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Sanhedrin veha’Onashin haMesurin lahem - Chapter 23

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Sanhedrin veha’Onashin haMesurin lahem - Chapter 23

Introduction to Hilchos

"Open your mouth, judge righteously, and render justice for the poor and indigent" Proverbs 31:9

The fourteenth book,

Sefer Shoftim

The Book of Judges

It contains five halachot. They are: Hilchot Sanhedrin V'HaOnshin Hamesurim Lahem - The laws of the courts and the penalties placed under their jurisdiction

Hilchot Edut - The laws of witnesses

Hilchot Mamrim - The laws of the rebellious ones

Hilchot Evel - The laws of mourning

Hilchot Melachim UMilchamotehem - The laws of kings and their wars


Deuteronomy 16:19 states: "Do not take a bribe." Needless to say, this command applies if the intent is to pervert judgment. The verse is teaching that it is forbidden for a bribe to be given even to vindicate the just and to obligate the one who is liable; the judge transgresses a negative commandment. Such a person is included in the malediction, Deuteronomy 27:25: "Cursed be he who takes a bribe." He is required to return the bribe if he is demanded to by the giver.


(דברים טז יט) "לֹא תִּקַּח שֹׁחַד" אֵין צָרִיךְ לוֹמַר לְעַוֵּת אֶת הַדִּין אֶלָּא אֲפִלּוּ לְזַכּוֹת אֶת הַזַּכַּאי וּלְחַיֵּב אֶת הַחַיָּב אָסוּר וְעוֹבֵר בְּלֹא תַּעֲשֶׂה. וַהֲרֵי הוּא בִּכְלַל אָרוּר לֹקֵחַ שֹׁחַד. וְחַיָּב לְהַחְזִיר הַשֹּׁחַד כְּשֶׁיִּתְבָּעֶנּוּ הַנּוֹתֵן:


Just as the recipient transgresses a negative commandment; so, too, does the giver, as [Leviticus 19:14] states: “Do not place a stumbling block before the blind1.”


וּכְשֵׁם שֶׁהַלּוֹקֵחַ עוֹבֵר בְּלֹא תַּעֲשֶׂה כָּךְ הַנּוֹתֵן. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ויקרא יט יד) "וְלִפְנֵי עִוֵּר לֹא תִתֵּן מִכְשׁל":


Any judge who sits and seeks to amplify his reputation in order to cause the wages of his attendants and scribes to be enhanced is included among those who seek after profit. This is what the sons of Samuel did. Hence I Samuel 8:3 describes them as being "inclined to profit and taking bribery."

The above applies not only to a bribe of money, but a bribe of all things. An incident occurred concerning a judge who stood up in a small boat, as he was crossing a river. A person extended his hand and helped him as he was standing. Later that person came before the judge with a case. The judge told him: "I am unacceptable to serve as a judge for you."

Another incident took place where a person removed a feather of a fowl from a judge's scarf and another person covered some spittle that was lying before the judge and the judge told them: "I am unacceptable to serve as a judge for you." Another incident took place concerning a person who brought one of the presents given to priests to a judge who as a priest. The judge told him: "I am unacceptable to serve as a judge for you."

And another incident took place concerning a sharecropper of a field belonging to a judge who would bring him figs from his field every Friday. Once he came earlier and brought him the figs on Thursday, because he had a judgment over which he desired that the judge preside. The judge told him: "I am unacceptable to serve as a judge for you." This applies although the figs belonged to the judge. Since he brought them earlier than the ordinary time, that favor caused him to be disqualified as a judge.


כָּל דַּיָּן שֶׁיּוֹשֵׁב וּמְגַדֵּל מַעֲלָתוֹ כְּדֵי לְהַרְבּוֹת שָׂכָר לְחַזָּנָיו וּלְסוֹפְרָיו הֲרֵי הוּא בִּכְלַל הַנּוֹטִים אַחֲרֵי הַבֶּצַע. וְכֵן עָשׂוּ בְּנֵי שְׁמוּאֵל וּלְכָךְ נֶאֱמַר לָהֶם (שמואל א ח ג) "וַיִּטּוּ אַחֲרֵי הַבָּצַע וַיִּקְחוּ שֹׁחַד". וְלֹא שֹׁחַד מָמוֹן בִּלְבַד אֶלָּא אֲפִלּוּ שֹׁחַד דְּבָרִים. וּמַעֲשֶׂה בְּדַיָּן אֶחָד שֶׁהָיָה עוֹלֶה בְּדוּגִית קְטַנָּה לַעֲבֹר בַּנָּהָר וּפָשַׁט אֶחָד יָדוֹ וְסִיְּעוֹ בַּעֲלִיָּתוֹ וְהָיָה לוֹ דִּין וְאָמַר לוֹ הַדַּיָּן הֲרֵינִי פָּסוּל לְךָ לָדִין. וּמַעֲשֶׂה בְּאֶחָד שֶׁהֶעֱבִיר אֶבְרָה נוֹצָה שֶׁל עוֹף מֵעַל רְדִיד הַדַּיָּן וְאַחַר כִּסָּה רֹק מִלִּפְנֵי הַדַּיָּן וְאָמַר לוֹ הֲרֵינִי פָּסוּל לְךָ לָדִין. וּמַעֲשֶׂה בְּאֶחָד שֶׁהֵבִיא מַתָּנָה אַחַת מִמַּתְּנוֹת כְּהֻנָּה לְדַיָּן כֹּהֵן וְאָמַר לוֹ פָּסוּל אֲנִי לְךָ לָדִין. וּמַעֲשֶׂה בְּאָרִיס אֶחָד שֶׁל דַּיָּן שֶׁהָיָה מֵבִיא לוֹ תְּאֵנִים מִתּוֹךְ שָׂדֵהוּ מֵעֶרֶב שַׁבָּת לְעֶרֶב שַׁבָּת פַּעַם אַחַת הִקְדִּים וְהֵבִיא בַּחֲמִישִׁי בְּשַׁבָּת מִפְּנֵי שֶׁהָיָה לוֹ דִּין וְאָמַר לוֹ הַדַּיָּן הֲרֵינִי פָּסוּל לְךָ לָדִין אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁהַתְּאֵנִים מִשֶּׁל דַּיָּן הוֹאִיל וֶהֱבִיאָן שֶׁלֹּא בִּזְמַנָּם נִפְסַל לוֹ לָדִין:


Whenever a judge borrows an article, he is unacceptable to serve as a judge for the person who lent him the article. When does the above apply? When the judge does not have articles to lend him in return. If, however, the judge possessed articles to lend in return, it is acceptable for him to serve as a judge, for that person will also borrow from him.


כָּל דַּיָּן שֶׁשָּׁאַל שְׁאֵלָה פָּסוּל לָדִין לָזֶה שֶׁהִשְׁאִילוֹ. בַּמֶּה דְּבָרִים אֲמוּרִים בְּשֶׁלֹּא הָיָה לוֹ לַדַּיָּן לְהַשְׁאִיל אֲבָל הָיָה לוֹ לְהַשְׁאִיל כָּשֵׁר שֶׁהֲרֵי גַּם זֶה שׁוֹאֵל מִמֶּנּוּ:


Whenever a judge takes a wage for adjudicating a case, his judgments are nullified. This applies only when it is not evident that he is receiving compensation for losing his wages. If, however, he was involved in his profession and two people came to him for a judgment and he told them: "Provide me with a person who will work in stead of me and I will adjudicate your case or pay me for the wages that I will forfeit," this is permitted.

This leniency is permitted provided it is evident that the wage is merely in lieu of his hire, but no more and he takes equal payment from both of the litigants, receiving payment from each one in the presence of the other.


כָּל דַּיָּן שֶׁנּוֹטֵל שְׂכָרוֹ לָדוּן דִּינָיו בְּטֵלִים. וְהוּא שֶׁלֹּא יִהְיֶה שָׂכָר הַנִּכָּר. אֲבָל אִם הָיָה עוֹסֵק בִּמְלַאכְתּוֹ וּבָאוּ לְפָנָיו שְׁנַיִם לְדִין וְאָמַר לָהֶן תְּנוּ לִי מִי שֶׁיַּעֲשֶׂה תַּחְתַּי עַד שֶׁאָדוּן לָכֶם אוֹ תְּנוּ לִי שָׂכָר בַּטָּלָתִי הֲרֵי זֶה מֻתָּר. וְהוּא שֶׁיִּהְיֶה הַדָּבָר נִכָּר שֶׁהוּא שְׂכַר הַבַּטָּלָה בִּלְבַד וְלֹא יוֹתֵר. וְיִטּל מִשְּׁנֵיהֶם בְּשָׁוֶה זֶה בִּפְנֵי זֶה. כְּגוֹן זֶה מֻתָּר:


A judge may not adjudicate the case of a friend. This applies even if the person is not a member of his wedding party or one of his more intimate companions. Similarly, he may not adjudicate the case of one he hates. This applies even if the person is not his enemy and one whose misfortune he seeks. Instead, the two litigants must be looked upon equally in the eyes and in the hearts of the judges. If the judge does not know either of them and is not familiar with their deeds, this is the fairest judgment that could be.


אָסוּר לַדַּיָּן לָדוּן לְמִי שֶׁהוּא אוֹהֲבוֹ אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁאֵינוֹ שׁוֹשְׁבִינוֹ וְלֹא רֵעוֹ אֲשֶׁר כְּנַפְשׁוֹ וְלֹא לְמִי שֶׁשּׂוֹנְאוֹ אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁאֵינוֹ אוֹיֵב לוֹ וְלֹא מְבַקֵּשׁ רָעָתוֹ אֶלָּא צָרִיךְ שֶׁיִּהְיוּ שְׁנֵי בַּעֲלֵי דִּינִים שָׁוִין בְּעֵינֵי הַדַּיָּנִים וּבְלִבָּם. וְאִם לֹא הָיָה מַכִּיר אֶת אֶחָד מֵהֶם וְלֹא מַעֲשָׂיו אֵין לְךָ דַּיַּן צֶדֶק כָּמוֹהוּ:


Whenever two Torah scholars hate each other, they are forbidden to act as judges together. For this will lead to a contorted judgment. The hatred each one of them bears for the other will cause him to overturn his colleague's words.


כָּל שְׁנֵי תַּלְמִידֵי חֲכָמִים שֶׁשּׂוֹנְאִים זֶה אֶת זֶה אֲסוּרִין לֵישֵׁב בַּדִּין זֶה עִם זֶה. שֶׁדָּבָר זֶה גּוֹרֵם לִיצִיאַת מִשְׁפָּט מְעֻקָּל. מִפְּנֵי הַשִּׂנְאָה שֶׁבֵּינֵיהֶן דַּעַת כָּל אֶחָד נוֹטָה לִסְתֹּר דִּבְרֵי חֲבֵרוֹ:


A judge should always see himself as if a sword is drawn on his neck and Hell is open before him. He should know Who he is judging, before Whom he is judging, and Who will ultimately exact retribution from him if he deviates from the path of truth, as indicated by Psalms 82:1: "God stands among the congregation of the Almighty." And II Chronicles 19:6 states: "See what you are doing. For you are not judging for man's sake, but for God's."


לְעוֹלָם יִרְאֶה דַּיָּן עַצְמוֹ כְּאִלּוּ חֶרֶב מֻנַּחַת לוֹ עַל צַוָּארוֹ וְגֵיהִנֹּם פְּתוּחָה לוֹ מִתַּחְתָּיו. וְיֵדַע אֶת מִי הוּא דָּן וְלִפְנֵי מִי הוּא דָּן וּמִי עָתִיד לְהִפָּרַע מִמֶּנּוּ אִם נָטָה מִקַּו הָאֱמֶת שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (תהילים פב א) "אֱלֹהִים נִצָּב בַּעֲדַת אֵל". וְאוֹמֵר (דברי הימים ב יט ו) "רְאוּ מָה אַתֶּם עוֹשִׂים כִּי לֹא לְאָדָם תִּשְׁפְּטוּ כִּי לַה'":


Whenever a judge does not render a genuinely true judgment, he causes the Divine presence to depart from Israel. Whenever a judge expropriates money from one litigant and gives it to the other unlawfully, God exacts retribution from his life, as Proverbs 22:23 states: "He will exact payment from the soul of one who exacts payment."

Conversely, when a judge adjudicates a case in a genuinely true manner for even one moment, it is as if he has corrected the entire world and he causes the Divine Presence to rest within Israel, as implied by the verse: "God stands among the congregation of the Almighty." If a judge will ask: "Why should involve myself in this difficulty?" He should know that it is written: II Chronicles, loc. cit.: "He is with you in the matter of judgment." Nor should the judge worry about erring. A judge may only base his judgment on what his eyes see.


כָּל דַּיָּן שֶׁאֵינוֹ דָּן דִּין אֱמֶת לַאֲמִתּוֹ גּוֹרֵם לַשְּׁכִינָה שֶׁתִּסְתַּלֵּק מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל. וְכָל דַּיָּן שֶׁנּוֹטֵל מִזֶּה וְנוֹתֵן לָזֶה שֶׁלֹּא כַּדִּין הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא גּוֹבֶה מִמֶּנּוּ נְפָשׁוֹת שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (משלי כב כג) "וְקָבַע אֶת קֹבְעֵיהֶם נָפֶשׁ". וְכָל דַּיָּן שֶׁדָּן דִּין אֱמֶת לַאֲמִתּוֹ אֲפִלּוּ שָׁעָה אַחַת כְּאִלּוּ תִּקֵּן אֶת כָּל הָעוֹלָם כֻּלּוֹ וְגוֹרֵם לַשְּׁכִינָה שֶׁתִּשְׁרֶה בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (תהילים פב א) "אֱלֹהִים נִצָּב בַּעֲדַת אֵל". וְשֶׁמָּא יֹאמַר הַדַּיָּן מַה לִּי וְלַצָּרָה הַזֹּאת תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר (דברי הימים ב יט ו) "וְעִמָּכֶם בִּדְבַר מִשְׁפָּט". אֵין לַדַּיָּן אֶלָּא מַה שֶּׁעֵינָיו רוֹאוֹת:


At the outset, a judge should always look at the litigants as if they were wicked and operate under the presumption that both of them are lying. He should adjudicate according to his perception of the situation. When they depart, having accepted the judgment, he should view them both as righteous, seeing each of them in a favorable light.


ולְעוֹלָם יִהְיוּ בַּעֲלֵי דִּינִין לְפָנֶיךָ כִּרְשָׁעִים וּבְחֶזְקַת שֶׁכָּל אֶחָד מֵהֶן טוֹעֵן שֶׁקֶר וְדוּן לְפִי מַה שֶּׁתִּרְאֶה מִן הַדְּבָרִים. וּכְשֶׁיִּפָּטְרוּ מִלְּפָנֶיךָ יִהְיוּ בְּעֵינֶיךָ כְּצַדִּיקִים כְּשֶׁקִּבְּלוּ עֲלֵיהֶם אֶת הַדִּין וְדוּן כָּל אֶחָד מֵהֶם לְכַף זְכוּת:


As the Rambam states in Hilchot Rotzeach 12:14, this prohibition forbids placing moral stumbling blocks in a person’s path.

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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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