Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Ruling by Majority

The gemara (סנהדרין ג ב) decides after some discussion that all rulings follow the majority opinion among the judges.

מאי טעמא דרבי יהודה (ויקרא ד, טו) וסמכו שנים זקני שנים ואין בית דין שקול מוסיפין עליהן עוד אחד הרי כאן ה' דרבי יאשיה עדיפא מדר' יהודה דאילו ר' יהודה בסנהדרי גדולה הוא דלית ליה הא בשאר בי דינא אית ליה ור' יאשיה בשאר בי דינא נמי לית ליה ואלא האי לנטות מאי עביד ליה מוקים לה בדיני נפשות אבל בדיני ממונות לא אלא הא דתנן שנים אומרים זכאי ואחד אומר חייב זכאי שנים אומרים חייב ואחד אומר זכאי חייב נימא דלא כרבי יאשיה אפילו תימא רבי יאשיה מייתי לה בקל וחומר מדיני נפשות ומה דיני נפשות דחמירי אמר רחמנא זיל בתר רובא דיני ממונות לא כל שכן:

So let's say we have a case and the judges don't come to a unanimous decision. How do we relate to the Majority and the Minority opinions. Rav M. suggested two possibilities:
  1. Indication of Correctness- the fact that most of the Judges hold this opinion indicates that is correct and the other is incorrect
  2. Political Necessity- we're not sure which group of Judges is correct, but a decision needs to be made so we follow the majority


Judicial Ruling vs. Halachik Ruling

We see that, unlike Judicial Rulings, Halachik Rulings are not always ruled in favor of the majority opinion. For example, the gemara(יבמות יד א) which says that Beit Shamai's sharp intellects nullify the principal of majority:

למ"ד לא עשו דהא ב"ה רובא ומ"ד עשו כי אזלינן בתר רובא היכא דכי הדדי נינהו הכא בית שמאי מחדדי טפי

To explain this gemara, the Ramban(סנהדרין לב א) differentiates between Judicial Rulings and Halachik Rulings:

ויש לומר התם לא יושבין בדין הם והשואל עושה כרצון עצמו לפי שלבו נוטה אחר חכמה, אבל סנהדרין כולן צריכין לדון וראוי היה שיסכימו כולן לאותו דעת אלא דרחמנא אמר אחרי רבים להטות

The Ramban's opinion seems to be based on the distinction above. Halachik Rulings are solely about finding the truth, so a person can follow the majority, or the wisest sage--whatever seems correct to them in this particular case. Judicial Rulings, on the other hand, also have a strong communal/political aspect, so following the majority is the only appropriate method of decision-making.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Categories of Monetary Cases in Halacha and Common Law

So, in a recent post we discussed the similarity between the distinction between גזילות וחבלות and הודעות והלוות in Halacha and the distinction between Criminal Law and Civil Law in common law. Now let's discuss how they are different.

Criminal vs. Civil

One important difference is the Plaintiff i.e. the party making the claim in court. In Civil Law, the Plaintiff is a private party--an individual, a group, a company. This private party claims that they have been wronged by the Defendant. In Criminal Law, however, the Plaintiff is the state, or it's representative.

So, why are criminal cases viewed as generally more serious than civil cases? The main reason seems to be that it's considered more serious to commit an offense against the State than against an Individual. This idea is easiest to understand in a Democracy, where the rules of the State represent, to some degree, the rules of Society at large. A Civil offense primarily wrongs one's fellow, while a Criminal offense wrongs Society itself.

On could suggest that Friedrich Hayek would disagree with this distinction. In his book Law, Legislation, and Liberty vol. 1 Rules and Order(1973), Hayek distinguishes between Legislation and Law. Legislation is a rule the government made, while Law is a sort of Natural Law that emerges spontaneously in a Society. There's a good deal of overlap between these two categories, but both include rules not contained by the other.  As such, one could imagine a piece of Criminal Legislation which doesn't fall under the category of (Natural) Law, and in that case one might argue that one isn't really wronging Society. For instance, in Eureka, Nevada it is illegal for men who have mustaches to kiss women. Now I doubt that this piece of Legislation is still enforced, but were someone to be tried for it, one could certainly argue that when this rule ceased to be a (Natural) Law, one who transgresses it is not viewed as wronging Society.

I would reject this difficulty from Hayek for two reasons:

  1. There is pretty good correlation between Law and Legislation, so in-general we can view transgressing Legislation as wronging Society
  2. Even in the cases where they don't correlate, as with the Mustache Law, one could make the argument that transgressions of Legislation against a Democratically Elected State undermine said state and therefore wrong Society

גזילות וחבלות vs. הודעות והלוות

So, who is the Plaintiff in these Halachik categories? In the case of both גזילות וחבלות and הודעות והלוות it is an individual claiming damages. So the above distinction, between harming an individual vs. harming society does not seem to apply here. So why are גזילות וחבלות considered more serious than הודעות והלוות? As we suggested previously, because גזילות וחבלות usually begin with violence and/or illicit intent, whereas הודעות והלוות are non-violent and are often cases of misunderstanding of the law by one or both sides.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

The Judges for הודעות והלוות

Here's the summary of the first part of the third and final shiur on the first sugia of Sanhedrin.

The Two Sides of the Debate

So last time we mentioned the debate over what is the Torah requirement for the number of judges needed to hear a case of הודעות והלוות:
  • Rebbe Abahu and Rava say the Torah requires 3 judges, all of them סמוכים
    • Chazal reduced this requirement to 3 הדיותות שלא לנעול דלת בפני לווין
  • Rav Acha says the Torah requires 1 judge for הודעות והלוות, and it's a machloket rishonim if he needs to be סמוך
    • Chazal increased this number because of יושבי קרנות

The Difficult Baraita


The gemara(סנהדרין ד ב) brings a baraita which seems to contradict both of these opinions. Here we discover a new track, a מומחה לרבים, which doesn't require 3, even מדרבנן:

 תנו רבנן דיני ממונות בשלשה ואם היה מומחה לרבים דן אפילו יחידי

So how do we explain this according to the two opinions?

  • According to Rebbe Abahu and Rava, Chazal reduced the requirement to 3 הדיותות OR 1 מומחה לרבים
  • According to Rav Acha, Chazal didn't increase the requirement to 3 in the case of a מומחה לרבים because in that case there is no worry of יושבי קרנות

This works for Tosfot(ד"ה ואם) but Rashi(ד"ה דן) only quotes the רב אחא side of the machloket.  So why does Rashi think the baraita is incompatible with Rebbe Abahu/Rava?

Rav Markus suggested that it's because Rashi understands that Rebbi Abahu always requires a Beit Din, so it's inconceivable that Chazal would ever reduce the requirement to a single judge, according to him.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Beginning Mesechet Sanhedrin

Well, with Winter beginning, I started attending Rav M's excellent gemara shiur at Yeshiva Ruach Tzfonit once again, so I'll be posting a few notes on individual lectures. Right now we're starting מסכת סנהדרין and this past Thursday's shiur touched on a number of topics.

1. דיני ממונות vs. נזיקין

The first mishna in Sanhedrin begins listing the sorts of cases tried in front of a Beit Din of 3 judges:

 ...דיני ממונות בשלושה גזילות וחבולות בשלושה

The gemara(ב:) immediately asks why the two are mentioned as separate categories. We ultimately hear two answers, that of Rebbe Abahu and that of Rava(on ג.) But while they have a debate on how to read the text of the Mishna, they agree that there are two separate categories:

  • Theft and Damages(גזילות וחבלות)
  • Admissions and Loans(הודאות והלוות)

Why should these be seen as different categories? Rav Marcus explained:
  • It's similar to the difference between Criminal and Civil offenses
    • Criminal offenses usually involve violence or threat of violence, while  Civil offenses involve trickery or misunderstanding(though this model doesn't map precisely to the two halachic categories)
  • Theft and Damages started with an illicit act, while Admissions and Loans start with a perfectly legal arrangement and only become a problem later on

2. Number of Judges

One difference between the two categories that the Sugya mentions is how many judges are required to hear a case, with גזילות וחבלות requiring 3 and הודאות והלוות requiring only 1.

  • Rebbe Abahu/Rava say the torah requires 3 judges, but Chazal reduced this number in the case of   הודאות והלוות so as not to discourage people from giving loans
  • Rav Acha says that the torah requires 1 judge but Chazal required 3 since there would be less chance of an incompetent court(יושבי קרנות)
    • The Rosh takes this literally as a single judge
    • The Yad Rama understands this as meaning one knowledgeable(גמיר) judge and two others

So basically, we have 3 understandings of what the torah requirement is to judge these basic casesThese requirements are for an official בית דין, but if the litigants agree they can choose whoever they want to adjudicate their disagreement.

3. The nature of סמיכה 


The gemara says that judges must not be הדיותות, and Rashi explains this means they must have סמיכה. Rav Marcus then skipped ahead to the story of Rebbi Yehuda ben Baba giving his life to defy the Roman decree against smicha. Why is it so important? Why does the Torah require it?

The Rav suggested that it is not just a question of being knowledgeable. One who has smicha has been chosen to represent Hashem's schina. He has been appointed to fill a spiritual/communal position.


4. שליחותיהו עבדינן או הפקר בית דין הפקר

According to Rebbe Abahu/Rava, Chazal reduced the number of judges required to hear הודעות והלוות. The question remains: How can they override the Torah requirement? By what mechanism do they do this? The rishonim propose two different options:

  • The Ritva in Gittin says שליחותיהו עבדינן
  • The Ran in Sanhedrin says הפקר בית דין הפקר
The Ritva's answer is based on the gemara in גיטין פח:, in the case of כפיית הגט. The Ritva understands that there is a category similar to, but less than smicha called שליחותיהו עבדינן. Basically, even though they didn't give us smicha, the סמוכים gave a הרשאה כללית, a general provision, allowing חחמים who don't have smicha to act as a proxy in their absence.

Why does the Ran reject this answer? My assumption is that the example there actually had living סמוכים to rely on, while in our case we assume that this special provision applies even though there are no smuchim.

The Ran, on the other hand, says that actually the 3 non-סמוחים are not aren't judging, by the Torah definition. Rather, a beit din has the power to take or reassign anyone's money, so they are using that power to enact their judgement.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Beyond Maakeh and Lo Tasim Damim

Well, now that we've looked at the scope of Maakeh and Lo Tasim Damim, let's look beyond them. Even where these mitzvot don't apply, others may.



The Rambam brings another, broader mizvat aseh into the picture in after introducing Maakeh(רוצח יא:ד)

וכן כל מכשול שיש בו סכנת נפשות--מצות עשה להסירו ולהישמר ממנו ולהיזהר בדבר יפה יפה, שנאמר "הישמר לך ושמור נפשך" (דברים ד,ט). ואם לא הסיר, והניח המכשולות המביאין לידי סכנה--ביטל מצות עשה, ועבר על "לא תשים דמים" (דברים כב,ח).

The pasuk is a curious one to bring, since it sounds more like a warning to keep the mitzvot, than a mitzva to remove hazards:

רק הישמר לך ושמור נפשך מאוד, פן-תשכח את-הדברים אשר-ראו עיניך ופן-יסורו מלבבך, כול, ימי חייך; והודעתם לבניך, ולבני בניך

The source of this drasha is unclear and it appears to be of the Rambam's own invention. The pasuk implies that protecting oneself is a good thing, so even if we don't have a formal mitzva to do so, the Rambam regards this statement of value as halachically binding.


The Ramban on the Torah(דברים כב:ח) brings a different, less novel pasuk(ויקרא יט:טז)

לא תלך רכיל בעמיך לא תעמד על דם רעך אני יהוה

The Sefer Hachinuch counts this as an independent mitzva and describes it as an obligation to save the life of our fellow Jew who is in mortal danger.

This seems like an obvious choice, so why didn't the Rambam bring this pasuk? Perhaps because it is a לא תעשה so it only extends Lo Tasim Damin, not Maakeh.

Why do we need Maakeh and Lo Tasim Damim

So in addition to Maakeh and Lo Tasim Damim, we have even broader obligations to remove hazards from one or both of these additional sources. So why did the Torah need to command us in mitzvat Maakeh and Lo Tasim Damim at all?

One answer that I've heard(I think from Rav Michael Edrei) is that the torah wants us to be more careful in our own home. Normally, we wouldn't be obligated to put up a guard-rail on the roof, since the roof is a place people rarely go, and when they do, they know to be careful. Nevertheless, the Torah gave a higher standard for the home.

Another answer is that these general mitzvot only cover mortal danger, while Lo Tasim Damim also coveres injury.

Another answer is that לא תעמד על דם רעך is only concerned with others, while Maakeh and Lo Tasim Damim also are concerned with your safety.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Maakeh & Lo Tasim Damim: Fixed Structures

Another question that arises when discussing the scope of mitzvot Maakeh and Lo Tasim Damim is whether they just apply to fixed structures, or to all hazards in general. The question arises because the pasuk and the examples given in the sifrei all seem to focus on structures like buildings and pits.

Two Possibilities for Maakeh

Rav Moshe Taragin claims there are two shitot, regarding Maakeh, although they agree about Lo Tasim Damim:

Rashi(בבא קמא צא:) implies that both mitzvot apply generally, even to a mobile hazard, like a dangerous animal.

The Yam Shel Shlomo indicates that Maakeh applies to a fixed structure, while Lo Tasim Damim applies more generally, even to mobile hazards.

I have to admit, that looking at the gemara, I not certain that Rashi is even talking about Maakeh. The source seems pretty ambiguous to me, but it is certainly possible that I'm missing some detail that Rav Taragin doesn't mention explicitly.


Back to the Question of Connection

Regarding the Yam Shel Shlomo's opinion, our take on the Netziv seems to apply: namely that in the pasuk, Maakeh is stated as a specific mitzva, while Lo Tasim Damim sounds more general, and therefore they have different scopes.

Similarly, Rav Taragin's understanding of Rashi is like the Ramban, who thinks the scope of the mitzvot are connected. The only difference is that, while the Ramban contracted the scope of Lo Tasim Damim, Rashi expands the scope of Maakeh.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Maakeh and Lo Tasim Damim: Severity of Hazards

So, previously we established that there is a debate whether mitzvas of Maakeh and Lo Tasim Damim are or are not essentially linked, with the consequence to what degree they cover the same cases. Now we'll take a look at a related question: what cases do these mitzvot actually cover?

The basic case is that brought in the pasuk itself, that of a house with an accessible roof, where the  obligation is to add a guard rail. Once we move beyond that case, then the questions begin. We'll start with the question of severity and then cover other questions in future posts...

Death or Injury

So are these mitzvot concerned with hazards that can cause any injury or just lethal hazards?

Most rishonim understand the gemara(בבא קמא נ:, נא.) and it's 10 tefach limit as implying that these mitzvot are only concerned with hazards which might cause death.  As the Meiri says there(ד"ה בית)

יראה מכאן שאין מצות מעקה לחשש נזקים אלא לחשש מוות

On the other hand, there is the baraita of Rebbi Natan, brought several places in the gemara(בבא קמא טו:,בבא קמא מו.,כתובות מא:), and used in discussing cases of potential injury, not death:

רבי נתן אומר מניין שלא יגדל אדם כלב רע בתוך ביתו ואל יעמיד סולם רעוע בתוך ביתו ת"ל לא תשים דמים בביתך

The Sefer Hachinuch(תקס"ז) takes these gemaras at face value and includes nezikin under the mitzva of לא תשים דמים, although he still says that מעקה is only concerned with lethal hazards(תקלח).

Rav Soloveichik, on the other hand, explains these gemaras according to the other shita, saying that chachamim made a gezeira extending the issur to include nezikin.

Secondary Sources

Rav Moshe Taragin's Shiur on Lo Tasim Damim

Rav Reuven Taragin's Shiur on Lo Tasim Damim in Bava Kama