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.

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