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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin

Folio 7a

that it is a meritorious act to ask the litigants whether they wish to resort to law or to a settlement. If so, this agrees with the opinion of the first Tanna?1  There is this difference, however: R. Joshua b. Korha regards this as a moral obligation; the first Tanna merely as a permissible act. But this would make the first Tanna express the same opinion as R. Simeon b. Manasya? — The difference centres round the latter part of R. Simeon's statement: 'If you have already heard the case and know in whose favour the verdict inclines, you are not at liberty to suggest a settlement', [a distinction which the first Tanna does not admit].

A difference of opinion is expressed by R. Tanhum b. Hanilai, who says that the verse quoted2  refers only to the story of the golden calf, as it is written: And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it.3  What did he actually see? — R. Benjamin b. Japhet says, reporting R. Eleazar: He saw Hur lying slain before him and said [to himself]: If I do not obey them, they will now do unto me as they did unto Hur, and so will be fulfilled [the fear of] the prophet, Shall the Priest and the Prophet be slain in the Sanctuary of God?4  and they will never find forgiveness. Better let them worship the golden calf, for which offence they may yet find forgiveness through repentance.5

And how do those other Tannaim, who allow a settlement even when a case has been heard, interpret the verse: The beginning of strife is as one that letteth out water?6  They interpret it as does R. Hamnuna. For R. Hamnuna says: The first matter for which a man is called to give account in the Hereafter is regarding the study of the Torah, as it is said: The beginning of judgment7  concerns the letting out of water.8

R. Huna says [with reference to this verse]: Strife is compared to an opening made by a rush of water that widens as the water presses through it.

Abaye the Elder9  says: Strife is like the planks of a wooden bridge; the longer they lie, the firmer they grow.

('Mnemonic: Hear, And Two, Seven, Songs, Another.)10 

There was a man who used to say: Happy is he who hears abuse of himself and ignores it; for a hundred evils pass him by. Samuel said to Rab Judah: This is alluded to in the verse: He who letteth out water [of strife] causeth the beginning of madon11  [the numerical value of which is a hundred].12  that is, the beginning of a hundred strifes.

Again, there was a man who used to say: Do not be surprised if a thief goes unhanged for two or three thefts; he will be caught in the end. Samuel said to Rab Judah: This is alluded to in the verse: Thus saith the Lord: for three transgressions of Judah, but for four I will not reverse it13  [i.e. My judgment].

Another used to say: Seven pits lie open for the good man [but he escapes]; for the evil-doer there is only one, into which he falls. This, said Samuel to Rab Judah, is alluded to in the verse: The righteous man falleth seven times and riseth up again.14

Yet another used to say: Let him who comes from a court that has taken from him his cloak sing his song and go his way.15  Said Samuel to Rab Judah: This is alluded to in the verse, And all this people also [i.e. including the losers] shall come to their place in peace.16

There was yet another who used to say: When a woman slumbers the [working] basket drops off her head.17  Said Samuel to Rab Judah: This is alluded to in the verse, By slothfulness the rafters sink in.18

Another man used to say: The man on whom I relied shook his fist at me.19  Samuel said to Rab Judah: This is alluded to in the verse: Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted and who did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.20

Another used to say: When love21  was strong, we could have made our bed on a sword-blade; now that our love has grown weak, a bed of sixty [cubits] is not large enough for us. Said R. Huna: This is alluded to in the verses: Of the former age [when Israel was loyal to God] it is said: And I will meet with thee and speak with three from above the ark-cover;22  and further it is taught: The Ark measured nine hand-breadths high and the cover one hand-breadth, i.e. ten in all. Again it is written: As for the House which King Solomon built for the Lord, the length thereof was three score cubits, the breadth thereof twenty cubits, and the height thereof thirty cubits.23  But of the latter age [when they had forsaken God] it is written: Thus saith the Lord, The Heaven is my throne and the earth my footstool. Where is the house that ye may build unto me?24

What evidence is there that the verb taguru [translated 'be afraid'] can also be rendered 'gather in'?25  R. Nahman answered by quoting the verse: Thou shalt neither drink of the wine nor gather [te'egor] the grapes.26 R. Aha b. Jacob says that it can be proved from the following verse: Provideth her bread in the summer and gathereth [agerah] her food in the harvest.27  R. Aha the son of R. Ika says it can be derived from the following verse: A wise son gathereth [oger] in summer.28

(Mnemonic: Truth, Money, Shall See.)

R. Nahman said, reporting R. Jonathan: A judge who delivers a judgment in perfect truth29  causes the Shechinah to dwell in Israel, for it is written: God standeth in the Congregation of God; in the midst of the judges He judgeth.30  And he who does not deliver judgments in perfect truth causes the Shechinah to depart from the midst of Israel, for it is written: Because of the oppression of the poor, because of the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the Lord.31

Again. R. Samuel b. Nahmani, reporting R. Jonathan. said: A judge who unjustly takes the possessions32  of one and gives then to another, the Holy One, blessed be He, takes from him his life, for it is written: Rob not the poor because he is poor; neither oppress the afflicted in the gate, for the Lord will plead their cause, and will despoil of life those that despoil them.33

R. Samuel b. Nahmani further said, reporting R. Jonathan: A judge should always think of34  himself as if he had a sword hanging over his head35  and Gehenna36  gaping under him,

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Who holds that arbitration may be suggested before the verdict is given.
  2. Ps. X, 3.
  3. Ex. XXXII, 5.
  4. Lam. II, 20.
  5. He thus made a compromise, and this compromise is denounced by the Psalmist.
  6. Prov. XVII, 14.
  7. [H] 'Strife' or 'judgment'.
  8. I.e. the Torah, which is compared by the Rabbis to water. V. Ex. Rab. II, 9.
  9. Abaye Kashisha, as distinct from the more famous Abaye. In fact, the latter quotes him in Keth. 94a.
  10. Or, 'Hear, Vashti, Seven, Songs, Another'; Vashti and 'And Two' being spelled alike in Hebrew, [H] V. p. 21, n. 5.
  11. Prov. XVII, 14.
  12. [H] = 40, 4, 6, 50 respectively — 100 in all.
  13. Amos II, 6. Taken as an elliptical verse, with the meaning: 'Though I may reverse or keep back My judgment for the first three offences, punishment shall not be withheld for the fourth.'
  14. Prov. XXIV, 16.
  15. He should be happy that he was relieved of an ill-gotten thing.
  16. Ex. XVIII, 23.
  17. Carelessness is the immediate cause of ruin.
  18. I.e. the house falleth to decay. Ecc. X, 18.
  19. Or, 'raised his club against me.'
  20. Ps. XLI, 10.
  21. Between my wife and myself.
  22. Ex. XXV, 22.
  23. I Kings VI, 2.
  24. Isa. LXVI, 1. Thus at first the Shechinah rested on an Ark of small dimensions, but when Israel sinned, even Solomon's Temple was too small.
  25. Referring back to p. 24.
  26. Deut. XXVIII, 39. [H]
  27. Prov VI, 8. [H]
  28. Ibid. X, 5. [H]
  29. Lit. 'true to its own truth', i.e. an absolutely true verdict which can be arrived at by the judge if he endeavours to find out the truth himself and does not rely on the evidence alone. V. Tosaf B.B. 8b; Meg. 15b.
  30. Ps.LXXXII, 1.
  31. Ibid. XII, 6.
  32. Lit., 'money'.
  33. Prov. XXII, 22-23.
  34. Lit.,'see'.
  35. Lit. 'resting between his flanks'.
  36. V. Glos.

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Sanhedrin 7b

for it is written, Behold, it is the litter of Solomon [symbolically the Shechinah], and round about it three score of the mighty men of Israel [symbolising the scholars]; they all handle the sword and are expert in war [in debates] and every man has his sword upon his flank because of the dread in the night.1  [the dread of Gehenna, which is likened unto night].

R. Josiah, or, according to others, R. Nahman b. Isaac, gave the following exposition: What is the meaning of the verse, O house of David, thus saith the Lord: Execute justice in the morning and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor!2  Is it only in the morning that one acts as judge and not during the whole day? — No, it means: If the judgment you are about to give is clear to you as the morning [light], give it; but if not, do not give it.

R. Hiyya b. Abba says: R. Johanan derived this from the following verse: Say unto wisdom, Thou art my sister.3  If the matter is as clear to you as is the prohibition of your sister [in marriage], give your decision, but not otherwise.

R. Joshua b. Levi says: If ten judge a case, the chain hangs on the neck of all,4  Is not this self-evident? — This need not be stated except in reference to the case of a disciple who sits in the presence of his master, and allows to pass unchallenged an erroneous decision of his master.

When a case was submitted to R. Huna he used to summon and gather ten schoolmen, in order, as he put it, that each of them might carry a chip from the beam.5

R. Ashi, when a terefah6  was submitted to him for inspection, sent and gathered all the slaughterers of Matha Mehasia, in order, as he put it, that each of them should carry a chip from the beam.

When R. Dimi came [from Palestine] he related that R. Nahman b. Kohen had given the following exposition of the verse, The King by justice establisheth the land, but he that loveth gifts overthroweth it.7  If the judge is like a king, in that he needs no one's help, he establishes the land, but if he is like a priest who goes about threshing floors to collect his dues, he overthrows it.

The members of the Nasi's8  household once appointed an incompetent teacher,9  and the Rabbis said to Judah b. Nahmani, the interpreter10  of Resh Lakish: Go and stand at his side as interpreter. Standing by him, he [Judah] bent down to hear what he wished to teach, but the teacher made no attempt to say anything. Thereupon R. Judah took as his opening text: Woe unto him who saith unto wood: Awake! — to the dumb stone: Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it;11  but the Holy One, blessed be He, [he proceeded], will call to account those who set them up, as it is written: But the Lord is in His holy Temple; let all the earth, keep silence before Him.12

Resh Lakish said: He who appoints an incompetent judge over the Community is as though he had planted an Asherah13  in Israel, for it is written: Judges and officers shalt thou appoint unto thee, and soon after it is said: Thou shalt not plant thee Asherah of any kind of tree.14  R. Ashi said: And if such an appointment be made in a place where scholars are to be found, it is as though the Asherah were planted beside the Altar, for the verse concludes with the words: beside the altar of the Lord thy God.15

Again, it is written: Ye shall not make with Me gods of silver or gods of gold.16  Is it only gods of silver and gold that may not be made, while those of wood are permitted? — The verse, says R. Ashi, refers to judges appointed through the power of silver or gold.

Rab, whenever he was to sit in court used to say: Of his own free will he [the judge] goes to meet death. He makes no provision for the needs of his household, and empty does he return home. Would only that he returned [as clean of hand] as he came!17  When [at the entrance] he saw a crowd escorting him, he said: Though his excellency mount up to the heavens, and his head reach unto the clouds, yet he shall perish for ever like his own dung.18

Mar Zutra the Pious, as he was carried shoulder-high19  on the Sabbaths preceding the Pilgrimage Festivals [when he preached on the Festival Laws], used to quote the verse: For riches are not for ever, and doth the crown endure unto all generations?20

Bar Kappara said in a lecture: Whence can we derive the dictum of our Rabbis: Be deliberate in judgment? From the words: Neither shalt thou go up by steps upon My altar.21  For this is followed by: And these are the judgments …22

R. Eleazar said: Whence is it to be derived that a judge should not trample over the heads of the people?23  It is written: Neither shalt thou go up by steps [i.e. force thy way] upon My altar; and this is followed by: And these are the judgments.

The same verse continues: which thou shalt set before them. It should have stated: which thou shalt teach them. R. Jeremiah, or according to some, R. Hiyya b. Aha, said: This refers to the insignia of the judges [which they have to set before the public].24

R. Huna, before entering the Court, used to say: Bring forth the implements of my office: the rod;25  the lash;26  the horn;27  and the sandal.28

Again. it is written: And I charged your judges at that time.29  R. Johanan said: This is a warning to them to use the rod and lash with caution.

Again: Hear [the causes] between your brethren and judge righteously.30  This, said R. Hanina, is a warning to the court not to listen to the claims of a litigant in the absence of his opponent; and to the litigant not to explain his case to the judge before his adversary appears. Shamoa'31  [hear], in the verse, can also be read, shammea'.32

R. Kahana, however, says: We can derive this rule from the verse: Thou shalt not take up [tissa] a false report33  [referring to the judge], which may be read, tashshi.34

As for the text quoted above, You shall judge righteously.35  Resh Lakish says that it means: Consider rightly all the aspects of the case before giving the decision.

As for the words, Between a man and his brother … R. Judah says that this refers to disputes between brothers about trifles such as, for instance, who should occupy the lower and who the upper part of a house. And the stranger that is with him … This, says R. Judah, refers even to so insignificant a dispute as one concerning a stove and an oven.36

You shall not respect persons [lo takkiru] in judgment.37  R. Judah says this means: You shall not favour [lit. recognise] any one [even if he is your friend]; and R. Eleazar takes it to mean; You shall not estrange anyone [even if he is your enemy].38

A former host of Rab came before him with a law-suit, and said: 'Were you not once my guest?' 'Yes,' he answered, [and what is your wish?]'39  'I have a case to be tried,' he replied. 'Then,' said Rab,

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Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Cant. III, 7-8.
  2. Jer. XXI, 12.
  3. Prov. VII, 4.
  4. I.e., all share the responsibility.
  5. I.e. share the responsibility with him.
  6. An animal afflicted with an organic disease.
  7. Prov. XXIX, 4.
  8. Judah II.
  9. Lit., 'judge'.
  10. Whose function it was to expound aloud to the audience what the teacher had spoken concisely and in a low voice.
  11. Hab. II, 19.
  12. Ibid.
  13. A sacred tree or pole associated with the ancient Semitic cults.
  14. Deut. XVI. 18-19.
  15. The scholars are compared to the Altar, because they impress upon sinners that they should mend their ways. Cf. Rashi a.l.
  16. Ex. XX, 23.
  17. He gave expression to the thankless nature of the judge's task, full of responsibility and fraught with danger.
  18. Job XX, 6-7.
  19. Being advanced in age and unable to walk quickly, he was carried, so that the audience should not have to wait long for his arrival.
  20. Prov. XXVII, 24.
  21. Ex. XX, 26.
  22. The juxtaposition shows that for judgments, one should proceed slowly and avoid large paces, as one does on ascending the altar.
  23. Listeners usually sat on the floor, and by forcing his way through the crowd, it would appear as if he were trampling over their heads.
  24. V. passage below and Notes 1-4.
  25. For beating, according to the court's discretion.
  26. For the thirty-nine stripes. Deut. XXV, 3.
  27. Blown for excommunication.
  28. For Halizah, v. Glos.
  29. Deut. I, 16.
  30. Ibid.
  31. [H]
  32. [H] In the Pi'el, which has a causative sense, (make hear).
  33. Ex. XXIII, 1. ta,
  34. [H] in the hiph'il from [H] 'entice', 'induce', 'mislead', with reference to the litigant that he should not attempt to win over the judge to his side by stating his case in the absence of his adversary.
  35. Deut. I, 16.
  36. [H] interpreted here as sojourner', who sojourns in the same house. The nature of the disputes between them will be mostly over articles associated with the household — stoves and ovens.
  37. Deut. I, 16.
  38. R. Eleazar interprets takkiru as if it were tenakkru [H]
  39. [So Rashi. According to Rashal, Rab asked, on seeing the man: Are you not my former host?' The man replied. Yes! Thereupon Rab asked him, 'What is your wish', the words in brackets being embodied in the text.]

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