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Sanhedrin veha’Onashin haMesurin lahem - Chapter 21

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Sanhedrin veha’Onashin haMesurin lahem - Chapter 21


It is a positive commandment for a judge to adjudicate righteously, as Leviticus 19:15 states: "Judge your colleagues with righteousness."

What is meant by a righteous judgment? Equating the litigants with regard to all matters. One should not be allowed to speak to the full extent he feels necessary while the other is told to speak concisely. One should not treat one favorably and speak gently to him and treat the other harshly and speak sternly to him.


מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה לִשְׁפֹּט הַשּׁוֹפֵט בְּצֶדֶק שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ויקרא יט טו) "בְּצֶדֶק תִּשְׁפֹּט עֲמִיתֶךָ". אֵי זֶהוּ צֶדֶק הַמִּשְׁפָּט זוֹ הַשְׁוָיַת שְׁנֵי בַּעֲלֵי דִּינִין בְּכָל דָּבָר. לֹא יְהֵא אֶחָד מְדַבֵּר כָּל צָרְכּוֹ וְאֶחָד אוֹמֵר לוֹ קַצֵּר דְּבָרֶיךָ. וְלֹא יַסְבִּיר פָּנִים לְאֶחָד וִידַבֵּר לוֹ רַכּוֹת וְיָרֵעַ פָּנָיו לְאַחֵר וִידַבֵּר לוֹ קָשׁוֹת:


When there are two litigants, one wearing precious garments and the other degrading garments, we tell the litigant who carries himself honorably: "Either clothe him as you are clothed for the duration of your judgment or dress like him, so that you will be equal. Afterwards, stand judgment."


שְׁנֵי בַּעֲלֵי דִּינִין שֶׁהָיָה אֶחָד מֵהֶם מְלֻבָּשׁ בְּגָדִים יְקָרִים וְהַשֵּׁנִי מְלֻבָּשׁ בְּגָדִים בְּזוּיִין אוֹמֵר לַמְכֻבָּד אוֹ הַלְבִּישֵׁהוּ כְּמוֹתְךָ עַד שֶׁתָּדוּן עִמּוֹ אוֹ לְבשׁ כְּמוֹתוֹ עַד שֶׁתִּהְיוּ שָׁוִין אַחַר כָּךְ תַּעַמְדוּ בַּדִּין:


One of the litigants should not be allowed to sit, while the other stands. Instead, they both should stand. If the court desires to seat both of them, they may. One should not be seated on a higher plane than the other. Instead, they should sit on the same level.

When does this apply? During the give and take of the arguments. When, however, the judgment is being delivered, both litigants must stand, as Exodus 18:13 states: "And the people stood before Moses."

What is meant by the delivery of the judgment? The announcement: "So and so, you are vindicated? So and so, you are liable."

When does the above apply? To the litigants. The witnesses, by contrast, must always stand, as Deuteronomy 19:17 states: "And the two men shall stand."


לֹא יִהְיֶה אֶחָד יוֹשֵׁב וְאֶחָד עוֹמֵד אֶלָּא שְׁנֵיהֶם עוֹמְדִים. וְאִם רָצוּ בֵּית דִּין לְהוֹשִׁיב אֶת שְׁנֵיהֶם מוֹשִׁיבִין. וְלֹא יֵשֵׁב אֶחָד לְמַעְלָה וְאֶחָד לְמַטָּה אֶלָּא זֶה בְּצַד זֶה. בַּמֶּה דְּבָרִים אֲמוּרִים בִּשְׁעַת מַשָּׂא וּמַתָּן. אֲבָל בִּשְׁעַת גְּמַר דִּין שְׁנֵיהֶם בַּעֲמִידָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שמות יח יג) "וַיַּעֲמֹד הָעָם עַל משֶׁה". וְאֵי זֶהוּ גְּמַר דִּין אִישׁ פְּלוֹנִי אַתָּה זַכַּאי אִישׁ פְּלוֹנִי אַתָּה חַיָּב. בַּמֶּה דְּבָרִים אֲמוּרִים בְּבַעֲלֵי דִּינִין. אֲבָל הָעֵדִים לְעוֹלָם בַּעֲמִידָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים יט יז) "וְעָמְדוּ שְׁנֵי הָאֲנָשִׁים":


When a Torah scholar and a common person come to adjudicate a dispute, the Torah scholar is seated. And the common person is instructed to sit. If, however, he does not sit, it is of no consequence.

A student who wishes to have a dispute adjudicated should not come early and sit before his teacher if he desires to have him adjudicate the case. If, however, each one of the judge's students had a fixed time to read before the judge and one of them came to read at the time of his judgment, it is permitted for the judge to hear the case.


תַּלְמִיד חָכָם וְעַם הָאָרֶץ שֶׁבָּאוּ לְדִין מוֹשִׁיבִין אֶת הֶחָכָם וְאוֹמְרִים לְעַם הָאָרֶץ שֵׁב. אִם לֹא יָשַׁב אֵין מַקְפִּידִין עַל כָּךְ. וְלֹא יַקְדִּים הַתַּלְמִיד כְּשֶׁיָּבוֹא לְדִין וְיֵשֵׁב לִפְנֵי רַבּוֹ כְּרוֹצֶה לָדוּן לְפָנָיו. וְאִם הָיָה קוֹבֵעַ לוֹ זְמַן לִקְרוֹת וּבָא זְמַנּוֹ מֻתָּר:


It has already become customary in all the courts throughout Israel after the era of Talmud, in all the yeshivot, to have the litigants and the witnesses sit so that there will be no controversy. For we do not have the power to establish the judgments of our faith in a firm manner.


כְּבָר נָהֲגוּ כָּל בָּתֵּי דִּינֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵאַחַר הַגְּמָרָא בְּכָל הַיְשִׁיבוֹת שֶׁמּוֹשִׁיבִין בַּעֲלֵי דִּינִין וּמוֹשִׁיבִין הָעֵדִים כְּדֵי לְסַלֵּק הַמַּחֲלֹקֶת. שֶׁאֵין בָּנוּ כֹּחַ לְהַעֲמִיד מִשְׁפְּטֵי הַדָּת עַל תִּלָּם:


If there were many litigants before the judges, precedence should be give to a case involving an orphan to one involving a widow, as implied by Isaiah 1:17: "Judge an orphan, enter in a dispute on behalf of a widow." A case involving a widow receives precedence over a case involving a Torah scholar. A case involving a Torah scholar takes precedence over a case involving a common person. And a case involving a woman takes precedence over one involving a man, because the shame felt by a woman is greater.


הָיוּ לִפְנֵי הַדַּיָּנִים בַּעֲלֵי דִּין הַרְבֵּה מַקְדִּימִין אֶת דִּין הַיָּתוֹם לְדִין הָאַלְמָנָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ישעיה א יז) "שִׁפְטוּ יָתוֹם רִיבוּ אַלְמָנָה". וְדִין אַלְמָנָה קוֹדֵם לְדִין תַּלְמִיד חָכָם. וְדִין תַּלְמִיד חָכָם קוֹדֵם לְדִין עַם הָאָרֶץ. וְדִין הָאִשָּׁה קוֹדֵם לְדִין הָאִישׁ שֶׁבּשֶׁת הָאִשָּׁה מְרֻבָּה:


It is forbidden for a judge to hear the words of one of the litigants before the other comes or outside the other's presence. Even hearing one word is forbidden, as implied by Deuteronomy 1:16: "Listen among your brethren." A judge who listens to only one litigant violates a negative commandment, as Exodus 23:1 states: "Do not bear a false report." Included in this prohibition is a warning to a person who listens to malicious gossip, one who speaks malicious gossip, and one who bears false testimony.

Similarly, each litigant is warned not to tell his arguments to a judge before the other litigant comes. With regard to this and similar matters, Exodus 23:7 states: "Keep distant from words of falsehood."


אָסוּר לְדַיָּן לִשְׁמֹעַ דִּבְרֵי אֶחָד מִבַּעֲלֵי דִּינִין קֹדֶם שֶׁיָּבוֹא חֲבֵרוֹ אוֹ שֶׁלֹּא בִּפְנֵי חֲבֵרוֹ. וַאֲפִלּוּ דָּבָר אֶחָד אָסוּר שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים א טז) "שָׁמֹעַ בֵּין אֲחֵיכֶם". וְכָל הַשּׁוֹמֵעַ מֵאֶחָד עוֹבֵר בְּלֹא תַּעֲשֶׂה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שמות כג א) "לֹא תִשָּׂא שֵׁמַע שָׁוְא". וּבִכְלַל לָאו זֶה אַזְהָרָה לִמְקַבֵּל לָשׁוֹן הָרַע וּמְסַפֵּר לָשׁוֹן הָרַע וּמֵעִיד עֵדוּת שֶׁקֶר. וְכֵן בַּעַל דִּין מֻזְהָר שֶׁלֹּא יַשְׁמִיעַ דְּבָרָיו לַדַּיָּן קֹדֶם שֶׁיָּבוֹא בַּעַל דִּין חֲבֵרוֹ. וְגַם עַל זֶה וְכַיּוֹצֵא בּוֹ נֶאֱמַר (שמות כג ז) "מִדְּבַר שֶׁקֶר תִּרְחָק":


A judge should not hear from a translator. If he understands the language of the litigants and listens to their arguments, but is not fluent in their language in order to respond to them, he should appoint a translator to inform them of the ruling and the rationale why this person's claim was vindicated and the other was held liable.


לֹא יִהְיֶה הַדַּיָּן שׁוֹמֵעַ מִפִּי הַתֻּרְגְּמָן אֶלָּא אִם כֵּן הָיָה מַכִּיר לְשׁוֹן בַּעֲלֵי דִּינִין וְשׁוֹמֵעַ טַעֲנוֹתֵיהֶם. וְאִם אֵינוֹ מָהִיר בִּלְשׁוֹנָם כְּדֵי לְהָשִׁיב לָהֶם יַעֲמֹד הַתֻּרְגְּמָן לְהוֹדִיעַ אוֹתָם פְּסַק הַדִּין וּמֵאֵי זֶה טַעַם חַיָּב זֶה וְזָכָה זֶה:


A judge must listen to the arguments of the litigants and restate their claims, as evident from I Kings 3:23 which states: "And the king said: 'This one says: "Mine is the son who lives and your son is the one who is dead."...'"

He should determine the just resolution of the judgment in his heart and then pronounce judgment.


צָרִיךְ הַדַּיָּן לִשְׁמֹעַ טַעֲנוֹת בַּעֲלֵי דִּינִין וְלִשְׁנוֹת טַעֲנוֹתֵיהֶן שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (מלכים א ג כג) "וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ זֹאת אֹמֶרֶת זֶה בְּנִי הַחַי וּבְנֵךְ הַמֵּת" וּמְצַדֵּק אֶת הַדִּין בְּלִבּוֹ וְאַחַר כָּךְ חוֹתְכוֹ:


What is the source which teaches that a judge should not justify the arguments of one of the litigants? "Keep distant from words of falsehood." Instead, the litigant should tell the judge what appears correct to him and the judge should remain silent.

He should not teach one of the litigants an argument at all. Even if the plaintiff brings only one witness, the judge should not say: "We do not accept the testimony of one witness." Instead, he should tell the defendant: "See, he has testified against you." Preferably, he will acknowledge the other's claim, saying: "He testified truthfully." The judge should not ignore the witness's testimony unless the other litigant says: "He is only one witness and I do not accept his testimony." Similar principles apply in all analogous situations.


מִנַּיִן לַדַּיָּן שֶׁלֹּא יֵעָשֶׂה מֵלִיץ לִדְבָרָיו שֶׁל בַּעַל דִּין שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שמות כג ז) "מִדְּבַר שֶׁקֶר תִּרְחָק" אֶלָּא יֹאמַר מַה שֶּׁנִּרְאֶה לוֹ וְיִשְׁתֹּק. וְלֹא יְלַמֵּד אֶחָד מִבַּעֲלֵי דִּינִין טַעֲנָה כְּלָל. אֲפִלּוּ הֵבִיא עֵד אֶחָד לֹא יֹאמַר לוֹ אֵין מְקַבְּלִין עֵד אֶחָד אֶלָּא יֹאמַר לַנִּטְעָן הֲרֵי זֶה הֵעִיד עָלֶיךָ. הַלְוַאי שֶׁיּוֹדֶה וְיֹאמַר אֱמֶת הֵעִיד. עַד שֶׁיִּטְעֹן הוּא וְיֹאמַר עֵד אֶחָד הוּא וְאֵינוֹ נֶאֱמָן עָלַי. וְכֵן כָּל כַּיּוֹצֵא בָּזֶה:


If a judge sees a vindicating argument for one of the litigants and realizes that the litigant is seeking to state it, but does not know how to articulate the matter, sees that one was painfully trying to extricate himself with a true claim, but because of his anger and rage, he lost touch of the argument, or sees that one became confused because of his intellectual inadequacy, he may assist him somewhat to grant him an initial understanding of the matter, as indicated by Proverbs 31:8: "Open your mouth for the dumb person." One must reconsider the matter amply, lest one become like a legal counselor.


רָאָה הַדַּיָּן זְכוּת לְאֶחָד מֵהֶן וּבַעַל דִּין מְבַקֵּשׁ לְאָמְרָהּ וְאֵינוֹ יוֹדֵעַ לְחַבֵּר הַדְּבָרִים. אוֹ שֶׁרָאָהוּ מִצְטַעֵר לְהַצִּיל עַצְמוֹ בְּטַעֲנַת אֱמֶת וּמִפְּנֵי הַחֵמָה וְהַכַּעַס נִסְתַּלֵּק מִמֶּנּוּ אוֹ נִשְׁתַּבֵּשׁ מִפְּנֵי הַסִּכְלוּת. הֲרֵי זֶה מֻתָּר לְסַעֲדוֹ מְעַט לַהֲבִינוֹ תְּחִלַּת הַדָּבָר מִשּׁוּם (משלי לא ח) "פְּתַח פִּיךָ לְאִלֵּם". וְצָרִיךְ לְהִתְיַשֵּׁב בְּדָבָר זֶה הַרְבֵּה שֶׁלֹּא יִהְיֶה כְּעוֹרְכֵי הַדַּיָּנִין:

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The Mishneh Torah was the Rambam's (Rabbi Moses ben Maimon) magnum opus, a work spanning hundreds of chapters and describing all of the laws mentioned in the Torah. To this day it is the only work that details all of Jewish observance, including those laws which are only applicable when the Holy Temple is in place. Participating in one of the annual study cycles of these laws (3 chapters/day, 1 chapter/day, or Sefer Hamitzvot) is a way we can play a small but essential part in rebuilding the final Temple.
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