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Sanhedrin veha’Onashin haMesurin lahem - Chapter 10

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Sanhedrin veha’Onashin haMesurin lahem - Chapter 10

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


When one of the judges in a case involving capital punishment rules to acquit the defendant or to hold him liable, not because this is his own opinion which he arrived upon the basis of his own decision, but rather he was swayed after his colleague's words, he commits a transgression, as implied by Exodus 23:2: "Do not respond to a dispute with an inclination." According to the Oral Tradition, this command is interpreted to mean that, when the judges are determining the verdict, a person should not say: "It is sufficient for me to adopt so-and-so's understanding." Instead, he should say what he thinks himself.


אֶחָד מִן הַדַּיָּנִים בְּדִינֵי נְפָשׁוֹת שֶׁהָיָה מִן הַמְזַכִּין אוֹ מִן הַמְחַיְּבִין לֹא מִפְּנֵי שֶׁאָמַר דָּבָר הַנִּרְאֶה לוֹ בְּדַעְתּוֹ אֶלָּא נָטָה אַחַר דִּבְרֵי חֲבֵרוֹ הֲרֵי זֶה עוֹבֵר בְּלֹא תַּעֲשֶׂה. וְעַל זֶה נֶאֱמַר (שמות כג ב) "וְלֹא תַעֲנֶה עַל רִב לִנְטֹת". מִפִּי הַשְּׁמוּעָה לָמְדוּ שֶׁלֹּא תֹּאמַר בִּשְׁעַת מִנְיָן דַּי שֶׁאֶהֱיֶה כְּאִישׁ פְּלוֹנִי אֶלָּא אֱמֹר מַה שֶּׁלְּפָנֶיךָ:


Included in this interdiction is a prohibition against a judge who had proposed a rationale to exonerate a defendant in a capital case to propose a rationale to convict him. This is also implied by: "Do not respond to a dispute with an inclination."

When does the above apply? In the give and take among the judges. At the time of the verdict even a judge who had proposed a rationale for acquittal may join the others who vote for conviction.


וּבִכְלַל לָאו זֶה שֶׁלֹּא יַחְזֹר הַמְלַמֵּד זְכוּת בְּדִינֵי נְפָשׁוֹת לְלַמֵּד חוֹבָה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שמות כג ב) "לֹא תַעֲנֶה עַל רִב לִנְטֹת". בַּמֶּה דְּבָרִים אֲמוּרִים בִּשְׁעַת מַשָּׂא וּמַתָּן. אֲבָל בִּשְׁעַת גְּמַר דִּין יֵשׁ לַמְלַמֵּד זְכוּת לַחְזֹר וּלְהִתְמַנּוֹת עִם הַמְחַיְּבִים:


When a scholar offers a rationale for acquittal and then dies, we consider it as if he is alive and advocating this position.


תַּלְמִיד שֶׁהָיָה מְזַכֶּה וּמֵת רוֹאִין אוֹתוֹ כְּאִלּוּ הוּא מְזַכֶּה בִּמְקוֹמוֹ:


If a judge says: "I can offer a rationale to acquit him" and then lost the power of speech or died before he could explain the rationale for acquittal, it is as if he does not exist.


אָמַר אֶחָד יֵשׁ לִי לְלַמֵּד עָלָיו זְכוּת וְנִשְׁתַּתֵּק אוֹ מֵת קֹדֶם שֶׁיְּלַמֵּד זְכוּת וְיֹאמַר מֵאֵי זֶה טַעַם מְזַכֶּה הֲרֵי הוּא כְּמִי שֶׁאֵינוֹ:


When two judges mention one rationale, even if they cite different prooftexts, they are only counted as one.


שְׁנַיִם שֶׁאָמְרוּ טַעַם אֶחָד אֲפִלּוּ מִשְּׁנֵי מִקְרָאוֹת אֵין נִמְנִין אֶלָּא כְּאֶחָד:


According to the Oral Tradition, we learned that with regard to cases involving capital punishment, we do not ask the judge of the highest stature to render judgment first, lest the remainder rely on his opinion and not see themselves as worthy to argue against him. Instead, every judge must state what appears to him, according to his own opinion.


וּמִפִּי הַשְּׁמוּעָה לָמְדוּ שֶׁאֵין מַתְחִילִין בְּדִינֵי נְפָשׁוֹת מִן הַגָּדוֹל שֶׁמָּא יִסְמְכוּ הַשְּׁאָר עַל דַּעְתּוֹ וְלֹא יִרְאוּ עַצְמָן כְּדָאִין לַחְלֹק עָלָיו. אֶלָּא יֹאמַר כָּל אֶחָד דָּבָר הַנִּרְאֶה לוֹ בְּדַעְתּוֹ:


Similarly, with regard to cases involving capital punishment, we do not begin with a condemnatory statement, but rather one which points towards acquittal.

What is implied? We tell the presumed transgressor: "If you did not commit the transgression concerning which testimony was given concerning you, do not fear the words of the witnesses.


וְכֵן אֵין פּוֹתְחִין בְּדִינֵי נְפָשׁוֹת לְחוֹבָה אֶלָּא לִזְכוּת. כֵּיצַד. אוֹמְרִים לָזֶה שֶׁחָטָא אִם לֹא עָשִׂיתָ דָּבָר זֶה שֶׁהֵעִידוּ בּוֹ עָלֶיךָ אַל תִּירָא מִדִּבְרֵיהֶם:


When one of the scholars makes a statement with regard to a case involving capital punishment: "I can teach a rationale which would convict him," we silence him. If he states: "I can teach a rationale which will exonerate him," he is raised up and included in the Sanhedrin. If his words are of substance, we heed his statements and he never descends. If his words are not of substance, he does not descend from the court for that entire day.

Even if the defendant himself says: "I can teach a rationale which will exonerate myself," we heed his statements and he is counted among the judges, provided his words are of substance.


אָמַר אֶחָד מִן הַתַּלְמִידִים בְּדִינֵי נְפָשׁוֹת יֵשׁ לִי לְלַמֵּד עָלָיו חוֹבָה מְשַׁתְּקִין אוֹתוֹ. אָמַר יֵשׁ לִי לְלַמֵּד עָלָיו זְכוּת מַעֲלִין אוֹתוֹ עִמָּהֶן לַסַּנְהֶדְרִין. אִם יֵשׁ מַמָּשׁ בִּדְבָרָיו שׁוֹמְעִין לוֹ וְאֵינוֹ יוֹרֵד מִשָּׁם לְעוֹלָם. וְאִם אֵין מַמָּשׁ בִּדְבָרָיו אֵינוֹ יוֹרֵד מִשָּׁם כָּל הַיּוֹם כֻּלּוֹ. אֲפִלּוּ אָמַר הַנִּדּוֹן עַצְמוֹ יֵשׁ לִי לְלַמֵּד עַל עַצְמִי זְכוּת שׁוֹמְעִין לוֹ וְעוֹלֶה לְמִנְיָן. וְהוּא שֶׁיִּהְיֶה מַמָּשׁ בִּדְבָרָיו:


When a court errs with regard to a case involving capital punishment and convict an innocent person, ruling that he is guilty, and later they discover a rationale that would require that the ruling be nullified and he be vindicated, they nullify the ruling and retry the case. If, however, they erred and acquitted a person liable to be executed, the judgment is not nullified and the case is not retried.

When does the above apply? When they erred with regard to a matter that the Sadducees would not acknowledge. If, however, they erred with regard to a matter that the Sadducees acknowledge, we retry the case to convict him.

What is implied? If they said that a person who has adulterous or incestuous anal intercourse is not liable and they released him, he is retried and executed. If, however, they said a person who merely entered the woman's anus with the crown of his organ is not liable, and they released him. He is not retried. Similar principles apply in all analogous situations.


בֵּית דִּין שֶׁטָּעוּ בְּדִינֵי נְפָשׁוֹת וְחִיְּבוּ אֶת הַפָּטוּר וְגָמְרוּ דִּינוֹ לְחוֹבָה וְנִרְאֶה לָהֶם הַטַּעַם שֶׁיִּסְתְּרוּ בּוֹ אֶת דִּינוֹ כְּדֵי לְזַכּוֹתוֹ סוֹתְרִין וְחוֹזְרִין וְדָנִין אוֹתוֹ. אֲבָל אִם טָעוּ וּפָטְרוּ אֶת הַמְחֻיָּב הֲרִיגָה אֵין סוֹתְרִין אֶת דִּינוֹ וְאֵין מַחֲזִירִין אוֹתוֹ. בַּמֶּה דְּבָרִים אֲמוּרִים בְּשֶׁטָּעוּ בְּדָבָר שֶׁאֵין הַצְּדוֹקִין מוֹדִין בּוֹ. אֲבָל אִם טָעוּ בְּדָבָר שֶׁהַצְּדוֹקִין מוֹדִין בּוֹ מַחֲזִירִין אוֹתוֹ לְחוֹבָה. כֵּיצַד. אָמְרוּ הַבָּא עַל הָעֶרְוָה שֶׁלֹּא כְּדַרְכָּהּ פָּטוּר וּפְטָרוּהוּ מַחֲזִירִין אוֹתוֹ וּמְמִיתִין אוֹתוֹ. אֲבָל אִם אָמְרוּ הַמְעָרֶה שֶׁלֹּא כְּדַרְכָּהּ פָּטוּר וּפְטָרוּהוּ אֵין מַחֲזִירִין אוֹתוֹ. וְכֵן כָּל כַּיּוֹצֵא בָּזֶה:

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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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