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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin

Folio 8a

'I am disqualified from being your judge,' and turning to R. Kahana, said: 'Go you and judge the case'. R. Kahana noticed that the man presumed too much on his acquaintance with Rab, so he remarked: 'If you will submit to my judgment, well and good; If not, I shall put Rab out of your mind [by showing you my authority].'1 

Ye shall hear the small and the great alike.2  Resh Lakish says: This verse indicates that a law-suit involving a mere perutah3  must be regarded as of the same importance as one involving a hundred mina.4  For what practical purpose is this laid down? If it is to urge the need of equal consideration and investigation, is it not self-evident! Rather, it is to give the case due priority, if it should be first in order.

For the judgment is God's.5  R. Hamma, son of R. Hanina, comments: The Holy One, blessed be He, hath said: It is not enough for the wicked [judges] that they take away money from one and give it to another unjustly, but they put Me to the trouble of returning it to its owner.

And the cause that is too hard for you, bring unto me.6  R. Hanina, [according to some, R. Josiah,] says: For this utterance Moses was punished,7  as we can infer from this later passage: And Moses brought their cause before the Lord.8

R. Nahman objects to this comment, and asks: Did Moses say: 'Bring it unto me and I will let you hear it'? No, he said: 'I will hear it; if I am instructed, it is well! If not, I will get me instruction [how to deal with it]'. And the case of the daughters of Zelophehad is to be explained as was taught:9  The section relating to the laws of inheritance was intended to have been written at the instance of Moses our Teacher. The daughters of Zelophehad, however, were found worthy to have the section recorded on their account. Similarly, the law concerning the gathering of sticks on the Sabbath10  was to have been written at the instance of Moses our Teacher. The gatherer, however, was found culpable, and so it was recorded on his account. This is to teach us that evil is brought about through the agency of sinful men, and good through that of worthy men.

It is written, And I charged your judges at that time;11  and again, I charged you at that time.12  R. Eleazar, on the authority of R. Simlai, says: These passages are a warning to the Congregation to revere their judges, and to the judges to bear patiently with the Congregation. To what extent! — R. Hanan, [some say R. Shabatai,] says: As the nursing father carrieth the sucking child.13

One text reads: For thou [Joshua] must go with this people, etc.14  And another text says: For thou shalt bring the Children of Israel.15  R. Johanan said: Thou shalt be like the elders of the generation that are among them.16  But the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Joshua: Take a stick and strike them upon their head;17  there is only one leader to a generation not two.

A Tanna taught: A summons [Zimmun]18  requires three. What is meant by a summons? Shall I say it means a summons to say Grace after a common meal?19  But has it not been already taught that a summons and a summons to Grace need three?20  Again, you cannot maintain that they both mean the same thing, the latter phrase merely explaining the earlier [and both referring to a summons to Grace], since it has been taught: A summons needs three, and a summons to Grace needs three [i. e., Zimmun is here particularly specified afresh as requiring three persons] — 'Summons' here, consequently, must mean a summons to appear before Court. As Raba said: When three judges sit in judgment, and the Court messenger, on summoning to Court, conveys the summons in the name of one only, the summons is of no account until he has brought it in the names of all three. This procedure, however, is necessary only on an ordinary day; on a Court-day21  it is unnecessary. R. Nahman, son of R. Hisda, sent to ask R. Nahman b. Jacob: Would our teacher inform us how many judges are required for the adjudication of cases of Kenas? But what did his question imply? Surely we learnt, THE REPAYMENT OF THE DOUBLE22  … … BY THREE. What he meant to ask was whether or not cases of fine may be adjudicated by one Mumheh. R. Nahman b. Jacob said to him: We have learnt, THE REPAYMENT OF DOUBLE OR OF FOUR OR FIVE-FOLD RESTITUTION, BY THREE. Now what kind of persons are these three to be? Shall I say they are commoners? But did not your father's father say, in the name of Rab, that even ten commoners are incompetent to adjudicate cases of fine? Hence it must refer to Mumhin, and even of these, three are required.

BUT THE SAGES HOLD THAT A CASE OF LIBEL23  REQUIRES A COURT OF TWENTY-THREE, etc. But, even though it may lead to capital punishment, what does it matter? [Since there are no witnesses yet known to be available, to corroborate the husband's suspicion, is it not merely a monetary case, involving only the Kethubah]?24

'Ulla says that the point of dispute [in the Mishnah between R. Meir and the Sages] is whether we consider seriously the effect of the husband's allegation.25  R. Meir does not consider seriously the effect of the allegation — while the Rabbis do.

Raba says that all agree that the effect of the allegation need not be seriously considered.26  They differ, however, as to whether [in cases where the judges have been reduced in number]27  the honour of those who retired has to be considered or not. The actual case treated here is where the husband — [having had expectations of supporting his allegation with evidence,] appeared before a court of twenty-three28  assembled to judge a capital case. Afterwards, [when he could not produce the required witnesses,] the Court began to disperse, and he then appealed to it that three should remain to decide his monetary claim.29  [The Sages, in order to protect the dignity of those judges who would have left, require them to reassemble, while R. Meir does not hold this view.]

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Lit., 'I shall get Rab out of your ears'; i.e., by applying the sanctions of excommunication
  2. Deut. I, 17
  3. The smallest of coins.
  4. A weight in gold or silver, equal to one hundred shekels.
  5. Deut. I, 17.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Because he attached too much authority to himself.
  8. Num. XXVII, 5 i.e., the case of the daughters of Zelophehad which he knows not how to decide.
  9. B.B. 119a.
  10. Num. XV, 32.
  11. Deut. I, 16.
  12. Ibid. I, 18.
  13. Num. XI, 12.
  14. Deut. XXXI, 7. Where Moses thus places Joshua on an equality with the people.
  15. Ibid. 23. Where Joshua is declared their leader.
  16. [So Yad Ramah a.l.
  17. I.e., show your authority.
  18. [H] Invitation or summons.
  19. By inviting the guests to join in saying Grace.
  20. Which shows that Zimmun is not identical with Grace said by invitation.
  21. Usually Mondays and Thursdays.
  22. Which is also Kenas.
  23. An accusation made by a husband against his wife, that she was not a virgin at marriage. If adultery is not proved, the accused as a non-virgin, suffers the loss of half the amount payable to her under the Kethubah (see note 4). If the woman is found guilty of adultery during her betrothed state, she is stoned. Hence the dispute in the Mishnah between R. Meir and the Sages. In Talmudic days Betrothal bound the couple as husband and wife, save for cohabitation and minor details.
  24. The marriage contract containing, among other things, the settlement on the wife of a minimum of two hundred zuz if she was a virgin, and a hundred zuz if she was not a virgin at marriage. This amount, payable on her husband's death, or on her being divorced, the woman forfeits on a charge of infidelity committed during her betrothed state. (See Keth. 10b, and Rashi and Tosaf. a.l.).
  25. Lit., 'gossip'. As soon as the charge is made before the Court, the report might be bruited, and witnesses, of whom the husband may be at the moment unaware, may come to support it, the charge thus becoming capital.
  26. And in the absence of witnesses three judges alone are sufficient.
  27. V. infra.
  28. As is required for a capital case.
  29. The husband's allegation of non-virginity is accepted by the rabbis even without evidence, in respect of the Kethubah. v. Keth. 10a.

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Sanhedrin 8b

The scholars, however, raised an objection from the following: The Sages say: If there is only a monetary claim, three are sufficient; if it involves capital punishment, twenty-three are needed.1  This may be correct according to Raba,2  [in which case the Baraitha should be understood thus:] If [the husband did not offer support of his allegation] his claim, being then only monetary, is decided by three. If however he proposed to bring evidence [on which basis a court of twenty-three was set up], as for a capital charge, but in the end, [owing to the failure to produce witnesses,] only makes a monetary claim, nevertheless the twentythree remain. But how would 'Ulla3  explain the Baraitha? Raba said: [In answer] I and the lion4  of the group, namely R. Hiyya b. Abin, have elucidated it. The case in question is one in which the husband attested his wife's guilt by witnesses. Her father, however, brought witnesses refuting their evidence.5  In that case the father's monetary claim from the husband6  is decided by three.7  But in a case [where witnesses have not yet been produced and consequently not refuted, and] which may yet turn out a capital charge, twenty-three are required.

Abaye says that all [even R. Meir] agree that the eventual effect of the allegation is to be taken into consideration, as well as the honour of the judges who had retired. And the reason that three are sufficient, according to R. Meir, is that the case treated here is that of a woman who, before committing adultery, was cautioned in general terms [as to the penalty of death to which she would make herself liable, but without the kind of death being defined]. And his opinion concurs with that of the following Tanna: For it has been taught:8  All those under sentence of death according to the Torah are to be executed only by the decree of a court of twenty-three, after proper evidence and warning, and provided the warners have let them know that they are liable to a death sentence at the hand of the Court. According to R. Judah, the warners must also inform them of the kind of death they would suffer [and failing that, they are not to be executed].9

R. Papa10  said: The case discussed here is that of a scholarly woman who received no warning at all; and they differ according to the difference of opinion between R. Jose b. Judah and the [other] Rabbis. For it has been taught: R. Jose b. Judah, [with whom the Rabbis who oppose R. Meir agree.] holds that a scholar11  is held responsible for his crimes even without being formally warned, as warning is only a means of deciding whether one has committed the crime wilfully or not.12

R. Ashi says, R. Meir and the Rabbis treat of a case where

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Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Tos. cf. Sanh. I.
  2. According to whom even the Rabbis agree that the husband's allegation alone can involve only a monetary claim.
  3. In whose opinion the rabbis consider the husband's suspicions alone as involving a capital charge.
  4. The distinguished one.
  5. By proving them to be Zomemim, 'plotters', 'schemers', as having been absent at the time of the alleged offence and so subject to the penalties under the law of retaliation. V. Deut. XIX, 18-19, and Mak. I, 2-4. V. Glos.
  6. The hundred pieces of silver, compensation for libel. V. Deut. XXII, 19.
  7. Even according to 'Ulla, the rabbis no longer apprehend the appearance of witnesses, because the husband's evidence was in the beginning false; neither is his allegation of non-virginity considered in this case, even in connection with the Kethubah, since he has become discredited.
  8. Tosef. Sanh. X.
  9. Consequently, in this case the woman is not liable to death, nor can any capital punishment follow.
  10. Who is in agreement with Abaye.
  11. Haber, v. Glos.
  12. In this case, even without warning, capital punishment is involved, and hence twenty-three are required.

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