double for a stolen article, the payment of four and five times the value of a stolen sheep or ox, rape, seduction, and the like may be adjudicated only by three expert judges who have received semichah in Eretz Yisrael,
Other cases of financial law, e.g., admissions of financial liability and loans, do not require an expert judge. Even three ordinary people, or even one expert judge may adjudicate them. For this reasons, cases involving admissions of financial liability, loans, and the like may be adjudicated in the diaspora. Although a court in the diaspora is not referred to as Elohim, they carry out the charge of the court of Eretz Yisrael. This charge does not, however, give them license to adjudicate cases involving financial penalties.
The courts of the diaspora adjudicate only cases that commonly occur and which involve financial loss, e.g., admissions of liability, loans, and property damage. Matters that occur only infrequently, by contrast, even though they involve financial loss, e.g., an animal that injures another, or events that commonly occur, but do not involve financial loss, e.g., a double payment for theft, are not adjudicated by the judges of the diaspora.
Similarly, all the financial penalties which our Sages imposed against a person who punches a colleague, slaps a colleague, or the like are not adjudicated by the judges of the diaspora. Whenever a person is required to pay half the damages for the destruction of property the matter is not adjudicated by the judges of the diaspora, with the exception of the half payment for damages caused by pebbles propelled by one's animals. For that is a reimbursement for financial loss and is not a financial penalty.
Whenever the injuries a person suffers are evaluated by calculating his worth as one calculates the worth of a servant, the payment is not expropriated by the judges of the diaspora. Therefore if a person injures a colleague, compensation for the damages, the pain, and the embarrassment for which he is liable is not expropriated by the judges of the diaspora. Compensation for the inability to work and medical expenses is, by contrast, expropriated in the diaspora, because they involve a financial loss. The Geonim ruled in this manner and stated that it is a commonplace matter to expropriate compensation for the inability to work and medical expenses in the diaspora.
The judges of the diaspora do not exact payment when an animal injures a person, because this is an uncommon occurrence. When, by contrast, a person damages an animal belonging to a colleague, he must pay the complete damages to his colleague regardless of where this takes place, just as he is responsible if he ripped his garments, broke his utensils, or cut down his produce.
Similarly, when an animal causes damage by eating or by treading, since its owner is forewarned that this is its inherent natural tendency, it is a common matter and the damages are expropriated by the judges of the diaspora. This applies whether it damaged another animal, e.g., it rubbed against it, it consumed produce that it would naturally eat or the like, or it damaged food or utensils by treading upon them in which instance he is obligated to pay full damages. Payment for all of these damages can be expropriated by the judges of the diaspora.
If, however, an animal was not prone to cause damage, then it caused damages to the extent that the owner was warned, and then it caused damage again, e.g., it bit, it butted with its body, it lay down, it kicked, or it gored, these damages are not expropriated by the judges of the diaspora. The rationale is that there is no concept of the owner of an animal being forewarned in the diaspora. Even if an animal caused its owner to be forewarned in Eretz Yisrael, and then it was taken to the diaspora where it caused damage, the damages are not expropriated, because this is an uncommon occurrence.
Why is there no concept of warning an owner in the diaspora? Because testimony must be given against the owner in the presence of a court. And the concept of a court applies only with regard to judges who have been given semichah in Eretz Yisrael.
Accordingly, if a court of judges from Eretz Yisrael were in the diaspora, just as they have the authority to judge laws involving financial penalties in the diaspora; so, too, testimony regarding an animal can be delivered in their presence in the diaspora.
When a person steals or robs, the principal can be expropriated by the judges of the diaspora. They do not, however, expropriate the double payment.
The judges of the diaspora do not expropriate payment in every situation where a person would be liable to make compensation based on his own statements. For the payment to a maiden's father for blemishing her virginity and for the embarrassment she suffers, and a person who must pay an atonement fee because his ox killed another person are situations where a person must make compensation, because of his statements. For example, he said: "I seduced so-and-so's daughter," or "My ox killed so-and-so." Nevertheless, such payments are not expropriated by the judges of the diaspora.
Judgments involving situations where a person's actions served as a direct cause of damage are not equivalent to laws involving k'nasot and they may be adjudicated by the judges of the diaspora.
Similarly, the laws applying to a person who gives money belonging to a colleague to gentiles - even if he merely threatens to do so - may be adjudicated by the judges of the diaspora.
The custom of the yeshivot of the diaspora is that even though they do not expropriate money due as k'nasot, they place the person who causes the damage under a ban of ostracism until he satisfies the plaintiff or goes with him to Eretz Yisrael to have the case adjudicated.
Once the person who causes the damage pays the amount that he would be held liable for, the ban of ostracism is lifted whether the person who suffered the injury is appeased or not. Similarly, if the person who suffered the injury seizes an amount of property belonging to the person who causes the damage equivalent to the amount he would be awarded by the court, we do not expropriate it from his possession.
When one person is an expert judge and he is known by many to possess such knowledge, although he is allowed to judge cases involving financial law alone, an admission of liability made in his presence is not considered as an admission made in the presence of a court. This applies even if he possesses semichah.
When, by contrast, a court is composed of three judges, even though they do not possesses semichah, and even if they are ordinary men and are not referred to as Elohim, an admission made in their presence is considered as an admission made in a court of law. Similarly, if a person denies an obligation in their presence and witnesses come and testify against him, he is established as one who has lied. He cannot offer another claim, as we have explained.
The general principle is: With regard to the admission of financial responsibility, cases involving debts, and the like, their authority is the same as that of a court composed of judges possessing semichah with regard to all matters.
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