Four types of execution were given to the court: stoning, burning, decapitation with a sword, and strangulation. Stoning and burning are explicitly mentioned in the Torah. Moses our teacher taught that whenever the Torah mentions the death sentence without any further description, the intent is strangulation. When a person kills a colleague, he should be decapitated. Similarly, the inhabitants of a city that goes astray are executed by decapitation.


אַרְבַּע מִיתוֹת נִמְסרוּ לְבֵית דִּין. סְקִילָה וּשְׂרֵפָה וַהֲרִיגָה בְּסַיִף וְחֶנֶק. סְקִילָה וּשְׂרֵפָה מְפֹרָשִׁין הֵן בַּתּוֹרָה. וּמִפִּי משֶׁה רַבֵּנוּ לָמְדוּ שֶׁכָּל מִיתָה הָאֲמוּרָה בַּתּוֹרָה סְתָם הִיא חֶנֶק. וְהַהוֹרֵג אֶת חֲבֵרוֹ מִיתָתוֹ בְּסַיִף. וְכֵן אַנְשֵׁי עִיר הַנִּדַּחַת מִיתָתָן בְּסַיִף:


Every one of these forms of execution involves a positive commandment for the court to execute a person with the form of death for which he is liable. A king has permission to execute using only one of them - by decapitation.


כָּל מִיתָה מֵהֶם מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה הִיא לְבֵית דִּין לַהֲרֹג בָּהּ מִי שֶׁנִּתְחַיֵּב בָּהּ. וְאֵין רְשׁוּת לַמֶּלֶךְ לַהֲרֹג בְּאַחַת מֵהֶן אֶלָּא בְּסַיִף בִּלְבַד:


Whenever a person is obligated to be executed and the court did not execute him, the judges negated the observance of a positive commandment, but do not transgress a negative commandment. There is one exception: a sorcerer. If they do not kill him, they violate a negative commandment, as Exodus 22:17 states: "Do not allow a sorcerer to live."


כָּל מְחֻיָּב מִיתַת בֵּית דִּין שֶׁלֹּא הֵמִיתוּ אוֹתוֹ בֵּית דִּין בִּטְּלוּ מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה וְלֹא עָבְרוּ עַל מִצְוַת לֹא תַּעֲשֶׂה. חוּץ מִן הַמְכַשֵּׁף שֶׁאִם לֹא הֱמִיתוּהוּ עָבְרוּ עַל מִצְוַת לֹא תַּעֲשֶׂה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שמות כב יז) "מְכַשֵּׁפָה לֹא תְחַיֶּה":


Stoning to death is a more severe form of execution than burning. Burning is a more severe form than decapitation, and decapitation is more severe than strangulation.

When a person is liable to be executed with two different forms of execution, he should be executed with the more severe form. This applies whether he committed two transgressions, one after the other, or he committed one transgression which involved two death penalties. Even if he was sentenced to be executed for the less severe form of execution and afterwards, committed a transgression punishable by the more severe form, should he be convicted, he is executed in the more severe manner.


סְקִילָה חֲמוּרָה מִן הַשְּׂרֵפָה וּשְׂרֵפָה חֲמוּרָה מִן הַסַּיִף וְהַסַּיִף חֲמוּרָה מִן הַחֶנֶק. וְכָל מִי שֶׁנִּתְחַיֵּב בִּשְׁתֵּי מִיתוֹת נִדּוֹן בַּחֲמוּרָה בֵּין שֶׁעָבַר שְׁתֵּי עֲבֵרוֹת זוֹ אַחַר זוֹ בֵּין שֶׁעָבַר עֲבֵרָה אַחַת שֶׁחַיָּב עָלֶיהָ שְׁתֵּי מִיתוֹת אֲפִלּוּ נִגְמַר דִּינוֹ לְקַלָּה וְאַחַר כָּךְ עָבַר עַל הַחֲמוּרָה וְנִגְמַר דִּינוֹ נִדּוֹן בַּחֲמוּרָה:


Both men and women are executed in these four ways.


וְאֶחָד הָאִישׁ וְאֶחָד הָאִשָּׁה דָּנִין אוֹתָן בְּאַרְבַּע מִיתוֹת:

Mishneh Torah (Moznaim)

Featuring a modern English translation and a commentary that presents a digest of the centuries of Torah scholarship which have been devoted to the study of the Mishneh Torah by Maimonides.


Whenever people who are all liable to be executed are mixed together, each one of them is executed in the less severe manner.


כָּל חַיָּבֵי מִיתוֹת שֶׁנִּתְעָרְבוּ זֶה בָּזֶה נִדּוֹן כָּל אֶחָד מֵהֶן בַּקָּלָה שֶׁבָּהֶן:


When a person who has been sentenced to death becomes mixed together with others and it is unable to distinguish him from them, and similarly, when a person who was not convicted becomes mixed together with others who have been convicted and sentenced to death and it is unable to distinguish him from them, they are all released from liability. The rationale is that we complete the judgment of a person only when he is present.


מִי שֶׁנִּגְמַר דִּינוֹ שֶׁנִּתְעָרֵב עִם שְׁאָר הָעָם וְלֹא נוֹדַע מִי הוּא מֵאֵלּוּ. אוֹ מִי שֶׁלֹּא נִגְמַר דִּינוֹ שֶׁנִּתְעָרֵב עִם מִי שֶׁנִּגְמַר דִּינוֹ וְלֹא נוֹדַע מִי הוּא. כֻּלָּן פְּטוּרִין לְפִי שֶׁאֵין גּוֹמְרִין דִּינוֹ שֶׁל אָדָם אֶלָּא בְּפָנָיו:


When a convicted person fights for his life and it is impossible for the court to have him bound so that he can be executed in the manner in which he is obligated to die, the witnesses should kill him in any manner they can, for he has been sentenced to death. No one else, however, has the right to kill him first.

For this reason, if the hands of the witnesses are cut off, the convicted person is released. If, however, at the outset, the witnesses did not have hands, the convicted person should be executed by others.

When does the above apply? To all people who are liable to be executed by the court with the exception of a murderer. When, however, a murderer has been sentenced by the court every person should pursue him using any means possible to kill him until he is executed.


מִי שֶׁעָמַד עַל נַפְשׁוֹ וְלֹא יָכְלוּ בֵּית דִּין לְאָסְרוֹ עַד שֶׁיְּמִיתוּהוּ בְּמִיתָה שֶׁהוּא חַיָּב בָּהּ הוֹרְגִין אוֹתוֹ עֵדָיו בְּכָל מִיתָה שֶׁיְּכוֹלִין לַהֲמִיתוֹ בָּהּ מֵאַחַר שֶׁנִּגְמַר דִּינוֹ. וְאֵין רְשׁוּת לִשְׁאָר הָעָם לַהֲמִיתוֹ תְּחִלָּה. לְפִיכָךְ אִם נִקְטְעָה יַד הָעֵדִים פָּטוּר. וְאִם הָיוּ הָעֵדִים גִּדְּמִין מִתְּחִלָּה יֵהָרֵג בְּיַד אֲחֵרִים. בַּמֶּה דְּבָרִים אֲמוּרִים בִּשְׁאָר מְחֻיְּבֵי מִיתוֹת בֵּית דִּין חוּץ מִן הָרוֹצֵחַ. אֲבָל הוֹרֵג נֶפֶשׁ שֶׁנִּגְמַר דִּינוֹ רוֹדְפִין אַחֲרָיו בְּכָל דָּבָר וּבְיַד כָּל אָדָם עַד שֶׁמֵּמִיתִין אוֹתוֹ:


All of the people executed by the court should not be buried in their family plots together with the entire Jewish people. Instead, the court sets aside two different burial plots: one for those who are stoned and those who are burnt, and the other for those who are decapitated and strangled. This is a halachah conveyed by the Oral Tradition.

When the flesh of the corpse decomposes, they would gather the bones and rebury them in their ancestral plots. The relatives may make a coffin and shrouds in which to rebury the bones.


כָּל הֲרוּגֵי בֵּית דִּין אֵין קוֹבְרִין אוֹתָן בְּקִבְרֵי אֲבוֹתֵיהֶם בִּכְלַל יִשְׂרָאֵל. אֶלָּא שְׁנֵי קְבָרוֹת מְתַקְּנִין לָהֶן בֵּית דִּין אֶחָד לַנִּסְקָלִין וְלַנִּשְׂרָפִין וְאֶחָד לַנֶּהֱרָגִין וְלַנֶּחְנָקִין. וְדָבָר זֶה הֲלָכָה מִפִּי הַשְּׁמוּעָה. נִתְאַכֵּל הַבָּשָׂר הָיוּ מְלַקְּטִין אֶת הָעֲצָמוֹת וְקוֹבְרִין אוֹתָן בְּקִבְרוֹת אֲבוֹתֵיהֶן. וְיֵשׁ לִקְרוֹבֵיהֶן לַעֲשׂוֹת לָהֶן אָרוֹן וְתַכְרִיכִין:


The court must be very patient with regard to laws involving capital punishment and ponder the matter without being hasty. Whenever a court executes a person once in seven years, it is considered a savage court. Nevertheless, if it happens that they must execute a person every day, they do. They do not, however, judge two cases involving capital punishment on the same day. Instead, one is judged immediately, and the other on the following day.

If, however, the two people committed the same sin and are punished with the same form of execution, e.g., a man and a woman who committed adultery, we judge both of them on the same day. Therefore if an adulterer had relations with the daughter of a priest, since he is executed by strangulation and she is burnt to death, they are not executed on the same day.


צְרִיכִין בֵּית דִּין לְהִתְיַשֵּׁב בְּדִינֵי נְפָשׁוֹת וּלְהַמְתִּין וְלֹא יָאִיצוּ. וְכָל בֵּית דִּין שֶׁהָרְגוּ נֶפֶשׁ בְּשֶׁבַע שָׁנִים הֲרֵי אֵלּוּ חַבְּלָנִין. אַף עַל פִּי כֵן אִם אֵרַע לָהֶם לַהֲרֹג בְּכָל יוֹם וְיוֹם הוֹרְגִין. אֲבָל אֵין דָּנִין לְעוֹלָם שְׁנַיִם בְּיוֹם אֶחָד אֶלָּא דָּנִין זֶה הַיּוֹם וְהַשֵּׁנִי לְמָחָר. הָיוּ שְׁנֵיהֶם בַּעֲבֵרָה אַחַת וּמִיתָה אַחַת כְּגוֹן נוֹאֵף עִם נוֹאֶפֶת דָּנִין שְׁנֵיהֶם בְּיוֹם אֶחָד. לְפִיכָךְ אִם הָיָה הַנּוֹאֵף בּוֹעֵל בַּת כֹּהֵן הוֹאִיל וְהוּא בְּחֶנֶק וְהִיא בִּשְׂרֵפָה אֵין הוֹרְגִין שְׁנֵיהֶן בְּיוֹם אֶחָד:


Cases involving capital punishment are adjudicated only when the Temple is standing. It is also necessary that the High Court hold its sessions in the Chamber of Hewn Stone in the Temple. This is derived from the statements of Deuteronomy 17:12 with regard to a rebellious elder: "who refuses to heed the priest." According to the Oral Tradition, it was taught: "At a time when there is a priest offering sacrifices on the altar, cases involving capital punishment are adjudicated." This applies provided the court is holding sessions in its place.


אֵין דָּנִין דִּינֵי נְפָשׁוֹת אֶלָּא בִּפְנֵי הַבַּיִת וְהוּא שֶׁיִּהְיֶה בֵּית דִּין הַגָּדוֹל שָׁם בַּלִּשְׁכָּה שֶׁבַּמִּקְדָּשׁ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר בְּזָקֵן מַמְרֵא (דברים יז יב) "לְבִלְתִּי שְׁמֹעַ אֶל הַכֹּהֵן" וְגוֹ' וּמִפִּי הַשְּׁמוּעָה לָמְדוּ שֶׁבִּזְמַן שֶׁיֵּשׁ כֹּהֵן מַקְרִיב עַל גַּבֵּי הַמִּזְבֵּחַ יֵשׁ דִּינֵי נְפָשׁוֹת וְהוּא שֶׁיִּהְיֶה בֵּית דִּין הַגָּדוֹל בִּמְקוֹמוֹ:


At the outset, when the Temple was constructed, the Supreme Sanhedrin would hold session in the Chamber of Hewn Stone in the Courtyard of the Israelites. The place where the judges would sit was not consecrated. For only kings of the House of David were permitted to sit in the Temple Courtyard.

When the moral character of the Jewish people declined, the Sanhedrin went into exile. They traveled to ten different places in exile, the last being Tiberias. Afterwards, until the present age, the Supreme Sanhedrin has never been convened. And it is an accepted tradition, that in the future, the Sanhedrin will first convene in Tiberias, and from there, they will proceed to the Temple.


בַּתְּחִלָּה כְּשֶׁנִּבְנָה בֵּית הַמִּקְדָּשׁ הָיוּ בֵּית דִּין הַגָּדוֹל יוֹשְׁבִין בְּלִשְׁכַּת הַגָּזִית שֶׁהָיְתָה בְּעֶזְרַת יִשְׂרָאֵל וְהַמָּקוֹם שֶׁהָיוּ יוֹשְׁבִין בּוֹ חֹל הָיָה שֶׁאֵין יְשִׁיבָה בַּעֲזָרָה אֶלָּא לְמַלְכֵי בֵּית דָּוִד. וּכְשֶׁנִּתְקַלְקְלָה הַשּׁוּרָה גָּלוּ מִמָּקוֹם לְמָקוֹם וְלַעֲשָׂרָה מְקוֹמוֹת גָּלוּ וְסוֹפָן לִטְבֶרְיָא וּמִשָּׁם לֹא עָמַד בֵּית דִּין גָּדוֹל עַד עַתָּה. וְקַבָּלָה הִיא שֶׁבִּטְבֶרְיָא עֲתִידִין לַחְזֹר תְּחִלָּה וּמִשָּׁם נֶעֱתָקִין לַמִּקְדָּשׁ:


40 years before the destruction of the Temple, capital punishment was nullified among the Jewish people. Although the Temple was still standing, since the Sanhedrin went into exile and were not in their place in the Temple, these laws could not be enforced.


אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה קֹדֶם חֻרְבַּן בַּיִת שֵׁנִי בָּטְלוּ דִּינֵי נְפָשׁוֹת מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁהָיָה הַמִּקְדָּשׁ קַיָּם. מִפְּנֵי שֶׁגָּלוּ הַסַּנְהֶדְרִין וְלֹא הָיוּ שָׁם בִּמְקוֹמָן בַּמִּקְדָּשׁ:


In the era when cases involving capital punishment were adjudicated in Eretz Yisrael, such cases could also be adjudicated in the diaspora, provided the members of that court received semichah in Eretz Yisrael. As we have already stated, the Sanhedrin exercises judicial authority in Eretz Yisrael and in the diaspora.


בִּזְמַן שֶׁדָּנִין דִּינֵי נְפָשׁוֹת בְּאֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל דָּנִין דִּינֵי נְפָשׁוֹת בְּחוּצָה לָאָרֶץ. וְהוּא שֶׁיִּהְיוּ הַסַּנְהֶדְרִין סְמוּכִין בָּאָרֶץ כְּמוֹ שֶׁבֵּאַרְנוּ שֶׁהַסַּנְהֶדְרִין נוֹהֶגֶת בָּאָרֶץ וּבְחוּצָה לָאָרֶץ: